Recently, Maine has been getting some bad press, and I don’t think it’s fair. In a segment comparing Governor LePage to Donald Trump, Samantha Bee from TBS dissed our state, calling us “the unheated crawl space between Quebec and New Hampshire where America hides its heroine,” and Five Thirty Eight noted our struggling economy and our struggle to keep young people in our state. And I feel the need to make sure a fairer, more complete depiction of our beautiful state is shared.
I am from away. I grew up in Texas but never quite fit in there. I was always pretty much ready to leave, and before I even finished graduate school, I was headed north. I landed in Oregon and loved it there, but the state was an expensive one in which to live, which is never easy on a teacher. Plus, I just never quite fit in as I hoped I would.
So I continued my quest to find my place, and this would certainly be no easy task.
I had always been envious of people who had a strong sense of place and belonging. My brother also grew up in Texas and loved his home state. He joined the Navy, saw the world, and still seemed convinced Texas was the best place on earth. I couldn’t understand this. I couldn’t understand loving a place so much. I never felt like I belong anywhere.
I thought I might be searching forever. I just assumed I would always have “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. Then, thanks to a job, I landed in Maine. Now, I’m not going to lie. The winters were hard on me at first, but I slowly began to understand that Maine was probably the best place on earth to me. Even after I left my job, I decided to stay.
We have the ocean, mountains, forests, beautiful wildlife, and while the winters are tough for sure, during the summer and fall, I have no doubt that Maine is the most beautiful place on the planet. And even those long winters are filled with beauty. Snow on a forest of pine trees is certainly a sight to behold.
Of course, this is leaving out a critical element. Maine is awesomely beautiful and has a connection to Nature that soothes my soul, but it’s the people of Maine that make it the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
There’s a toughness in people here that I have come to understand and admire, and I like to believe that I’m a little tougher for living here. The winters don’t bother me nearly so badly, and I’m a pretty fair snow shoveler. I even managed to plant a garden right in the middle of the worst black fly season I’ve ever seen. Mind over matter. You do what you have to do. I’ve learned this from living in Maine.
But I’m here to tell you that, underneath that Maine toughness, the people here are the kindest I’ve ever seen. It’s not the fake kind, as I’ve seen in other places. It’s real. Mainers are honest, and they are authentic.
I’m always telling my friends and family that living in Maine is kind of like taking a step back in time, but in a good way. Our neighbors make us dinner when we are sick or need help. They await our youngest boy on Halloween and still send extra treats for our oldest boy, who is 19 and much too old for trick-or-treating, but still a consideration at Halloween time. You can wear your jammies to work in your yard, and no one seems to mind.
Even in town, you’ll not be judged by the clothes you wear or how you wear your hair. There’s a “realness” to Maine that is enviable.
Maine has helped me find my sense of place that I longed for in my life. One day, a few years ago, I had an epiphany. I was sitting in “traffic” behind a bus and thinking about what an important job bus drivers have. “They take care of our children,” I thought to myself. Then, I realized that I had no children in the school system, but the children on that bus were still “our children” to me.
I realized that I, for the first time in my life, had a sense of place. I feel like I am a part of Maine, and that’s a really big deal to someone like me.
As an aside, I found out after living here for some time that I have ancestors that go back to the first families who founded Holden, Maine. So I like to tell myself that I’m not really from away that much.
Our family has come to love this state, and I feel like I fit in here as well as I’m ever going to fit in anywhere. I’m thankful that I can wear my Bean Boots with anything and that I’ll never be judged for wearing my sweatpants and flannel shirt shopping.
Maine is so much more than what has been portrayed in the media as of late. We are so much more open minded than the rest of the country might think right now. And Maine is, without a doubt, one of the best places in the country to live and raise a family. But, for me, it’s our connection to Nature that helps make everything better here.
The moon is bigger, it seems. The trees are more magnificent, it seems. And the stars are certainly brighter. Did you know Maine has light pollution laws to protect our beautiful views of the cosmos? I think people who criticize Maine are really missing the point of our state.
Maine is my home. And that’s a big thing for someone like me to say.
As I close my defense of Maine, I leave you with a poem my husband wrote a few years ago to honor the place that we now call home. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and appreciate his insight into the beauty of our state.
by Ron Sands
The roads and towns
scarred by weather,
borrowed from time,
generations in the ground
remains to remind…
A wildness waits in Maine,
edging at the margins
where it transcends the clearings,
and the lives carved out
by women and men.
It permeates the air, the soul,
presses nightly at my window sill
after closing across a moonlit field,
hollow ground that once held trees.
I feel the message that it brings.
I see it in the weary lean
of power poles that bear the weight.
It’s present in the marble towns,
the moss-stained stones like ancient teeth.
It cradles the dead in their long sleep.
It lingers on inside the trees,
creeps along spring roots that gnaw,
defines the flame of autumn leaves,
the bitter breath of winds that gnash,
and the scrape and rattle of winter branch.
A wildness waits in Maine,
enduring and assured.
I feel its presence all around
and know I will remain,
for it has made its claim on me.