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

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Wilderness

But enough of the practical, the political. There are reasons far beyond these to preserve the wilderness, and they can address the troubling chasm in our lives: between reality and intent, between compromise and purity, between living responsibly and living fanatically – the old problem of the gap between works and faith. How do I justify my cars, my houses, my consumption of carbon? Even if I try to distill and reduce my way of life a bit, I still out-burn almost everyone on earth. How do we live in a world so obviously destructive?
I won’t go so far as to say the future of our species is at stake. If we do manage to exterminate ourselves, the end will come from apocalypse, nuclear or religious, not these relatively (in geologic scale) gradual insults to our planet. Barring apocalypse, humans will adapt and survive. I believe the science-fiction writers, even the dystopian dyspeptics, who make a point of showing ala Star Trek that we’re human in spite of the gadgets, the aliens and the shiny, impervious surfaces that may indeed one day cover every inch of Earth. We will suffer and survive.
But our adaptation, both as a species and as individuals, could be so much more rewarding if we just look into and value our beautiful natural world. It might even change the course of our burning. One must always hope.
Just look at what a strange life we have, to live so differently from nature (which we praise) and so similar to it (which we deny). I sit in a living room or an office, and the walls are man-made barriers, and the carpeting is an artificial cocoon, and I’m either trapped, or protected, you choose. I choose to believe that I’m more trapped than protected, and I choose the trees outside the windows, their branches reaching into imagination, to bridge the gap between heaven and earth,.
      And that is what national parks represent to me – imagination. Not for nothing are they called “America’s Best Idea.” The reality of a wilderness should be enough, but for many, perhaps most, people it is far away, frightening, even boring and irrelevant to the business of being a cultured, social being. Yet I believe that everyone should have or even needs the chance to explore the beauty of wilderness. I agree with Thoreau when he said, “You cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.”  I also know that this is a radical view, unsuitable for the majority. But even if most people will not or do not need to explore nature, I submit that the idea of wilderness is just as important as its reality, even for the most determinedly urban of persons. To know that some wild land survives, even though one has never seen it, connects us to something greater than ourselves, in the way religion used to. An immersion in wilderness, even if it’s just a reverie in a diner, allows us the peace of mind to accept death.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Great North Woods

It is in these Great North Woods, the third part of northern Maine, the last undeveloped and unprotected land east of the Rockies, the famous 10 million acres, that the fantasist can find his true heaven. Not necessarily physically find it, but ideally, spiritually. I’ve done somewhat more than most people to explore the woods: driving the Stud Mill, Golden and Greenville logging roads; hiking a bit in Baxter State Park; driving Route 201 through The Forks and Jackman to Quebec. I’ve done somewhat more than most to channel Thoreau: following the Penobscot River, and its East and West Branches, (by car) for a while; climbing Mt. Kineo in Moosehead Lake; touching on Ambajejus and Chesuncook Lakes. But I’ve done nothing about the real wilderness: fishing camps accessible only by seaplane; canoe trips on the rivers that flow north, the Allagash and the St. John; interviews with loggers in the deep woods; moose hunts; being completely alone. It may not be necessary. The knowledge that the Great North Woods still exists, remote and inaccessible and untouched and in a natural state of growth and decay, life and death, without human intervention; the satisfaction that I’ve experienced just enough of it; the hope that it survives for others to experience just enough; all that is sufficient to inspire ordinary life, in Maine or in Manhattan.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The County

If the Down East coast is the tourist’s true heaven, then the St. John River Valley is a Mainer’s true heaven. Route 1, well-paved and maintained, allows comfortable access to the County. The great, rolling farms provide a reasonable income but hardly lavish. The fields are backed up by deep forests with plenty of game. The rivers and lakes provide fish and beauty. The distance from Massachusetts and New York prevents masses of tourists, and those that do come appreciate a simple waterfall, the sweep of potato and broccoli fields in browns and greens, the forthrightness of the houses perched on hilltops sans trees. Thousands of miles of snowmobile trails give purpose to winter. The French Acadian culture evokes a simpler way of life. It’s a place where people are both friendly and fiercely independent. Basically, as an innkeeper told us, it’s Canada. Some days I think there’s a lot to be said for emigration.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Wind power

I have come to be quite skeptical of the way wind power is being sold. I’ve come to agree with much of what Jonathan Carter, executive director of the Forest Ecology Network, now believes about mountaintop wind power, after decades of touting it:
No fossil-fuel power plant has ever been closed because of wind power, and probably never will, given the unreliability and intermittent nature of wind.
Indeed, reserve plants may need to be built to provide back-up if dependence on wind grows.
Fossil-fuel plants need to be cycled down when wind capacity is high, thus increasing their already poor efficiency ratings and actually increasing CO2 emission.
Mountaintops must be cleared of trees, roads built, power lines installed, thus removing carbon-sequestering forests and increasing emissions.
Electricity produced by wind costs 2-3 times as much as conventional power.
There are also huge subsidies from tax dollars, the main reason wind farms are being built today.
Wind farms produce a few temporary jobs but almost no permanent ones.
Home values drop in the vicinity of a turbine.
Ill effects of noise, low-frequency sound waves, and “shadow flicker,” and the economic impact on tourism, have not been completely studied.
Finally, what about esthetic values, not just for tourism and the effect on pristine mountains, but for themselves?  Is it worth it?
       Maine is exactly where we should be having the debate. Take Monhegan, for example, where gritty artists George Bellows and Edward Hopper might have enjoyed huge metal beasts but perhaps not more ethereal Jamie Wyeth and Rockwell Kent, where thousands of people seek tranquility and escape from electricity. How would the artists and nature lovers coming to this natural heaven on earth deal with an artificial thing standing 400 feet tall, gently roaring? Would they take their easels and money belts elsewhere? Or would they, we, all accept that this is the price of progress? Maine trades on its beauty and undefiled landscapes as much as anywhere on earth; are we just going to roll over to the demands of the grid? What few people question is the need for all these machines in the first place.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Down East Coast

The Down East coast is the true tourist’s true heaven: the dramatic setting of Eastport in the middle of Passamaquoddy Bay, islands Canadian and American all around; the lovely houses, clean waterfront, and culture of Lubec; the aching beauty of Quoddy Head State Park; the nether-world of the blueberry barrens; the peace of the Schoodic Peninsula. In Quoddy especially I feel re-born and washed clean of city life, for the cliffs are high, the surf roars, trees grow out of the granite, and little streams cross under the Coastal Trail and fall like lace to the shore. A side trail leads to a peat bog. Where everything on the wild shore seems oversized, the bog is quiet, petite, attenuated. The little trees are stunted, matching me both in height and in years. I go from being a dwarf to the firs and cliffs to being a giant to the pitcher plants. I fit in each case.

