Wednesday, July 13, 2011
There’s something about Maine, a kind of mystique I think. While traveling elsewhere in the United States people ask me where I live. When I say “Maine,” I often hear, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there,” or “I was there once and I really want to go back.” It’s happened so often I’ve been thinking about why. Do people think differently about my state than others? I’m suspecting they do but I haven’t thought to ask them yet. Have they heard others talk about Maine? Have they seen pictures? Have they read Stephen King novels? Seen movies? I’ve decided to start asking.
When meeting English-speaking people in other parts of the world they usually recognize me as an American and then ask where in the US I live. Most of the time, they never heard of Maine, so I explain that it’s north of Boston on the coast and bordering with Canada. “Ah,” they say, and leave it at that. Maine’s mystique, insofar as it exists, is mostly with other Americans I suspect.
For the past several years I’ve been exploring Maine’s long coastline. Each summer my wife and I rent a cottage for a week on one peninsula, of which there are many on Maine’s coast. My wife likes the beach so I’ll spend a day sitting and walking on the sand with her, but then I’ll drop her off and drive up every road that doesn’t have a “No Trespassing” sign. In the off-season I’ll rent a motel room for a weekend and do the same. Either way, I always have my camera with me and I’m seldom disappointed with what there is before me to shoot.New Harbor, Bristol, Maine
Last week we vacationed in New Harbor, which is actually a village and harbor in the municipality of Bristol. Pemaquid and Round Pond are also part of Bristol, and the latter is actually a harbor. On Pemaquid Point is the lighthouse represented on the Maine version of the new quarters. Browsing around the fishermen’s museum in the light-keeper’s house, I listened to a woman from Virginia talk to the old fisherman who was working there and answering questions. She thanked him for preserving the old tackle, the old newspaper articles about shipwrecks on that rocky point, the old lobster traps, handlines, and so forth. I heard her tell him how much she liked visiting Maine and how wonderful it was. When she worked her way over to where I was standing I asked her what exactly she liked about Maine.Pemaquid Beach, Bristol, Maine
She found it amazing that there were no security cameras in the museum and that she was allowed to pick things up and touch them.
“Did you notice the house where you can buy eggs on the honor system?” I asked. “You would have passed it down the road about a half a mile.”
“I did,” she said. “You’d never see that where I live, which is in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.”
She said Maine was well preserved, that being here is like going back in time. She liked that there were few chain restaurants, few traffic lights, and that people kept their property up. She noticed how people looked her in the eye and talked to her easily.Fourth of July, Pemaquid Beach
She was renting a place in Damariscotta and had toured the Boothbay Harbor region which I haven’t explored yet. “People take pride in their homes over there,” she said. “All the lawns were mowed and the flowers were so pretty.” I could see Boothbay looking south out the museum window, and as she talked I pictured some places around where I live in western Maine that were not well-kept at all. They were littered with old snowmobiles, abandoned cars, discarded furniture and assorted trash - all overgrown with weeds. It’s true, however, that most of Maine is fairly well-tended, but I haven’t traveled enough to know if others states are different in that way.Stone Sculptures on Pemaquid Point
Interesting rock formations below Bristol’s Lighthouse Park are typical of what can be found over all of Maine’s coast. Layers of sediment laid down hundreds of millions of years ago have been melted into wavy lines, interspersed with magma, pushed up into the perpendicular, and weathered by wave, wind and frost for God knows how long. According to one geologist, Maine has the most varied bedrock formations of any other place on earth of similar size and it’s all on display where land meets water.Mexican Man from one angle
Just above the normal high-tide mark, visitors used small stone fragments to construct their own delicately-balanced variations on Nature’s work, forming them into trees, dogs, and people.Mexican Woman from another angle
There they sit until the next big storm smashes them back into random jumbles of stone. I was careful not to brush against any as I walked among them taking pictures on a clear, sunny morning at low tide.Stone people and trees
It’s good to get fresh perspectives on familiar things, and seeing Maine through other eyes can be a nice way to do that. I shall continue to ask visitors why they come here and residents why they choose to live here.