Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Maine Mountains Meandering

Rangeley Lake from the cabin

Mountains or coast? Maine has both and that’s what my wife and I discussed when deciding to move here thirty-four years ago. We decided on mountains and settled in Lovell - a little town north of Fryeburg near the border with Conway, New Hampshire. Last week, we rented a small cabin on Rangeley Lake, also in the mountains, a couple of hours north of Lovell. Relatively undeveloped and surrounded by wilderness, it was like going back in time.

The weather reminded me of Ireland. The sun would be out, then it would cloud up and rain. Then the sun would come out again. Then it would rain again, and so forth. It wasn’t good for kayaking, but did make for some beautiful sunsets.

Rangeley Lake

So few people live around Rangeley that most of the land isn’t organized into towns. Even recent maps show very few roads either and the existing ones are gravel. Most of those are closed off - and not just with a steel cable - but with substantial metal gates. Timber companies or groups of hunters and fishermen own big chunks of land up there and it looks like they maintain many of the roads.

Foreboding clouds in Rangeley

The earliest known evidence of human activity in Maine was found thirty years ago on the nearby shores of what had been the Magalloway River and is now Lake Aziscohos. Ironically, the discoverer was Francis Vail of East Stoneham, Maine - the town just north of where I live in Lovell. People were hunting caribou there more than 11,000 years ago when it was nothing but treeless tundra. Artifacts from a dig on what’s known as the Vail Site are on display in the Maine State Museum in Augusta. The site is under water now, but having read about it, I’d looked over maps of the region and tried to check other places likely to show evidence of early activity by Paleo-Americans or later Indian tribes, usually at the confluence of lakes and rivers of which there are many in those parts. Often, I can walk along a shoreline and recognize flakes of various kinds of chert and quartz left over from tool-making (knapping) millennia ago. My searches were frustrated, however, by those ubiquitous gates. My wife was patient, reading a book on the passenger side, as I drove around.

Fluted knife from Vail site

Looking for a place to rent, I was surprised to see that rates for many establishments are more expensive during winter than summer. Heat would be a factor and Saddleback Ski Mountain is nearby, but it’s mostly snowmobiling that draws the people. It’s big up there. I believe I’d have access to more places on a snowmobile, but I wouldn’t be able to recognize evidence of ancient tool-making on ground covered by snow.

Mike Gramly, the archaeologist who supervised the Vail site excavations, was speaking to the Rangeley Historical Society last Friday. I had a chance to pick his brain for almost two hours. That was the highlight of the trip for me. Again, my wife patiently read a book on the porch of the museum while we talked.

On a rainy Tuesday we drove up to the Wilhelm Reich Museum grounds called “Orgonon.” On the access road was an office. We saw someone stirring inside and he came out wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. He was long-haired, looked stoned, and in spite of that and the metal stud through his tongue, he explained that the museum was open only Wednesday through Saturday. Back at our cabin later I researched Wilhelm Reich and the creepy feelings we had at his former home/museum were confirmed. According to Wikipedia, he was an associate of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but they parted company because:

He began to violate some of the key taboos of psychoanalysis, using touch during sessions, and treating patients in their underwear to improve their "orgastic potency." He said he had discovered a primordial cosmic energy, which he said others called God and that he called "orgone." He built orgone energy accumulators that his patients sat inside to harness the reputed health benefits, leading to newspaper stories about sex boxes that cured cancer.

Reich also invented a "cloudbuster" machine which purportedly could use this orgiastic orgone energy to produce rain. Online, I found another visitor’s account worth a read. I was glad the place was closed because it would be more edifying to watch an old episode of the Addams Family. I have to wonder how they have the funds to keep the place open fifty years after Reich died in Lewisburg Penitentiary. According to Wikipedia: "His work influenced a generation of intellectuals including Saul Bellow, William S. Burroughs . . . [and] Norman Mailer." No wonder I don't like reading those guys.

Maybe it’s the cloudbuster machines, I don’t know, but weather there reminded me of Ireland. The sun would shine; it would cloud over and rain; the sun would come out, then it clouded over and rained again - all within a couple of hours. That pattern continued for days with a hailstorm thrown in. One afternoon, however, permitted a sidewalk art show with some impressive work by Maine photographers, painters and other craftspeople. Watercolors by local Rangeley artist Pamela Ellis struck me most and I purchased some of her prints - rare for someone cheap as I am.

Topographically, Maine is as big and varied as the other five New England states put together and it’s going to take a while to explore it. With my teaching career behind me, I’ll have time this fall to continue discovering more of the northeastern half of New England.


Anonymous said...

"I’ll have time this fall to continue discovering more of the northeastern half of New England."

Come by this fall, Tom, and I'll take you to a cliff where you can see 14 lakes. I'll tell you what has happened to that land.

Roger Ek

Tom McLaughlin said...

Where would that be Roger?

gaffer said...

Traveling northeast toward Stratton from Rangley when the land levels out their are roads that go Northwest toward East Kennebago Mtn.that are not gated. Check map 28 in DeLormes Atlas. It is noted as Langtown Mill on the Atlas. You probably need 4-wheel drive to be safe but there are miles and miles of roads.

Murphy said...

Having read Dr. Reich's autobiography, I can attest to the fact that the man had some major flaws and/or perversions that may have manifested in a bizarre and traumatic childhood. However, he had some unique ideas that at the very least would make for an interesting afternoon for any museum visitor.
If you can get past his cult like followers and some of the museum staff, and actually get into the museum, you will find an incredible piece of history consisting of his preserved 1940s laboratory, immense library, and many works of art. A museum tour will also remind the visitor that our country does not often tolerate radicals as the FBI confiscated and destroyed most of his unhidden documents. Reich's ideas of human sexual repression angered a certain female reporter who likely pulled some strings in the FBI. Reich's writings were deemed a nuisance and so it was that while working for the federal government out West, one of Reich's assistants back in Maine crossed into New Hampshire with a folder containing some of the nuisance documents. Our government needed to keep us all safe, so they arrested Reich for the atrocious offense of crossing a state line with banned reading materials. Reich wrote a letter to the judge (excellent reading) basically saying that he could not honor this farce with his presence. This was a serious mistake as it put him in federal prison until his death from a heart attack two months later.