BUCKSPORT — The early days of spring are a special time for all Mainers. The longer stretches of daylight, the budding of trees and the mercury inching upward in our thermometers all do wonders for our winter-weary souls.
In Bucksport, there’s another reliable way to know warmer times have arrived: downtown ice cream shop Wahl’s Dairy Port opens. This year, that rite of spring took place April 2. Sometimes it’s in late March.
The weather isn’t always spring-like when Wahl’s opens, but you can be sure the Northern Hemisphere is tilting closer to the sun when it does. You can also expect a steady supply of sundaes, shakes and scoops of every imaginable flavor from then until early fall.
But what does Larry Wahl, who owns and operates one of the most happening spots in town during summer, do in the months when his namesake shop is closed?
A lot, actually: he is an active member of the Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and chairs the board of Buck Memorial Library. He’s on town committees. He buys, patches up and rents out properties. He has worked to preserve Wilson Hall.
In short, Wahl, though not one to draw attention to himself, is one of Bucksport’s most devoted citizens, businessmen and volunteers. It’s hard to imagine a local event that he hasn’t helped organize.
So it may — or may not — come as a surprise that Wahl is also a man of the world.
He does not literally wander the Earth, but in a building next door to his ice cream shop, which Wahl purchased a couple years ago, he stores about 40 old globes, and many more maps and sea charts that he has collected over the last 25 years. He keeps others at the home he recently built in Bucksport.
Wahl, a native of upstate New York, moved to Bucksport in 1977 after leaving a career with Xerox. He then worked as a street sweeper and builder for many years around Hancock County, work that required reading many maps of the area.
Now 70, Wahl has developed an appreciation for local history and genealogy. Over the years, he has frequented auctions, yard sales and antique shops, collecting a seemingly random assortment of ice scream scoops, fishing rods, scythes, saws, oil cans, doorknobs and more.
“All kinds of treasures,” said Wahl, who also ran his own antique shop in Orland for a time.
He began accumulating the maps and globes out of an appreciation for their designs and the information they hold.
“Some are old, some are fairly new. The different sizes and different colors have always fascinated me,” Wahl said of the collection. “It’s not that I’m a world traveler, and I’m not crazy about the water either.”
Dating each of the globes has been a challenge, Wahl said, but most seem to have been made between the end of World War II and the late 1980s, as they include the Soviet Union. The borders of various African countries also provide clues, as some have changed over the years.
Many of the globes are aquamarine and dangle from the ceiling like planets in an attic-sized solar system. Most unique may be his whitish-blue replica of the moon, which maps its craters and other features.
More varied are Wahl’s maps, which represent everything from the world to the Long Island Sound to Hancock County to Bucksport itself.
While Wahl does not have any day-to-day uses for the maps and other treasures he has collected, he says holding onto them is still preferable to having them be lost or destroyed.
The mapping industry has become more digital over the years, with drivers just as likely to use a smartphone or GPS device as a paper map when hitting the road these days.
Such changes haven’t been limited to mapmaking. Magazine publishing has taken a hit, and that’s partly why the local paper mill closed in 2014.
In Maine, changes in the mapping industry also led to the sale of Yarmouth-based DeLorme to Swiss company Garmin.
DeLorme’s print atlases have been like sacraments to the drivers who use them to navigate the Pine Tree State.
The company has said it won’t remove Eartha, the giant, 41.5-foot wide globe that now sits in its glass vestibule and that anyone driving north on I-295 can see.
Some Mainers have bemoaned the deal, given DeLorme’s iconic status here.
Wahl — who says he’s not much of a “computer person” — had a slightly different reaction when he heard the news.
“I wanted that globe,” he said. Then he added, “I’d have to build a separate building for it.”