But I don’t have to make a living here. For people without outside money, the way of life is hard and full of contradictions. Like many port cities in Maine, Eastport is beautiful and gritty, unpretentious and decaying, slowly sinking since the failure of the Passamaquoddy Tidal Project in the 1930s. It tries to make up for the decline of shipbuilding and fishing by touting tourism and a bit of shipping. Lubec exists almost entirely on people and money from away, a set piece almost. The rugged, unpopulated Cutler coast is marred by a huge radar installation, a weird symbol of war on a pacific shore. Much of it is also conserved, not to mention off the tax rolls. Now that fishing is so unpredictable, Maine folks often scramble to make money, and some are reduced to gathering "wrinkles" (periwinkles or snails to you and me) for sale to Asian markets. But even this humble activity is threatened; seaweed farmers tend to rip up the rockweed indiscriminately, without regard to the wrinkles hiding underneath. The sea is a fact of life, not a movie back drop. An elegant B&B in Prospect Harbor looks out at the shuttered Stinson Seafood Plant, which was the last sardine cannery in the U.S. Tranquil Route 1 in Cherryfield turns into frantic Route 1 in Ellsworth just a few miles away. Tiny houses in Corea sit on million-dollar views of harbors and islands.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Moxie

     The very qualities that make humans admirable – courage, drive, energy, charisma – make our world vulnerable. The word that best describes that constellation of qualities is “moxie.” It seems emblematic to me. The word is derived from a commercial product (Moxie soda), invented by Augustin Thompson from Union, Maine; it was first sold as a patent medicine in 1876 in Lowell, Massachusetts, which by the middle of the 19th century had the country’s largest industrial complex, the Massachusetts Mills; in 1884 Thompson took advantage of the sugar craze and reformulated Moxie as a soft drink and thereupon gained it great popularity, presumably among the down-trodden immigrants of the industrial revolution; its advertising (“Moxie Man”) was powerful enough to bring a new word into the language; like so many local things it succumbed to the power of a multinational, in this case Coca-Cola. And now its popularity is limited to New England, mostly in Maine, which trades in icons and lost causes and illusions. And so the word seems to me to describe both the people of Maine and the dangers that surround us.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: US Route 1, northern section

     Past Ellsworth Route 1 follows the Down East coast. Development melts away. Long stretches of road are interrupted by little clumps of gas station-IGA-diner-post office, and the occasional town that acts as a gateway to the peninsulas to the south: Schoodic, Dyer Neck, Petit Manan Point, Addison and Jonesport and Roque Bluffs, and the almost completely undeveloped and preserved coast from Cutler to West Quoddy Head. Blueberry fields and forests, not car dealers and Pizza Huts, compete for attention.
     Route One swings north before it can reach the easternmost points in the US, Eastport (city) and West Quoddy Head (place), and traverses the lonely woods of north Washington County. Here a truck stop qualifies as a destination restaurant, and paper mills provide employment, not to mention a certain smell to the air. The landscape of barely penetrated wilderness, a wilderness that tolerates a bit of development, doesn’t change until one gets north of Houlton, well into Aroostook County, although the loneliness seems the same: on one Sunday September afternoon, a 50-mile drive from Topsfield to Houlton saw us neither pass, nor get passed by, a single car.
     At Houlton the St. John River valley claims the landscape. This part of Maine is famous for its potatoes, and more recently broccoli, and I thought before seeing it that it might be like the Midwest. I was quite wrong. The land is not flat but rolling into hills, and in the distance into mountains like Katahdin, visible from the highway. The fields are not monotonous, but stark and beautiful. The houses are not protected by little copses of trees but sit openly and proudly on the rises of hills. The woods are not little afterthoughts, or woodlots, but real forests merging into the great woods to the west, coming right up to the edge of the fields as if the work of man is clearly seen to have its limits. In the Midwest one has to look at the sky for illimitable views.
     Route 1 ends in Fort Kent, the center of Acadian culture in Maine. It’s as far north as you can go in New England, and contrasts strangely with Route 1’s other terminus, the southernmost point in the US, Key West. Guess which is my own personal Acadia.
     The towns here show their own kind of sprawl, I guess. A large Catholic church centers each town, and from it white wooden houses and the occasional business straggle along each side of the road, in both directions. No one seems to live off Main Street, as if the surrounding forests shouldn’t be encroached upon. The 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 a small population won’t allow it.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

A Maine Gazetteer: US Route 1, mid-coast section

The mid-coast section gets more beautiful. All of those gorgeous peninsulas – Phippsburg, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Boothbay, Bristol, Friendship, St. George, Owls Head – hang tantalizingly off Route 1 like luscious fruit, inviting a bite or an afternoon. The road dips and winds, into and out of views of corn fields and tidal rivers. The towns are small and lovely: Bath has retained and improved its small-town charm (and a new bridge eliminated the horrid traffic caused by shift changes at Bath Iron Works); Wiscasset calls itself the prettiest town in Maine; Rockland is becoming Camden South; Belfast is reinventing itself for about the third or fourth time. Every time I drive north, a certain spot in Warren catches my breath, for it’s my first glimpse of the Camden Hills.

