A Celebration of the People of Maine and the Places They Love
Edited by Jeremy Sheaffer, Sarah Cecil, and Steven J. Holmes
196 pp. Hallowell, Maine:
The Wilderness Society, $10.
Reviewed by Burndett Andres
“What is Maine?” asks Robert Perschel of the Wilderness Society. “There is the land, the waters, the sky. Then there is the way we experience land, water, and sky so that they become place. Place becomes relationship, relationship becomes memory and memory becomes story. If you want to know what Maine is, if you want to know the value of Maine, if you want to know which values to protect, you ask people to tell you a story. That’s how Maine speaks to us – through the voices of the people.”
In 2003, Mainers took the time to write essays describing places they cherish in the Maine outdoors and how these places have played a part in shaping their lives. They were all part of the Maine Voices Project, an effort made by the Wilderness Society, the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and independent scholar Steve Holmes to capture the meaning of Maine’s natural world to today’s Maine residents. Organizations from Kittery to Fort Kent invited their members and friends to participate and individuals as dissimilar as L.L. Bean Chairman Leon Gorman and six-year-old home-schooled Katherine Mawhinney responded. The project coordinators wanted this publication to represent a broad spectrum of places and persons and have culled seventy-seven of the best essays and organized them into nine sections.
As befits his lofty estate, Governor Baldacci has written the umbrella essay, the eloquent foreword, in which he encourages all Mainers, whether native or from away, to tell their stories “to one another…tie these stories together and forge a future that honors them all…Maine has many voices and many outstanding landmarks, but we have only one future. To go confidently into that future, we need to listen to one another – closely and with deep respect for differing experiences and opinions. Just as in these essays, we should expect to be surprised and enlightened. That will help prepare us for our responsibility to conserve our natural resources and our way of life….”
The essays are divided into eight sections. The first section is “Mountains and Woods” and includes the words of Robert Kimber, a freelance writer, who confesses “it is not I who possess that land; it is the land that possesses me and always has.” The feeling of having been bewitched by the land is the common element in almost all of these essays. Naturally, not all of the writers express this sense of enchantment as eloquently as Mr. Kimber; some trip over their own words waxing poetic about their chosen aspect of Maine. But they all get the point across. Crystal Neoma Hitchings says it this way, “This place will pull until my bones disappear into its raw earth…”
The second section, “Rivers, Bogs, and Lakes,” comprises essays written by those whose love of Maine is manifest in water. Celia Leber begins her story with the words, “When I think about leaving Maine, it is like thinking about dying. I fear most losing the water. Not the salt water of the ocean, but the blue lines on the map….”
Section three, “Coast and Islands,” gives equal time to those for whom Maine is defined by salt water. “Mainstay” is one of these essays. It was dictated by Emily Muir to her caregiver just before she died and describes the “eighty acres with a mile of shore” that was her family home.
“The Cycles of the Seasons” is next, and there is no agreement whatsoever about which season should be most beloved. Even winter has its share of fans as expressed by Lee Bellavance: “My favorite place in Maine is a place that hardly ever exists. I’m not even sure of its name – it’s barely a trace on the maps and it isn’t listed in any tourist books. A place that is created only during the deepest and coldest of winters when the Fore River freezes and becomes an enchanted highway. A smooth road fringed with trees and glittering with billions of crystals of snow piled as high as Eldorado. And the being there is more important than the where.”
The fifth group of essays is called “Homes, Past and Present.” This group of writers includes twelve-year-old Kane Kuchinski, “young old fart” Sarah O’Sullivan, and the shortest essay in the book, a fabulous four sentence offering by Frederick J. Jaeckel. His essay is prefaced with these words: “I have found Maine to be a place of profound inspiration and beauty, populated by gentle eccentrics. The love of this place called Maine not only colors my life, but the lives of everyone I know.” His essay is a laconic marvel.
In “Special Places, Near and Far” Maine is variously identified by the pine needles; an enchanted rock; a bicycle seat; a fifty-three-acre parkland; an erstwhile graveyard; fairy houses; a big spruce; and the feeling of homecoming found by Michael G. Rowe in the middle of the “four-lane interstate highway at the apex of the Piscataqua River Bridge as I am entering the great state of Maine from New Hampshire. It is there at that moment, that particular place, that all of Maine comes to me.”
The seventh section “From Here and From Far Away” contains essays from Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford, “a recent arrival to Maine,” and Reuben “Butch” Phillips, Lt. Governor of the Penobscot Indian Nation whose ancestors were having clambakes on Mt. Desert Island thousands of years ago.
“Dangers and Defenders” is made up of the writings of an environmental consultant, a white-water guide, a master planner, an environmental engineer, a psychotherapist, a wildlife rehabilitator, a lumberman, and a conservationist who all agree with teacher Susan Cunningham Healey of Maine and Hawaii who writes, “Like the people of Maine, Hawaiians have traditionally had strong economic, spiritual, and cultural bonds to their land. They are now struggling to reclaim what has already been lost. As a native of Maine, I cannot ignore the lessons I have learned so far from home. For us, it’s not too late. We still have our wild roots, our abundance and variety of wildlife, our bountiful natural resources, and our culture – all treasures to be savored and saved. We already recognize the value and rarity of our tranquil way of life…let us work to preserve it. Let’s keep Maine ‘the Way Life Should Be.’”
“More Maine Voices” is made up of several dozen “excerpts (and a Couple of Poems) from the Maine Voices Project Submissions” that could not all be printed in their entirety but were too good to be left out, e.g., “Anyone who has hiked Katahdin has a story to tell; In the Allagash, one can just sit back and observe; If you think no place is perfect, think again; Making memories is what we do here; It is here that I will live my life with grace, my path in step with my spirit. And it is from here that I will see clearly all those who have come before me, from my place…in Maine.”
The voices of Maine captured here are those of the lover describing the beloved, and the pilgrim trying to find words to share a glimpse of heaven. Jym St. Pierre says, “I feel, for a long, quiet moment, an uncommon bliss. It occurs to me that this would be a good time to pass over. Then an afterthought; perhaps I have.”
The appendix is an invitation to add your voice to theirs, to write about your own favorite place in this magical land called Maine, and these essays could inspire you to do just that.
For Wolf Moon Press Journal – A Maine Magazine of Art and Opinion Issue #12 Nov/Dec. 2004
Ref. Maine, At Last - Out and About, Vol. III, Page 71
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