Maine-The Way Life Should Be

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Did you ever see a place that looks like it was built just to enjoy? Well, this whole state of Maine looks that way to me. – Will Rogers

Maine is a state that always had an allure for me. It conjured thoughts of cool summers, busy harbors and snowy winters. My husband Bill has a neurological disorder and hot weather makes him miserable. In February of 1994, it was over 100 degrees for over a week in South Georgia and he was going down before my eyes. On a visit to his neurologist I asked if we moved to a cooler climate would it help Bill’s condition. He said it might but he couldn’t say for sure. I was willing to do anything to make sure Bill didn’t deteriorate any further and working for the Federal government I had the opportunity to apply for jobs in other states. That night we made a list of 37 states with cooler climates we thought we would like to live in and I started to apply for anything I was remotely qualified for.

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About five months later I got a call from a representative of the USDA in Maine offering me a job which I eagerly accepted. He said, “You know, your accent is going to stick out up here.” Without missing a beat I replied, “What accent?” We made the arrangements to move and my husband two daughters and I drove to Maine and I remained there for eight years living in Northern and Downeast Maine. We left Maine for other opportunities but we always felt like we had left a piece of our hearts there. My oldest daughter, her husband and two children still lived there.  In 2009 with retirement nearing, my husband and I decided we wanted to go back to Maine and make that our home. We went back to Presque Isle in Northern Maine where we first lived and when I saw the town again I was so overwhelmed with a sense of returning home that I was moved to tears.

The worst thing about living in Maine for me is the long, long winters. We always have a white Halloween and the snow doesn’t leave until May. And by snow I mean a lot of snow. We don’t measure it in inches, but in feet. But I learned to snowshoe and cross country ski and even in the late spring when I think I will scream from the claustrophobia of interminable winter, the sight of snow falling gently outside my window still captivates me with its beauty.

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Maine is the most easterly point of the U.S., and Eastport, Me is the first place in the country to receive the rays of the sun each morning. The Appalachian Trail ends on beautiful Mt. Katahdin that rises 5,268’ above the forested Maine woods. Almost 90 percent of Maine is forested and it has as much coastline as California. And Maine even has a 40 acre desert that was created when a glacier slid through Maine leaving behind sand and mineral deposits about 11,000 years ago.

Famous Mainers include poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, actor Patrick Dempsey, director John Ford and author Stephen King. And our most famous native son is Leon Leonwood Bean, founder of the retail giant, L.L. Bean. And we were blessed with the nation’s youngest ambassador, Samantha Smith, 10, who wrote to Soviet Union leader Yuri Andropov expressing her fears about a nuclear war between his country and the U.S.  Andropov wrote her back and in 1983 she and her parents were guests of Andropov for two weeks. Tragically this brave young girl was killed in a plane crash when she was 13.

Maine’s motto is “The Way Life Should Be.” That about says it all. It has outstanding natural beauty and wildlife but Maine’s people are its greatest asset. While someone who was not born here will always be “from away”, the people are welcoming and easily make a place for you in their communities. They make the best neighbors in the world for slightly socially awkward people like my husband and me.  They are there for you when you need them, but don’t force themselves upon you. They are rugged individualists who respect the right of people to be who they want to be.

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Two summers ago we bought 80 acres and put a cabin there and it is our goal to eventually live there fulltime. It has a beautiful stream running through it and I love spending every moment I can there.  I suffer from PTSD from working in Afghanistan for over two years and it is my haven. It is the only place in this world that I feel completely safe and at peace. We usually go early in the morning and my husband cuts wood and I clear brush. We have established a series of trails for hiking and snowshoeing and while it is exhausting work to clear the land, it frees me like nothing else can. To take a tangled mass of overgrown brush and turn it into a beautiful trail through quiet evergreen woods, revealing beauty as I go, is a metaphor for my life at this point in time. Just as I am clearing out the unwanted vegetation from my land I am clearing out the mass of tangled, thorny memories locked in my brain and making room for beautiful new memories to grow. Maine is doing that for me. It is my chosen home for the rest of my life. And although every year around March I really hate the lingering winter, I know that summer will be here again and I can walk my trails and think this is the way life should be.

Singing The Winter Blues

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           Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter. – Paul Theroux

I lived in Georgia for the first 44 years of my life. In March the bright green stems of the daffodils would rustle their way through the brown detritus of fall and winter until their blooms burst forth into yellow trumpets that belligerently heralded the message “Spring is here!” I was born in March and daffodils are the month’s flower but it has always been my favorite flower because you cannot look at a daffodil and be gloomy. They delicately sway in the breeze, their petals are soft to the touch and their indescribable fragrance virtual screams cheer. Like shooting stars streaming through space they burn themselves out in a few weeks having done their jobs as a harbinger of Spring. That was in Georgia.

March in Maine is cold, snowy, bleak and depressing. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. Mine gradually starts to sneak up on me in October, lurks in the background through Thanksgiving and Christmas, then pounces on me with fangs and claws fully exposed in January. It tears into my psyche until depression falls upon me like a heavy, wet army blanket. It sucks at my energy until I am a miserable lump that craves light and carbohydrates in equal amounts. The only energy I can muster is to  open a pound pack of peanut M&Ms hoping for a sugar high so I can MAYBE pull my body off the sofa where I am binge watching my version of comfort video – British comedies. Usually I just lay there consumed in melancholia until I drag myself to bed in the early morning hours. In other words, I hibernate. Around mid-April I start to have a little stirring of life that I tease out until I burst forth in May like Persephone fleeing gloomy Hades for a few glorious months in the light.

Unfortunately, summers in Maine are short, barely three months. The heavily bundled, androgynous winter zombies that trudge the snowbanked streets are replaced by hordes of pale revelers intent on absorbing every bit of sun they can before winter starts sharpening its talons. You will never find anyone who enjoys summer more than people who live in the frozen north. The sight of fluorescent green leaves sprouting from tree limbs in the Spring can make you giddy with joy. For three months all is right with the world.

All summer I work on our land where we have a camp. I cut brush and limb trees and make beautiful meandering paths through the mixed evergreen and hardwood forest. Dripping in sweat, I dream of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter months. THIS  year I’ll get outside no matter how cold it is. I’ll revel in winter! I’ll fill my lungs with the crisp, clean air of January and I’ll be triumphant in taming the life sucking tentacles of SAD. As I wipe my brow with my sleeve, I know I won’t. Next January will find me surrendering with a whimper to the clutches of depression. I do all I can to fight it. In the early part of winter I use a supplemental light designed for sufferers of SAD, take antidepressants, eat properly and exercise. But little by little, day by day, it wraps around me like weeds in a pond that wrap around my ankles and drag me down into the murky depths. But I know the daffodils will once again rise up like a bevy of avenging knights shouting to me “Arise!”

I choose to live in Maine because it is a way of life that is simpler. It is a place where you can buy vegetables by the side of the road, leaving your money in a box. It is a place of breathtaking beauty, abundant wildlife, culture and art. I am a Mainer now, albeit one with a heavy Southern accent. In a perfect world I would leave Maine right after Christmas and spend the remaining winter months thumbing my nose at the insidious fingers of SAD from a tropical beach, holding something that has a tiny umbrella in it in my hand. From June through December I would absorb the magical wonders of Maine. But for now, I will surf the internet gorging on photos of sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and M&Ms. So from beautiful northern Maine I salute all you who will see the daffodils in March. My lovely beauties, I’ll see you in June.