But the pressure points increase. Traffic backups are legendary where Route 1 cuts directly through towns. It can take more than an hour to get through Wiscasset on summer weekends, and one generally avoids Camden in August. Stuff springs up: there’s a particularly egregious mile south of Wiscasset, where a new supermarket, gas stations, McDonald’s, convenience store and bank, all scattered about the road like toadstools, have forced the closure of an old strip mall without, apparently, the slightest thought of re-development of that mall; where, in “an hour or a day,” for tourists too busy to discover anything for themselves, the tiny booths of Maine Heritage Village offer a review of traditional crafts and foods and occupations; where Monkey C, Monkey Do offers “Maine’s first and only high-flying adventure park and zip lines!!” How embarrassing for the prettiest village in Maine. What local zoning board allowed this?

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: US Route 1, southern section

As in all the eastern states in which it travels, US Route 1 in Maine has examples of sprawl gone irredeemably bad. In Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, any place where the population is dense, there is almost no break from development of the worst kind: the anodyne, dispiriting sameness of national brands housed in big-boxes and strip malls, fast-food joints and gas stations. It’s as if the pressure of people makes us patronize the safest of choices. Encounters with people can be random, maybe frightening; encounters with things should be predictable. But Maine, as usual, is different. Having driven almost every mile of Route 1 in Maine, I can report it’s not nearly so dire here, yet.
Maine, of course, has its clones of Saugus, MA and Homestead, FL. Portland is becoming a “real” metropolitan area and suffers from city delights. Even worse is Ellsworth, if only because the contrast with nearby Acadia is so gut-wrenching. A half-mile strip in Presque Isle is almost as bad. But the trip from Kittery to Fort Kent is generally pleasant and occasionally striking, considering its total of 527 miles.
The southern section, all the way from the New Hampshire border to Brunswick, is most problematic. Kittery, like Freeport, is overrun by outlet stores and crazed shoppers. Development slows and stays mostly tasteful (by which I mean the shops are spread out and are named pretentiously and contain expensive do-dads) in the Yorks and Ogunquit and Wells and Kennebunk, which I’m sure has something to do with rich people and their influence on local zoning boards. Route 1 doesn’t go through Kennebunkport, by the way; it wouldn’t be allowed. The old mill towns of Biddeford and Saco and Scarborough and the honky-tonk beaches of Old Orchard serve as the working man’s holiday places and suffer a different kind of sprawl, densely packed with stores named simply and not containing vintage vinegars or watery-colored seascapes. Some green space starts to appear after Portland, a few copses and open fields (save the national excess that is Freeport), but it disappears again in Brunswick’s commercial strip.
But even in the worst of the sprawl, Maine’s Route 1 is not like most "Route 1's", where national chains predominate. In Maine we have mom 'n pop restaurants and motels, water parks and souvenir shops, a lot of them cheek by jowl for miles, to be sure, and occasionally quite ugly, but the only signs of the national disease are gas stations, the occasional Holiday Inn or Comfort Suites or fast-food joint, and a few new malls set back against acres of parking. The most salient fact about Maine businesses - 98% are small businesses – is proved on Route 1.
And the second good thing about Maine's southern section of Route 1 is that you can drive a minute or ten off the road and immediately be in the woods, or on a farm, or by the surf.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to have a good day

  • Wake up rested.
  • Breakfast on cornbread and maple syrup.
  • Write for a couple of hours.
  • Walk to Lucia Beach.
  • Have lunch - always the favorite meal.
  • Attend four hours of committee meetings (some would cringe here, but this is land trust work we're talking about).
  • Drink on the deck, then walk down to the water to watch a full moon rise over the bay.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Maine way of life

Not that I necessarily know what the Maine way of life is. I’m not a native, not a farmer, not a hunter or fisherman, not a small businessman; I’ve never worked in the state, or lived here full-time. I’m just a man from the Midwest who found, via Massachusetts, in a kind of reverse migration, what he was looking for. I’m not sure exactly what I’ve found - that is, as a way of living a life, Maine’s is still a bit unknown to me - although I do know and am sure of its fantasies if nothing else. And does the solution apply to anyone but me? I hope so. When you say the phrase “the Maine way of life,” instantly it conjures up the host of images I’ve tried to limn in this book, some of which might even save us.

“Economists say that one of the Northeast’s last economic advantages is its high quality of life.” So wrote Lloyd C. Irland in The Northeast’s Changing Forest. True, but I don’t need science, certainly not the dismal science, to convince me. What sways me, and what will sway others, are the facts and faces of human geography, how the population has reacted and changed according to the embrace and the lay of the land. Those facts show, more persuasively than any science, hard or soft, can direct, how better lives could be lived.  I believe in science, and I’ve worked in science publishing for a third of my life, but ultimately science makes the fatal error of saying that since humans claim the top position of the intellectual pyramid, therefore we have conquered the spiritual one as well. Science sells itself too easily, therefore, to the wrong masters. It cannot account for the fact that the Maine way of life is first and foremost a deep experience of land. The good side of human geography might be nowhere else more obviously on display than in Maine.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Friday, September 26, 2014

A week in Maine - Day 5, Portland

     I’m ashamed to admit that of the hundreds of times I’ve driven through Portland, the number of times I’ve stopped can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and those were visits to the Denny’s along I-295 when the kids were small. Today, however, we decided to spend a couple of hours walking the Eastern Promenade, with its grand views of Casco Bay and the islands, and eating at Flatbread Company in the Old Port, where you can watch your dough being twirled and your toppings applied and your pizza baked in the wood oven, kind of the hipster version of growing your own food. Portland seems a very nice and manageable city, marred only (today) by the presence of two huge cruise ships in the harbor, hundreds of elderly passengers clogging the streets of Old Port, the souvenir hawkers lined up to fleece them, and a holy-roller Jesus freak on a street corner haranguing everyone from his own private hell. Perhaps he thought cruisers were likely candidates for conversions. And, once again, no moose except on sweatshirts and caps and key chains and beer mugs.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Week in Maine - Day 4, Belfast, Lincolnville, and Owls Head

     Back to familiar territory: The drive to Belfast was just two hours, and the lunch at Chase’s Daily delicious. Afterwards, we hiked the Ducktrap Preserve of our land trust, to the bridge and back.

