Saturday, May 17, 2014


After having taught physics for some 25 years at Gorham High School and then winning top prize on the 17th installment of CBS’s Survivor, one would think Robert “Bob” Crowley of Durham would be ready to sit back and enjoy the winnings with his wife Peggy. Of course, if you knew Mr. Crowley, then you would know that such a behavior is not of his nature.
Come venture with us into his family’s 110 acre woods and learn how this humble man and his family have turned a chased dream of more than 30 years, into a family affair that continues to enrich their community and our state by finding ways to give back to those less fortunate. How do the Crowleys do this, you may ask?  To answer this question DNA Photography spent a weekend in Durham with Mr. Crowley on his family’s property. After just a few short hours with him, we gained a deeper appreciation for his family and a clearer understanding of the power of a yurt.

Bob Crowley sits outside of one of the two yurts at Maine Forest Yurts.
So, before we get too deep into this profile, let us discuss what a yurt is. Now you may have heard of a yurt in the past but perhaps you’re still not entirely sure if it is something you eat or if you need to ward it off with bug repellent?  Let us ease your inquisitive mind. Yurts are Mongolian designed huts used now and during the reign of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan as mobile living quarters that have met the demanding lifestyle of the Asian nomads.  “It’s a cross between a teepee and a child’s playpen,” Mr. Crowley explained. “It has circular lattice work on the inside and a teepee stuck on top of it. They are very well suited for winter’s high winds and low temperatures.”

Well at this point you may now have started to ask yourself– what does a yurt have to do with Mr. Crowley? Well the same could be asked of Walt Disney’s connection with a certain cartoon mouse or Ansel Adam’s kindred relationship with his camera, or even perhaps, a freshly baked chocolate chips cookie’s pairing with a glass of milk. Clearly at this stage of Mr. Crowley’s life, and in regards to the solution of his family’s thirty-year-old dream, a yurt has everything to do with him.      
The Crowleys fell in love with the yurt concept – but not just for its nomadic benefits as you may have thought. No, the main draw was the structure’s ability to withstand the brutal winters of our Pine Tree State. This was and still is a big deal for the Crowleys, a family that has dealt with numerous red tape issues that previously slowed down their dream of owning and operating a campground. For thirty years Mr. Crowley and his wife slowly acquired land in Durham in hopes to one day use their property in a somewhat unique manner. And now after several years of hard work and determination, by all in the family (including their two dogs), the Crowleys have established Maine Forest Yurts (MFY).

What MFY offers to visitors is a unique camping experience that is unlike most campgrounds in the state. “Originally we were going to build a log cabin but due to heavy regulations we were not able to build (permanent structures) on the property,” Mr. Crowley said. This is where he said the non-permanent concept of the yurt helped open the door for his family to expand their vision. Their campground has obtained the town’s permission to put in a total of six yurts. The Crowleys plan on keeping four of the yurts isolated and placing two of them near each other, offering larger groups the chance to camp closer together.
Visitors of MFY can do a number of traditional outdoor Maine activities. “There are plenty of walking trails for people to check out and we also have two kayaks that people can use down on the pond,” he said. The pond he refers to is Roundabout Pond and MFY owns 1.4 miles of its shoreline. During the winter months the trails lend themselves to snow shoeing and cross-country skiing.

When DNA Photography visited MFY in early April we were greeted by Mr. Crowley and his four-wheeled Ranger. The hospitality was that of a multi-starred hotel with a unique forest-like twist. His smile was sincere and almost as large as the massive hands that engulfed ours during our handshake. We loaded the back of the gator and then headed up through the wintry trails, impassable at that time of the year by any four-door suburban. As we ventured deeper into the near-virgin woods it was quickly apparent why this campground was unique. There were no paved roads littered with 15x15 foot segregated sites off to the path’s shoulders. Traditional metal-rimmed fireplaces were not scattered about and we didn’t see one gray water dumping station. We remembered it feeling very tranquil as we continued to drive further and further away from the hustle of civilization. When we arrived at our isolated yurt, it was easy to see why people, coming from as far away as Boston, book with this outfit.
“If you Google-Earthed us you will see that we’re not that far removed from Portland,” he said as he hopped off the vehicle and into the slushy snow. “Being exposed to the natural environment has remained our biggest draw. Here you can get away in a heartbeat and be by yourself and relax in our Zen-spirited round buildings.”

