Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maine Mystique

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.


Anonymous said...

I feel good knowing Maine is just 5 miles 'down the road'. I always make sure I have my map, because my drives to Nowhere, often get me there and I have to find my way back. For those who have never done it, a ride on Route 1 as far north as you care to go, is about as good as it gets. Just don't ignore the little side roads that go to the ocean and lunch at a seafood shack glued to a rock just above high tide. If there is a heaven, I hope it is in Maine and of course that I get there.

Anonymous said...

Just reading this column makes me want to move away from the hell on earth that is Texas in the summer...

Diane Gurien, Kearsarge NH said...

Another inspiring, relaxing and beautiful travel piece by Tom McLaughlin. A pleasure to read, as usual.

I agree with the first comment, grateful for our proximity to the Maine coast.

Thank you, Tom!

Rhonda said...

Ok, and now I want to go to Maine, and if anyone asks me, I will tell them, "Because I keep reading about how beautiful and interesting it is on Tom McLaughlin's column".

Anonymous said...

The key to coming to Maine, If you are a "Flatlander", is to listen, stay silent a few seconds longer than you normally would before you ask the question. Leave the way of life from where you came right there where you came from and experience our way of life. This is the fastest way I know of to get the locals to know, and accept you as one of them. It should only take 2 generations instead of 3 or 4.

Stanley Manning said...

Yes, Maine is still an astounding place, in spite of Tom and his ilk's determination to destroy the environment. Don't be fooled by his professed love of nature. He would gladly see it all destroyed in the name of capitalism and the "free market". I grew up in the area Tom speaks of. Though out of the country and in a war zone now, it annoys me that he has contaminated my home it with his aura.

Anonymous said...

Funny, Tom's pals on AMG think Maine sucks.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Having a bad day Stan?

Anonymous said...

The fact that your in a war zone leads me to believe that you are there fighting for your country and it's constitution that it lives by. Yet reading your post it's obvious that you despise capitalism and the free market. I'm not sure if they taught you to do any thinking in the public school that you went to but the first question I've got for you to ponder and I really think you should ponder this seriously: Why the "Bleep" are you over there fighting and and committing to DIE for your country if necessary when you obviously hate the Same country and what it stands for (Capitalism).

I have sat here and pondered this about you for an hour now and I've come to this conclusion Skippy; YOUR A "LIB-TARD" Here's your sign!!

Name withheld for fear of being put on the Obamma watch list.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but laugh thinking about all the houses near where I live near Fryebug, that are completely trashed. It's sad to see. I wish Maine wouldn't expand any more and stay as "America's Portal To The Past." Not a lot of big cities and traffic. Those pictures were beautiful! I wish I could go there to see what it's like!
-Makayla K.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks Makayla. That's high praise coming from a photographer as good as you.

Anonymous said...

We returned this past weekend to my native North Carolina from three glorious weeks on Moose Pond. This is the first time I have been able to spend that long a time in one streach at the camp since I first started coming in 1973. It was wonder. (One caveat: I have not been to Maine in the winter.) My response to the question is really very simple. First, no matter what the air temperature, the pond is always a short walk and a cool dip away. Second, there may be some "junky" looking yards and buildings, but for the most part, the people aren't. In my opinion the Maine and North Carolina people have a lot in common. If one cares enough about people in general to take the time, it takes just two minutes of conversation to find out that Mainers are friendly, helpful and hard working. I haven't met a Mainer yet that didn't work at least two or three jobs. Life is more about living, looking after your family and friends and being neighborly than seeing how many people you can insult or ridicule every day. I too cringe when I encounter at Hanniford those loud, pushy, people in a hurry. (I too assume they are from that nearby state that will go unmentioned.) If you are looking for ritzy or glamorous, maybe you could find a tiny bit somewhere in Portland, but I hope not. It's not what I would be looking for; and I think most Mainers that I have met would not be looking for it either. Perhaps as much as anything, we are talking about a state of mind.