     Back to civilization, too: the traffic was heavy, the houses large and well-kept, and we made a gas stop and a farm-stand stop and a supermarket stop, and the contrast between the poverty of central Maine and the riches of coastal Maine was striking. One looks at Greenville and Dover-Foxcroft and Milo on the map and they look promising. But the reality is grim. Dover-Foxcroft, for example, boasts a shopping mall and a hospital and a private prep school (cost: $41,000 a year), but they are all on the outskirts and the downtown is basically abandoned. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of hours separate so starkly not only our two Americas, but the two Maines, and even two adjacent counties of Maine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Week in Maine – Day 3, Gulf Hagas, National Natural Landmark

    The focus of our week, Gulf Hagas is a 3-mile gorge cut by the Pleasant River, 130 feet deep and sprinkled with waterfalls. Access is again controlled by timber companies (does anyone else think that $38 a day for four people is a bit excessive? And since the access is for an area that is owned and managed by the National Park Service?), and the road to the parking lot is long and wash-boarded, and we didn’t hike the entire 10-mile round trip, and the Gulf is certainly not “The Grand Canyon of the East,” but it’s pretty wonderful nonetheless. After a short jaunt from the parking lot, we joined the Appalachian Trail and were immediately faced with a crossing of the Pleasant River, not by bridge of course but by a 100 foot wade on foot. This was accomplished with little difficulty by two of our party and with considerable difficulty by the other two: one whose terribly sensitive feet didn’t do well on the stones of the river bed, and the other whose propensity for environmentally induced headaches was manifest almost immediately upon stepping into the very cold water. We sat recovering on the other side for a while; two through-hikers splashed along without even removing shoes or rolling trousers.
     Soon enough we forsook the AT for the Gulf Hagas trails. There was another river crossing – this time a dry one involving stone-hopping – near Screw Auger Falls, a tasty picnic on big rocks overlooking the falls, a spectacular ass-over-teakettle dunking in the river when one of our party tried to cool off his head and leaned over too far, and a couple of dramatic overlooks on the gorge. 

     Perhaps the best part of the trail was called the Hermitage, a 35-acre stand of old-growth white pines, some apparently 150 feet tall and 150 years old. I embraced a couple of them (both physically and spiritually) and my six-foot wing span could not get even half-way around. A magical place.

     The Pleasant River ford was considerably easier on the way back. One of the older party borrowed sandals; the other a strong back for a piggy carry.

      One final evening opportunity for moose views: the road to Millinocket is supposed to be rife with quadrupeds in the evening, but we were too tired for the hour-long drive, and ate dinner in Milo at Hobnobbers, which boasts a surprisingly good and sophisticated menu and a visit in 2010 from Anthony Bourdain (because his cameraman was from Milo). Once again, no moose seen, on menu or road.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Week in Maine – Day 2, Moosehead Lake and Mt. Kineo

     Two of us had seen Moosehead and climbed Kineo five years before, but it’s such a gorgeous place that we had to show it off. We got to Rockwood just in time for the 12:00 ferry, i.e., the Mt. Kineo Golf Course water shuttle pontoon boat. We ascended Mt. Kineo (which rises 700 feet straight out of the lake) via the Bridle Trail (moderate difficulty) as we did last time, but descended (apparently inspired by our much younger companions) via Indian Trail (very steep!). The views were of course spectacular, and the clouds and occasional drizzle made no damper in our enjoyment and in fact were gloried in by the recent returnees from droughty California.
     Dinner was had at the Stress Free Moose Pub and CafĂ© in Greenville. Well, the beer was good.
     No moose views on the trip back, in spite of the signs south of Greenville warning of numerous car-moose collisions.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Week in Maine – Day 1, Milo and Brownville

     Not exactly unusual for us, five days in Maine. But the locations were unusual, mostly, including some brand-new phantasmagorias.
     We left Massachusetts on a September Monday morning before 7:00, stopping at Starbucks (of course) for fuel. The early start got us to Milo well before noon, in time for a lunch at Coburn’s Family Restaurant (grilled cheese, pickle, and chips for $2.99). Two guys came in after us to sit at the three-stool bar; the waitress asked, “Do you want the lemon or the raspberry today, hon?”
     We met daughter and boyfriend at Wildwoods Trailside Cabins in Brownville a few miles north of Milo, our lodgings for the next three days, and a place catering as much to snowmobilers in the winter as fishermen/hunters/hikers/MA refugees in the other seasons. When I asked the proprietor about canoe rentals in the area, she graciously lent us two of hers, and the help of a man in lashing them in the bed of Max’s pick-up. There was time for a beautiful late-afternoon paddle on Upper Jo-Mary Lake - as opposed to Middle Jo-Mary and Lower Jo-Mary, both north (?) of Upper - an hour to the north in the middle of timber company lands, which featured almost completely undeveloped shores except for a campground, and a family of five juvenile mergansers, and a loon swimming just 20 feet away and calling (never been that close to a calling loon), and glorious views of Mt. Katahdin. The paddle ended as the sun went down, and the temperature dropped ten degrees, and we drove back in the dusk and then the dark, hoping against hope for a sighting of moose, and finishing the evening with a steak dinner grilled outside.

