Those who have driven down Bristol Road toward Pemaquid may know Ron McCrary as the proprietor of River Mist Kayaks or the picturesque cut-flower business he runs out of a roadside stand during the warmer months. Some longtime residents may know his Bristol Mills home as the site where Busy Bee Ice Cream once stood; still others may find his hand-painted “Feck Putin” sign more memorable.
These days, while the signs still swing on their hinges, McCrary’s garden is fading into winter dormancy. McCrary will endure the coming winter, but snowy weather is a far cry from the tropical climate where he was raised.
McCrary was born in Belize, a small nation on the northeast coast of Central America, where his parents met while his American father was on a jaguar-hunting expedition.
“I grew up by the ocean, on the Caribbean sea,” said McCrary.
His youth was spent adventuring with friends in the jungle, fishing for enormous blue marlins, and flying across the Caribbean in a friend’s Cessna 172.
“As a kid, I wanted to be a pilot,” McCrary said. “I could take off in the Cessna, but I was nervous on the landing!”
At the age of 19, McCrary, ready for a change, traveled to Florida, where his American father lived and worked as a NASA engineer. He continued to bounce between his Caribbean home and the United States for 13 years, eventually settling permanently in the United States in the early 1990s.
His father hoped that McCrary would follow in his footsteps to become an engineer, but McCrary, who was not close with his father, had other plans.
Ultimately, “I did a lot of different things,” McCrary said.
McCrary, who describes himself as “handy,” is thrifty and independent. He spoke of completing extensive renovations to flip houses, teaching himself skills along the way like window installation and painting houses. McCrary has also rented properties as a landlord throughout Lincoln County.
With easily transferrable skills, McCrary was able to move around extensively, living for a time in both Chicago and North Carolina as a young man. But no location resonated culturally with him as much as Maine, where McCrary moved in 2004 and has since settled down.
It was at his home in Bristol that the centerpiece of McCrary’s entrepreneurial endeavors, River Mist Kayaks, originated. Struggling to find help for his painting business during the summer months, McCrary decided to take advantage of the prime location of his home, which sits across from a boat launch on the Pemaquid River.
River Mist Kayaks opened in 2015 and has since enjoyed successful summers since. McCrary said that his favorite part about owning the business is seeing the same faces year after year.
“I know kids who had to sit in the middle of a canoe because they were too small, and now are grown up and in their own kayaks,” McCrary said, smiling.
McCrary’s friendly, laid-back nature and accommodating approach to his rental business have earned him plenty of fans. As of Nov. 14, River Mist has an unmarred five-star rating on Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, with many glowing anecdotes in reviews left by customers.
“I have some good reviews,” McCrary said. “I was surprised about that, because I can be an (vulgarity).”
Part of what makes McCrary well-suited to guide recreational boaters is his passion for the pristine beauty and wildlife of the Pemaquid River and surrounding area.
This is exemplified by the attention McCrary pays to the wildlife on his own property. While walking in his garden on Nov. 12, McCrary noted a hawk soaring high overhead, jovially pointed out where the earth of his garden had been upturned by a garlic-thieving skunk, and mused about the importance of feeding bluebirds, for whom McCrary daily grinds handfuls of unsalted peanuts and has mounted several snug wooden birdhouses around his property.
In the wintertime, the birds sometimes come to his window to remind McCrary to feed them, he said. Some are comfortable enough around him to eat from his hand.
Like the bluebirds, other animals seem to trust McCrary, too. His cat, a small, long-haired senior named Spook, chose to come live with McCrary rather than the other way around.
“He just came in one day and fed himself,” said McCrary, affectionately.
McCrary’s respect for the animals and environment of Pemaquid make him highly aware of the threats they face. Currently, he is concerned about the increasingly common use of speedboats on the Pemaquid River near the town swimming hole and delicate wetlands, McCrary said.
“It’s shallow. There’s a lot of wildlife … and swimmers,” McCrary said.
McCrary has been many places and done many things, but it’s here in Maine that he feels most at home. He hopes that the others with whom he shares the Pemaquid peninsula see him as more than just “a man from another country,” he said.
While McCrary may not be a multi-generational Mainer, his ingenuity, can-do attitude, and commitment to the local community make it clear that he belongs to the Pemaquid peninsula.
“I love the people here. The people have been great,” McCrary said.
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