We unloaded our gear into his 24-foot diameter yurt that sleeps six people comfortably. The structure was larger than we had envisioned and came furnished with two bunk beds in addition to a sofa bed, wood stove, oven, dining room table, and an environment-friendly outhouse. We were drawn to the rustic décor of the yurt’s interior and how Mr. Crowley had creatively made use of the natural resources found on his land. We were particularly fond of the unique rope system in which Mr. Crowley designed to raise and lower the few battery operated lanterns in the circular retreat. His handiwork had been seen by the world before when he gave fellow survivors a taste of his craftsmanship by creating, not one, but two, fake immunity idols which helped secure his spot in the reality show’s finale in 2008.

We unpacked and started saying what we thought were our goodbyes to Mr. Crowley, when he sat himself down on a wooden bench and made himself available for discussion. After he answered a few questions pertaining to his Survivor experience, he started telling us about the Durham Warrior Survival Challenge (DWSC)and what it did for veterans and other deserving groups.
The DWSC, which is held at MFY, molds itself closely after CBS’s Survivor – without the exotic location and million-dollar cash prize. This August marks the event’s second year. According to its website, 18 contestants from across the country competed last year in a four-day contest that ranged from physical obstacles, mental puzzles, and a fire building challenge.  The contestants were divided into three tribes and together shared reward along with the ill-fated tribal council meetings. Mr. Crowley said he is very proud of the involvement Peggy and he have had in a lot of fundraising events. Events that have raised money for veterans and other deserving groups, like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to stay in the yurt for a night. 

While Mr. Crowley has successfully brought a little bit of the Survivor spirit back to Maine he is often called upon by fundraising agents to help raise awareness and funds for various charities in need. “We just went to California to help raise money for breast cancer,” he said. “We, along with other people, have been involved in raising close to a million dollars for breast cancer, the American Red Cross and Portland’s Center for Grieving Children. Doing this has probably changed my life the most.”
If his Durham Warrior Survival Challenge and his participation in national fundraisers are not enough to convince people of his humanitarian ways, than perhaps his upcoming project with former Survivor members and Habitat for Humanity will change your mind.

It is refreshing to meet a person, who has dedicated so much of his time and effort on educating our youth, continuing to give back. Often when people become celebrities they lose their way. But if you ask those who know Mr. Crowley, they will say he is still the same person he has always been.  Despite winning more than $1 million dollars he has stayed his course and enjoys living a simple life.

His humbleness, wit and ability to tell an endless amount of entertaining stories, paired with his hard work ethic is only a small handful of reasons  why Mr. Crowley won a game that forces people to outwit, outlast and outplay your competitors. We thank “Bowtie Bob” and his family for their unique campground and ongoing humanitarian efforts.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Stephanie and I enjoy a good read. She loves her fictional fun and I enjoy my nonfiction. We are modest readers that read before bed, on long trips and during rainy Sundays. Now let me introduce you to a man who reads close to - if not more - than 100 books a year and who has been providing people with book service for more than a decade. On top of all that he has just helped open Portland's second bookstore and authored a book on Maine beer.

We invite you to snuggle up in your comfy clothes and learn a little more about the independent book industry and of our dear friend Josh Christie who helps provide readers with a place to mingle and escape the busy world around us. Scroll down to read our Q&A session.

DNA Photography: Tell us a little bit about your passion for books and why you have decided to work in book stores?