Day 2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Two Maines

The journal Science in November 2009 published a research article on happiness, attempting to rank its prevalence by state. Supposedly, this research compared what people said against objective measures “known” to affect happiness (weather, population density, air quality, home prices, etc.). You'll be happy to know that Louisiana was the number 1 happy state and New York was number 51 (the survey included the District of Columbia). My own home states, Maine and Massachusetts, checked in at number 10 and number 43, respectively. Eight of the top ten were warm-weather states.
This study contrasts with a happiness survey taken by Gallup in the same month that relied only on what people said. Here the happiest states were the wealthiest and the most tolerant, with Utah first and West Virginia last. Massachusetts was 8th and Maine 29th. Even taking into account people's ability to lie, especially to themselves, these data seem more representative.
May I say first that if we believe that happiness can be measured objectively by weather and house prices, such as Science claims, we should change our species name to Homo superficialis. (Also, Derek Bok in his book The Politics of Happiness, says that high GDP is no predictor of happiness.)
Second, by the objective measures, Maine is a great place to live, but the people don’t think so. I wonder if the surveys corrected for the two Maines, the splits between coastal Maine (Kittery to Acadia but not past Acadia, for “way Down East” is as poor as any inland hamlet) and the rest of the state, between natives and summer people, between north and south, between poor and well-off.  A state of mind can be so much more pleasant than a state of body.
       At present there seems to be a reasonable truce between the various “twos,” but I doubt there’s much commerce among them except in the money sense. The tourist industry is still Maine’s biggest. E.B. Whites and Henry Bestons are rare, even possibly extinct, a casualty of the new social ecology of increasing class differences. Yet the mildness of the relationship is typified in the old saying, “Summer people and some are not.”

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend, marvellous poet K.T. Landon, asked me to contribute to this blog tour.

1) What are you working on?
A book based on my journals from the two-plus years I spent in Peace Corps Korea. The place is popping up 40 years later, in a couple of personal essays about Maine (!). I’m not sure why it’s bothering me now, but I’m finding out.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I mostly work on familiar essays, in which I take common subjects in nature and see what happens if I let my imagination go. I suppose this is nature writing, which puts me in a category often too revered or too reviled. I try to avoid those extremes: the pathetic fallacy, for example, which is deadly (and which has been done without peer by Thoreau anyway) or too much outdoors ecstasy, which lasts only seconds in the first place and in the second place, writing about it is rather like writing about music. So I try to get facts in there, and connections to the world in general and me in particular, and maybe a bit of a narrative. Therefore, I greatly admire writers like Annie Dillard and Robert Finch.
3) Why do you write what you do?
In spite of the above, I’m entranced with the natural world, especially the shores and hills and forests and rivers of Maine. Much of my writing has an environmental focus and is a natural extension of the volunteer work I do with a land trust. Persuasion is my game, the trick being to avoid preaching, which as a recovering Calvinist I have to fight all the time. I’m convinced that we forsake our genetic and spiritual connections to nature at our great peril.
4) How does your writing process work?
Since I split my life between Massachusetts and Maine, I have different routines. In Maine, I’m a morning writer (assuming no land trust duties), two to three hours between breakfast and lunch, usually in my JFK rocker in the living room, but increasingly – one does get older, one is allowed – on the couch. The view is of Penobscot Bay in either case. I usually start by reading and revising what happened the day before (turn off the Internet!). Afternoons are for the body: errands, meetings, gardens, naps. In Massachusetts the routine is reversed (I don’t know why) but there I also take over the living room (thanks, honey!). I write on the computer, since my hand crashes cursive.
A new familiar subject gets basic Internet research first, then I let the notes and facts and trends ferment for a day or two. Connections start to pour off. If I do have any talent, that’s it, seeing connections to philosophy and religion and daily life and memories and last night’s nightmare and this morning’s daydream. I believe in a kind of ecology of poetics – everything is connected, dependent, related – in which the crux of art is to pursue only what’s important, or to put it another way, to understand which mutations of our ecosystems might last. Far too often, however, I diverge like crazy, seeing too many connections, tending to write them all down, deleting, restoring, and trying to make them dance together. When I can no longer see the dance for the dancers, I give it to my editor and she rescues the set.

Finally, I should say that a daily walk is essential to the process. Sometimes I don’t think in words at all, just images, in the eye or in the brain, of moss or surf or a Victorian painted lady or a mass of phlox along a suburban garden wall, or if I’m really lucky, a fox or deer or eagle. Mostly though, I review and regurgitate and even sometimes compose, and the ideas and sentences that survive the walk find themselves in the computer as soon as I return, ready to be taken out again tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2014


    The news from a couple of weeks ago, that the speed limit on the Maine Turnpike would increase from 65 to 70 mph, brought some despair in these parts. Not only does this mean poorer gas mileage, more pollution, and rising seas, but also that people will now drive 80, with impunity. Yesterday, as I was driving back to Massachusetts from Maine, I indeed found this to be true. But I also discovered a hidden benefit in the disaster.
     Being a conscientious hyper-miler, and approaching codger-hood, I've been driving no faster than 65 on the Turnpike for some years now. I've added months, perhaps years, to my life, I'm sure, by avoiding the stress of all those autocidal maniacs in the left lanes, more than enough to offset the extra 20 minutes the trip now takes. A further goal, besides achieving 48 mpg and extending Social Security and calculating arrival times and trying to forget how much I'll miss Maine, is to hit cruise control after the toll plaza in South Portland, and for the next 35 miles, until the toll plaza in Kittery, never to touch a pedal, gas or brake, never to leave the nirvana of the right lane, passing no one even in steady traffic. It's well possible because almost everybody exceeds the speed limit to my left, leaving me pleasantly and calmly tootling along. I've done it, too, twice, and although yesterday didn't quite measure up - I had to pass a woman in a Prius and an ancient VW Eurovan camper stuffed with tents and hippies, all nice people, I'm sure, and so I forgave them for their ignorance of my mission - I can now see that the increased speed limit will greatly contribute to my hopes for more success in the future.For people were driving really fast, well over 80 (cars from Connecticut, especially Audis, being the main culprits, and New York and Massachusetts rounding out the top three), leaving the right lane pretty deserted.
     I did not calculate how many cars I was forced to pass after Kittery. There were too many merges, ramps, bridges, construction blocks, and New Hampshire drivers to attain heaven. For the hell of it, I tried the second rightmost lane in northern Massachusetts: and yes, I was steadily and frequently passed both left and right, in a kind of purgatory of impatience. And of course once one reaches the part of I-95 known as Route 128, bypassing Boston, the right lane becomes an invitation to suicide, and one must drive like a maniac just to stay alive.
     There is one potential drawback to the new and blessedly empty state of right-lane-ness. It was so open that a few maniacs were using it to pass immense blockages of three, even four cars insolent enough to drive under 80 in the left lanes. I'm sorry to report that these were mostly New Yorkers.
     Finally, I can report that your average peppermint lozenge, sucked at a moderate rate (no crunching), lasts 7.8 miles at 65 mph. Next time I'll try for 8 mpp.
     I guess I was really missing Maine, on the last day of August.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Artists

