There’s Just Something About Maine

There’s Just Something About Maine… But which Maine do you mean?

By Judson D. Hale

Sep 01 2015

Every New England state is somebody’s favorite place on earth. But Maine…well, Maine seems to evoke slightly more nostalgia, more loyalty and more passion that anywhere else in New England. I’ll readily concede to being prejudiced, however. After all, I was raised on a farm in northeastern Maine (Vanceboro) and so Maine is in my blood. I can’t help it.

As anyone knows who has been there, Maine is beautiful. But Maine is also ugly. I remember driving from Sedgwick to Brunswick several summers ago and stopping at the top of Caterpillar Hill. There before me was Maine the beautiful – Walker Pond in the foreground, the ocean beyond dotted with dark, pine-covered islands of all shapes and sizes, the bridge crossing Eggewoggin Reach, so familiar to yachtsmen, Deer Island with its thin road winding down toward Stonington and in the far distance, the Camden hills. This is the Maine that lives in the hearts of all New Englanders as well as visitors – the Maine of artists, of poets, of the soul.

Then there is backcountry Maine, “the Maine that artists do not paint, writers seldom describe (with the notable exception of Carolyn Shute) and visitors do not talk about,” wrote Charles E. Clark in Maine, A History. It is “the Maine where scrubby woodlands alternate with bleak, unshaded villages marked by an old general store and a Baptist Church, but also by a laundromat, a couple of gas stations, and a Dairy Joy, and where the houses may have sheet metal roofs.” People in backcountry Maine say a house is a house, but a house with a couple of sheds is a village. This is the Maine that shows up in the lower half of annual United States per-capita income listings.

A third Maine is forested wilderness, the Maine of white water canoeing, hunting, fishing, mosquitoes big enough to carry you away, old Maine guides, lumbering and tall tales. In one of my favorite books, The Jonesport Raffle, author John Gould recalls a fishing story contest in Montana that a Maine backwoodsman decided to enter by mail. “The prize was to be a new fly rod but he [the Mainer] said he never used a rod – he hid on the bank of the stream and clubbed the trout with a baseball bat when they came up to pick blueberries.”

The Maine man won the contest, but the Associated Press (which covered the story) was careful to assure readers that this was a typical Maine woodsman’s “tall tale” and not to be believed literally. Gould, however, never gave an inch. “Truthfully,” he later wrote, “ it is nothing to see men with ball bats lined up along a brook in Maine – not for taking trout, but for self-defense. The vicious, man-eating trout of Franklin County have been known to drive a man up a tree, and then jump at his feet.”

Still another Maine is potato Maine, hugging the New Brunswick border for over a hundred miles, an open, rolling area that probably most everyone in the country has heard about but comparatively few have ever seen. School starts in Aroostook County in mid-August and that’s bad news for kids. On the other hand, the schools then close for about three weeks in September to enable children to help (legally) harvest the potatoes. Up there, that’s known as a bad news, bad news story.

I once asked a little New Hampshire first grader touring the Yankee Magazine offices if she’d like to pick potatoes in Maine during September instead of going to school. She said, “sure – it wouldn’t last long anyway. No one lives in Maine all year round.”

“Really?” I said incredulously.

“No,” she replied firmly. “Maine’s closed in the winter.”