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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Northern Maine - Day 2

A full day in Aroostook County, a marvellous place of hugely different terrain. It started with Clif Boudman's delicious breakfast at the inn, and good conversation with this innkeeper/bon vivant/film professor at UMPI. (His son also is involved in movies, recently as Senior Flame/Inferno Artist at Sony Pictures, a title like no other I've ever heard.) Thus fortified against the rain, we drove the loop - out route 163 to Ashland, up Route 11 to Fort Kent, down Route 1 back to Presque Isle.

Just a couple of miles south of Fort Kent our daily hike found us Fish River Falls, and some autumn fields of surpassing beauty but unknown crops. The County is like that: town, farm, unspoiled wilderness all crowded next to each other wherever you go. Well, mostly wilderness.

During the growing season potatoes are the attraction. (The other 6-7 months of the year, winter is properly and happily celebrated.) We had arrived just before harvest, during the time after the plants and stems have been cut (or otherwise defoliated) and before picking. That period of several weeks allows the potato skins to set or harden, important for storage. It also allows incredible scenes of the fields in various stages of preparation, some still mostly green, some brown/green with decay, some completely brown, the "hills" clean and ready for the pickers. These fields sweep the horizon majestically; we weren't prepared for their beauty.

There were lots of potato stands along the roads. This one was high-end; most of them sold 10 pounds for only $2.00. Honor system, of course.

Fort Kent is the center of Maine's Acadian culture, where French language and custom are still strong. Those French who settled in Nova Scotia (their "Acadia") in the 16th and 17th centuries were chased out of Canada by loyalists to the British Crown, some ending up in Louisiana and some settling in the St. John River valley in the late 18th century, living in houses like this one (now reconstructed in Acadia Village, Route 1, Van Buren).

There remains a strong Catholic influence.

The towns along Route 1 all feature a large Catholic church, almost cathedral size, and then a straggle of houses and businesses in both directions along the road. No one seems to live off Main Street, as if the surrounding forests shouldn’t be encroached upon. Development is gentle, not vicious. I doubt that zoning boards have much to do. The pace of life will not be speeded up. Poverty and pride and the small population won’t allow it.
I loved the County, its wide-open spaces, its friendly people. And we didn't even get to Allagash, the setting for Cathie Pelletier's wonderful and comic novels about the French and the Scots in Maine. Nor did we have a chance to try the ployes, the buckwheat pancakes apparently similar to the galettes of Brittany; nor, although one of us was sorely tempted, the famous poutine (french fries, cheese curds, brown beef gravy), also seen on a menu as Penobscot fries. Very good sushi in a Chinese restaurant in Presque Isle had to suffice.
Ah, the consequences of lavish B&B breakfasts. Ah, the several reasons to return to the County.

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