Artists are thick on the ground. Ever since Frederic Church and Thomas Cole, painters have done more to romanticize and publicize the beauties of Maine than any other group. The famous ones are intimately identified with iconic parts of the state: Winslow Homer with Prouts Neck, Marsden Hartley, the self-described “painter from Maine” (he was born in Lewiston) with Mt. Katahdin, Rockwell Kent and George Bellows with Monhegan Island, Robert Indiana with Vinalhaven, Andrew Wyeth with Cushing, Jamie Wyeth with Monhegan and Tenants Harbor. The trouble with Maine art is that it takes a genius to overcome the very strong stereotypes. As with every art form, there is a huge range of talent and expression, but when looking in gallery windows I'm always struck by the strong and universal and repetitive need to capture our common icons of surf, lobster pot and pointed fir. The worst of the efforts are indeed like capture: trite phrases and brushstrokes, perspective angles set off like little cages. The best snap you out of the frame instantly and into the mind of the image. But at least the act of trying, in either case, makes even the most ordinary seascape speak out loud with allusions.
Andrew Wyeth represents the Maine art dilemma perfectly. The New York Times, upon his death in 2009, led off its story with “Andrew Wyeth, one of the most popular and also most lambasted artists in the history of American art….” The Olson house in Christina’s World is so famous that it is no longer real. It has gone beyond reality into some iconic State of Maine Mind, along with crashing surf and lobster dinners and the noble moose. Some of this has to do with Wyeth himself, who painted with a sentimentality that ranged from bracing to boring. The rest has to do with our worship of icons, living or otherwise. We seem to need physics to refresh spirits. Seeing and touching and photographing a house, even today, even when it’s institutionalized as part of the Farnsworth Museum, conjures up the faith in what that object meant to Wyeth, and by extension, to us.

So it's easy and comforting to confuse Christina's World and our world. And that is Wyeth's genius, whether you agree with it or not. He took the ordinary and made it iconic, he painted one place hundreds of times and made it universal. I don't particularly like the way he gets there, but the sanctity of the effort can make me weep. I am proud to worship in the house of commitment – and the way people are committed to the state represents Maine to me more than almost anything else.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Thoreau

Since 1936 Maine’s license plate slogan has been “Vacationland,” but people have been coming to Maine since long before that to fulfill spiritual or psychological needs unmet in cities and plains. I imagine one could blame Thoreau, even though he was hardly a marketing success in his lifetime. The first edition of The Maine Woods in 1854 compiled three magazine essays – “Ktaadn,” “Chesuncook,” and “The Allagash and East Branch” – into a book printed by Ticknor and Fields in Boston and published mostly at his own expense. (He said about his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, “I have 900 volumes in my library, 700 of which I wrote myself.”) The second edition was published in 1864, shortly after his death, as a tribute from his friends. And after his lifetime? He’s achieved the closest possible definition of immortality outside of the impossible religious one.
His books by now are famous and have influenced millions, but it’s in the Journals that I started to understand why he’s so inspirational. I’ve dipped into them and am dumbfounded by the discipline, if not by the language. For nearly every day of his life since his 20s, Thoreau recorded several pages of painstaking and quixotic notes and drawings of the worlds – fields, forests, rivers, mountains; birds, flowers, weeds, mammals; Concord, Cape Cod, Katahdin, Olympus - around him. From there the essays spring, ornate and passionate. And the books, just collections of his essays, perhaps his feeble attempt at fame in his lifetime, were ironically un-saleable. His undying genius lay in the daily discipline of the word.
I found as I read The Maine Woods that inspiration is not necessarily in the text. It’s not so spell-binding a book that you have to put it down every once in a while and hug it to your chest in selfish, goose-bumpy loneliness. For modern readers Thoreau is a mixed blessing. Often he indulges in long stretches of the densely particular, pages and pages of arcane description of portages, for example, and then jumps precipitously to long flights of the grandiose, including a great deal of obscure mythology. Half of the second essay in the book, "Chesuncook," seems to be devoted to the moose, a magnificent animal to be sure, but not in the same league as Agamemnon. He is fascinated by his Indian guides, but there’s that modicum of 19th century condescension. The language tends to be flowery, except for the occasional terse and passionate epigram.
       It doesn’t matter: it’s the idea of Thoreau that’s so compelling - the romantic view of Walden and Maine, the passion for observation and writing, the aphorisms, reliance on self and (occasionally, humbly) on his famous friends and patrons, the commitment to art and nature and science all at once. He is superlative, the perfect embodiment of the ancient Greek and Roman concept of a Genius or Daimon guiding each person, the most brilliant attempt to make the connections between nature and spirit, the bravest resolve to make a sojourn away from pettiness, to live the way life should be no matter where you live it. He is so unself-conscious as to say in the Journal, “I felt a positive yearning towards one bush this afternoon. There was a match for me at last. I fell in love with a shrub oak."  That’s the vision that brings millions of people to Maine, to capture as much or as little of it as their other lives can stand.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Amish