Mr. Christie: "I grew up as a passionate reader, the child of two readers (one an English major, in fact) who encouraged the habit while I was growing up. I’ve always enjoyed books for all the reasons, cliché and otherwise, that people talk about when they talk about reading; entertainment, education, escape, empathy, you name it. I even met my wife, another passionate reader, at a bookstore.

I started as a bookseller simply because I needed a summer job, and it seemed like a good fit. Over the years, it turned from a summer job into a career, both a vocation and an avocation. I’ve been lucky to work for Sherman’s (Books and Stationery), where the owner, general manager, and buyers have taught me about every aspect of the bookselling world. I do believe in the importance and viability of independent bookstores (I’m currently serving my third term on the board of directors of the New England Independent Booksellers Association), and it’s a job where I get to interact with books, authors, and readers every day."

DNA Photography: How many books would you say you read yearly?
Mr. Christie: "I read a couple books a week, so probably somewhere north of a hundred books a year."

DNA Photography: How long have you work at Sherman's Books and why did the company decide to epand to the Old Port?
Mr. Christie: "I’ve worked for Sherman’s on and off for about a decade. I started with the company when I was a college student in 2004, and worked in the Camden store that summer when it opened. I worked at that location during summers until 2006. After moving to Portland and working a few different jobs after college, I joined Sherman’s in Freeport as a full-time bookseller in mid-2008. I worked there for the last five years, and then started the process of helping to plan the new Portland store in late 2013.

The idea of opening a Portland store started with Tori Curtis, the daughter of Sherman’s owner and CEO Jeff Curtis. Tori had worked in Boston in marketing after college, but caught her father’s entrepreneurial bug and started thinking of opening a store. When Tori looked at a location in Portland, Jeff thought it really had potential as a Sherman’s location."

DNA Photography: What is your current role at Sherman's Books?
Mr. Christie: "I’m the manager of Sherman’s Books and Stationery in Portland, ME, and I assist with the book buying for all five Sherman’s stores."

DNA Photography: Do you feel as though there is still a spot for bookstores despite the growth of the internet and online companies? Can small book stores like Sherman's Books compete with large box stores?
Mr. Christie: "Well, geez, I wouldn’t work at a bookstore if I didn’t think they had a place in the modern age. Yes, I think bookstores have a home as a place for events, for brick-and-mortar business, and as a avenue for both local and travelling customers.
Despite the narrative of recent years that the bookstore is a thing of the past, the media seems a bit behind the story – bookstores can certainly survive and thrive. In the last five years, the number of independent bookstores in the U.S., hasn't shrank, but has actually grown about 19 percent. A national retail review for spring identified independent booksellers as the strongest sector within the bookstore category. Where large chains like Barnes and Noble and the now-defunct Borders have struggled to find a place (less personal and unique than smaller shops, but unable to compete on price or selection with Amazon), indies have proven agile and creative in the face of the challenges. And, of course, Sherman's is expanding rather than contracting. Indies can compete by focusing on their strengths - curation, expertise, creativity, and a connection to community (be it local partnerships, donations, or events) - and fulfilling the wants and needs of their customers, rather than fretting about the behemoth companies. Things like the 'buy local movement' have also helped lift bookstores alongside other independent businesses."

DNA Photography: In your opinion what do you believe small bookstores bring to a community?
Mr. Christie: "In his 1989 book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg talks about the idea of the "third place" - a place separate from home and work that essential to community, public life, and community vitality. I think that often bookstores fill this role as the heart of a community. (Or, as Neil Gaiman put it, 'What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul.') It's a place where people meet and talk and get to know one another.
In the less ephemeral and more practical sense, bookstores (and other local businesses) bring jobs and tax dollars to communities that big-box and online retailers don't, while straining local infrastructure less. Sherman's stores also run book fairs and community events, work with schools and libraries, and donate to local causes."
DNA Photography: Does Sherman's Books have a Maine featured section and if so how does it go about keeping that section current with new material?