There is one current example of an “invasion” by foreigners that is both welcome and inspiring. In 2009, the Amish started moving into the area around Unity and buying farms. They’ve come from various places in the Midwest and Canada, and even a few from the other two towns in Maine that boast them, Smyrna and Easton in Aroostook County. Unity seems the perfect place for Amish, including its name: lovely, rolling countryside with good soil and plenty of water; friendly, tolerant people; Unity College and its heavy focus on environmental studies. Any people who completely eschew electricity in their houses are environmentalists at their very core.
I've often wondered about the relationship between religion and conservation. Humans are enjoined to be good stewards, and it should be a natural fit, but so often those who believe in the Bible forget the one in favor of the other, dominion over the earth, etc, etc. There is a movement to revive the relationship, but in today's fractured and splintering world, I can't see that the religious right will ever take the earth seriously again.
Religion aside, the life of the Amish is very compelling. They believe in books. They grow organic food. They make wonderful furniture. They build windmills to run their compressed-air engines, or charge battery packs. Family care is paramount. A sign in one of their houses in Unity reads: "To be content with little is hard, to be content with much is impossible.’’
       Lifestyle aside, the religion of the Amish is not very compelling, mostly I suppose because it's similar to the dark Calvinist tradition in which I was raised. But the Amish have managed to bring light into the gloom. They've done what few can accomplish - marry word and deed.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: African-Americans

Then there was the shameful case of Malaga Island, formerly known as Negro Island. (As many as nine islands off the Maine coast have been named Negro, most now whitewashed to Anglo-Saxon names like Curtis, which sits just off tourist-conscious Camden, and which is named after the founder of the ultimate white-bread magazine The Saturday Evening Post.) Blacks had lived in the Casco Bay area for most of the 19th century, and one of their “settlements” in the mid-part of the century was a tiny island just a hundred yards off the Phippsburg peninsula. Soon enough, in the view of the whites, Malaga became “degenerate” and an eyesore (what with colorful mixed marriages, disregard of churches and schools, and the flagrant use of alcohol and tea, never mind that except for race, it resembled any number of poor white fishing communities of cussed Mainers) and not suitable for tourism, which by the turn of the century was in full pursuit of rich New Yorkers and Bostonians. The hubbub grew. Neither nearest town, Phippsburg to the east nor Harpswell to the west, wanted to take responsibility, so the Malaga-ites became wards of the state in 1905. Some white do-gooders started a school. Yet, in 1911, Governor Frederick Plaisted (a Democrat) visited and took public offense (or was he up for re-election?); by 1912 all of Malaga’s buildings were razed, the bodies in the cemetery dug up and re-buried on the mainland, the few remaining living people transported to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded, and the island deserted and desolate. It still is, for it is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, with a Cabot and a Rockefeller on its Board, to “preserve its unique history.”
     So the Gilded Age came shamefully apart in Maine. But, perversely, for most of the 19th century Maine could also be proud of its accomplishments on race. John Brown Russwurm, the founder in 1827 of the country’s first black newspaper, New York’s Freedom Journal, was a Bowdoin College graduate (and the third black college graduate in the country). Bates College was founded in 1855 by abolitionists. There were some 70 stations on the Underground Railway in the state. A co-founder of Howard University was Oliver Otis Howard, Bowdoin Class of 1850. It could be said that the Civil War actually started in Brunswick, for Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote most of Uncle Tom’s Cabin there. And in the War itself, Maine sent more men to fight (as a percentage of population) than any other state but Massachusetts.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Immigrants and the Klan

The Wabanaki were hardly the only group suffering white Anglo-Protestant prejudice. Like all of the Northeast states, Maine attracted French-Canadian immigrants to its textile mills and logging camps. Being generally poor and staunchly Catholic, they stirred up the usual xenophobic sentiments and were ruthlessly discriminated against and, especially in the public schools, stripped of language and culture in a cruel assimilation. Only in the very northernmost reaches of Aroostook County, where some of the “Acadians” settled after the British kicked them out of Canada, does the French language and culture survive to any degree. Irish immigrants also arrived in the 19th century, and while language assimilation wasn’t a problem, being poor and Catholic was. By 1900 Maine was 40% Catholic, and this led to a political and social backlash in the form of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was successful in several Maine towns, and the state became infamous for several instances of bigotry.
     For one thing, the Maine Klan had some 20,000 members by the 1920s, more than most Southern states, and had the distinction of holding the Klan’s first daytime march anywhere. They didn’t persecute the blacks (there weren’t enough here to bother with) but fed on hate of French Canadians, who had emigrated in large numbers from Quebec, presumably stealing jobs from white Protestant men.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Wabanaki

In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who is considered to be the father of modern taxonomy and ecology, decided that the principal feature of humans was wisdom, and so named our species. I wonder if he would have been so sanguine 250 years later. Wisdom may be a trait associated with individuals, but I’m hard-pressed to believe it ever applies to the species, at almost any time in history. Certainly in ecology we have no claim to the term: it’s as if we deny our taxonomic (and physical and spiritual) relationship to the rest of the world. In North America, that relationship did exist, for thousands of years, but it did not survive the near-extermination of the Native Americans, who may indeed have been among the world’s few wise peoples.
I define wisdom as the insightful ability to live harmoniously in the world. Humans lived for some 10,000 years in Maine before the Europeans came. We presume those humans suffered their wars of territory like any other human for much of that history, we presume they could be as cruel to their enemies – raping, torturing, killing – as any white man. Once the Europeans came, we know they did - Mohawks and Iroquois from the west fought the Maine Wabanaki for trapping and trading territory, the Wabanaki themselves fought the French and English and Dutch and Spanish and Americans - but from what we know of the rest of their lives, they seemed incredibly harmonious.
I’m sure those lives weren’t easy, especially in the harsh winters when starvation sometimes threatened, but in the more temperate seasons the land was blessed with riches suited to both the nomadic and the agricultural life. The last of the glaciers had scoured the land, creating a fresh start for mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, trees and wildlife, and the peoples travelling across the continent from Asia took full advantage of a beautiful world of pure water and rich river soils and abundant game. So many of the conservation values we espouse today are in fact native-people values; shouldn’t we listen?
     You only have to visit the Penobscot Nation Museum, on Indian Island near Old Town, to understand the sacredness of native life and the sacrilege of what happened to it. It is a tiny place, almost embarrassingly so, on reservation land minuscule in comparison with what once was. Yet the artifacts inside, the canoes and the formidable root clubs and the baskets made from brown ash bark now so scarce and the deerskin clothes; the evocative film about the people and their connection to the great wild river and its salmon; and the gracious curator James Neptune, patiently answering our ignorant questions; all this both inspired and humiliated my wife and me. One people so proud and wise and helpless, one people so proud and selfish and scruple-less. I'm still overwhelmed by the fact that James is a direct descendant of John Neptune, born in 1767, chief and shaman of the Penobscots, and Louis Neptune, erstwhile guide to Henry David Thoreau on his first trip to Maine. What terrible diminution of place and power that one family, not to mention a whole peaceful people, has seen. The descendants of Neptune have much to be proud of; the descendants of Linnaeus, in spite of all of our scientific advances, have little.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Moose

And that brings me to the moose. The lobster may be king of kitsch, but the moose isn’t far behind (although I haven’t seen any life-sized inflatable moose yet – I’m probably not moving in the right circles). And yet it is the perfect symbol for Maine: magnificent and shy, ugly and beautiful, memorable.

Whenever a moose is sighted in our area, a rare occasion, people flock to see it, as if it’s a Shroud of Turin, or Jesus on a pizza. We had one recently in Thomaston, during Thanksgiving week, up to her withers in a swamp, up to her eyeballs in photographs. (The only other sighting in our area that I can recall in the last 15 years was in Owls Head village, in the little pond across from the general store, well before the fame of the store's hamburgers brought the Volvo wagons to town. Well, there was also the mystical sighting in our own yard, I'm ashamed to admit, and I'm ashamed because the sighting was a supposed moose print in the garden, and the sighter was our real estate agent who pointed it out with some drama as we were considering buying the property. Somewhat later, I wondered if she had a certain implement in her trunk to seal deals with flatlanders.) It made me think again that the shy and quiet moose should be the symbol of Thanksgiving, not the bad-tempered turkey, for Thanksgiving is a holiday mellow and kind even though the Pilgrims weren't. The moose is already the state's animal, and keeps continued good health. There's still enough wilderness to sustain it, even apparently in Thomaston, and isn't the bounty and beauty of the land what we really give thanks for?

       Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Black bear

There are still more than 20,000 black bears in Maine, but you say the words “black bear” here and everyone thinks of the University of Maine athletic teams. That’s probably because, in contrast to many of Maine’s other mammals, bears are seldom seen. They seem to be the slow cousins of their more famous family members, the grizzly and the polar. They don’t pose provocatively on ice floes. They don’t pluck salmon out of mid-air. They’re a contradiction, and misunderstood. Are they ferocious or cuddly? Secretive or gregarious? They do have their strange points: animals with big teeth that mostly eat plants and berries; animals that hibernate for four or five months, during which they do not eat or drink or even eliminate waste; cubs that are born during hibernation and that feed entirely on milk from a mother’s already depleted body; mothers that don’t have a strong instinct to protect their cubs; females that stay close to home, males that range widely (as much as 100 square miles).

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Bugs

Alongside the birds fly the bugs. From the public point of view, bugs are the birds’ dark side. Not flashy, mostly invisible, mostly annoying, sometimes downright nasty. You have to be a special kind of scientist to specialize in bugs. And an indefatigable one: there are some 1 million species of insects and spiders in the world, with many more to discover; if you were a beetle specialist, you’d have 25,000 species from which to choose in North America alone. I expect we know very little of the ways that their world is crucial to ours, besides the obvious (pollinating bees, food for birds, scavenging, and clean-up); we seem to care only about those with pestilential qualities. Don’t you wonder if concerted study of the insect world will give us the strongest evidence yet of the mess we’ve made? Or don’t we want to know how they will inherit the earth after we’re done and gone?
     Maine’s bugs, however, are good at getting attention. The spruce budworm can lay waste to thousands of acres of forest, and the insecticide programs to contain it are very controversial, perhaps worse than the cure. A mosquito swarm can be so thick as to be comical. The deer fly must be the most useless creature on the face of the earth. Even in biotic terms I'm hard pressed to understand where the thing fits in except as a chance mutation, an evolutionary dead-end that happens to bedevil mammals in the woods. And the black fly? Well, it’s so bad that the only defense is to stick your tongue firmly in your cheek: call it “Maine’s state bird” and “Defender of the Wilderness”; join the Maine Blackfly Breeder’s Association (whose motto is “We breed ‘em, you feed ‘em”). In some places between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day you need to duct-tape your pant legs and don headgear with netting just to be outside. Unlike mosquitoes, who sample your blood with a dainty proboscis, the black fly scrapes away at your skin until it gets enough blood to be happy. Significant itching and pain ensue.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer:Bald eagles

Here on Penobscot Bay the bald eagle population is apparently growing rapidly. We wouldn't necessarily know, for a sighting over here on the west side of the bay (away from the islands where they wisely live) is rare, lasts maybe two seconds, and is the occasion for wild whoops and comical gyrations as we press noses against the windows to follow its flight out of sight. Its symbolism and mystery are still strong, stirring up both patriotism and nostalgia, a gut wish for some lost America.
It makes me think that people who love Maine are essentially conservative. We’re savers, we’d be completely for maintaining the status quo if most of it weren’t so awful. (I’m pleased to report in this regard that in late 2010, the discovery of an eagle’s nest scuttled, at least temporarily, the state’s plans to build a bypass around Wiscasset and its heroic traffic jams.) My dictionary says conservatism is “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” I’d agree completely if all this were nature-based. But political conservatives focus on institutions, not individuals, on the idea of a bald eagle and not the reality of its fierce and independent beauty. And the works of humans, our DDT and our mercury, are doubly dangerous: we nearly wiped out the eagles, and now that they are returning, we have somehow changed them. On their island fortresses, to which we have banished them, they are forsaking their traditional and difficult diet of live fish and are feasting on easier prey, the chicks and fledglings of the shore birds such as gulls and ducks and cormorants, and because one of those cormorant species of Penobscot Bay, the great cormorant, has so few members to begin with, it probably won’t last the decade.
     Are humans to interfere again? Who's going to win, a magnificent warlike raptor, the symbol of America, or a lowly black water bird? If you had to save one for democracy, which would it be? It’s an example of both our hubris and our interference that we have to ask such questions.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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