Mr. Christie: "We do! Since the stores’ beginnings over a century ago, supporting Maine authors and books about Maine has been very important. In Portland, for example, one wall of the store is devoted to Maine books. We work with local and national publishers when buying for the store to make sure Maine is well represented. We also carry self-published books by Mainers at all of our stores."

DNA Photography: Does Sherman's Books offer Q&A sessions with authors - and if so what are a few well known authors that have taken part of the program?

Mr. Christie: "We have a variety of events with authors, ranging from book signings and one-on-one interactions with customers to book talks, presentation, and launches of new titles. Among the stores, Linda Greenlaw, Paul Doiron, Richard Russo, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Kristen Britain, Lea Wait, and many others have taken part in events. We keep a busy events schedule at all five stores, especially during the summer when there are often multiple events a week."

DNA Photography: Does Sherman's Books offer anything unique to its audience?
Mr. Christie: "Since opening in 1886, the Sherman's stores have always offered a mix of book and non-book products, based on the wants and needs of customers. This remains true in Portland, where there are lots of local and hand-made prints, toys, and other gift items.

Sherman's has a 'Frequent Buyer' customer loyalty program, and orders books five days a week - which means that if a book is in print we can often get it to customers faster than Amazon. We also host author and authorless events."
DNA Photography: How long have you been on Exchange Street and how have you been greeted by the surrounding stores and general public?

Mr. Christie: "We opened on Exchange Street on April 1, 2014. We’ve been greeted warmly by both our neighbors and our customers. I think that many locals both miss and fondly remember Books Etc, which was located on Exchange Street and closed a few years ago. It’s been an encouraging sign that Portland as a whole, and the Old Port in particular, can support another independent bookstore."

DNA Photography: Are there any upcoming projects or events that you would like to share.

Mr. Christie: "We’re still building our events schedule for the next few months in Portland, but we are already have some events on the calendar for May, including a book signing with Maine author Jeff Foltz (May 24, 11:30 – 3:00), a presentation from wine expert and author of Wine Maniacs Layne Witherell (May 30, 6:00 PM), and the book launch of Portland Food (May 31, 1:00 to 3:00).

We’re also planning multiple bookstore-based clubs, including a book club that meets at local breweries, and a “correspondence club” focused on letter-writing and stationery. We’ll be announcing more about these and other upcoming projects on our expanding social media presence on Facebook (, Twitter (, and Instagram ( – those accounts are all largely run from the Portland store."

DNA Photography: In addition to working in a bookstore you also have authored a book as well. Tell us about the process of writing your book and on what topic you covered? What type or research was done for your book and what kind of feedback have you received from it?

Mr. Christie: "My first book, Maine Beer, was published by The History Press in May 2014. It’s a history of the brewing industry in Maine, from the earliest European settlement in the region through statewide prohibition, national prohibition, and the boom of the 'craft' brewing movement that began in the state in the mid-80s and continues to today. It also functions as a bit of a guide book, with a chapter devoted to the history, personality, and beers of each brewery in the state.

I was lucky as far as authors go – I was commissioned to write the book by the publisher, so they came to me with a proposal rather than the other way around. I spent a lot of time on the road visiting breweries and talking with brewers and owners in terms of original research, and also spent a great deal of time at historical societies and libraries looking into the earlier history of Maine brewing, as well as newspaper and magazines articles from the early 80s and 90s covering the birth of modern craft brewing.

Feedback has been very positive. The book has received lots of press and many positive reviews, and has sold through two printings. It was also, coincidentally, one of the best-selling books of the year among the (then-)four Sherman’s locations in 2013."

DNA Photography: Are you working on any other authored projects?

Mr. Christie: "This fall, Down East Books is publishing a book collecting the best of my and my father’s “Worth the Trip” columns, outdoor activity features that originally appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram. I’m currently working on a beer book, focused on stouts and porters."

DNA NOTE: When Mr. Christie's book comes out we will be sure to post a link to it here. We always encourage people to visit their local independent bookstore. There is so much to be gained from just a short visit.