Maine and Montana are States of Mind

When I had occasion to visit the great State of Maine for the wedding of my niece Casey recently, I was pleasantly surprised to discover just how strongly the people of Maine feel about their the place they live. Of course, that should have come as no surprise at all.

After all, I had grown up devouring the stories of legendary Maine guides and their adventures in the great north woods that filled outdoor magazines. The tales of hunting for moose, getting in scrapes with black bears, and catching fat brook trout, or “squaretails” as they were sometimes called, from bark canoes with every cast of those willowy old bamboo fly rods, filled my head.

There was L.L. Bean, too. Long before the glut of mail order outdoor equipment catalogs began to fill my mail box, the occasional arrival of a new catalog from that venerable purveyor of outdoor clothing, rubber-soled hunting boots, snowshoes, and wicker basket backpacks was a welcome event.

As a sometimes history buff, I have long been aware of the role the 20th Maine Regiment played in the gallant defense of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlin. And. because my pal R.P. is a graduate of Bowdoin, one of Maine’s numerous prestigious small colleges, I have been frequently reminded that Chamberlin later became President of Bowdoin, and still later became Governor of Maine.

Finally, my dear friend Minie tuned me on to the fact that another old Maine hand by the name of Chester Greenwood invented earmuffs back in 1873. Now, every December 21st is officially Chester Greenwood Day in the State of Maine, and I have frequently taken note of that fateful day in my December musings on these pages.

Even with all that background, I wasn’t exactly ready for what I found upon arriving at the creaky old lodge nestled among tall birch and pine hard by the rocky shoreline of a lake called Great Pond. I felt a strange sense of familiarity as I stood looking out over the sparkling lake to the far shore emblazoned with the fiery orange, yellow, and red of fall.

When mingling with wedding guests, there was another kind of familiarity when the talk turned to the place we were standing, the histories of families in that place, and the wonder those folks felt for the beauty of their home state and the joy and solace that living there provides them.

Time and again, conversations included laments that I could not stay long enough to see more of the country. People glowed when they began to share adventure stories and talk of the things they liked to do when there was time in the day to do them. Offers of hikes to the summits of the distant low-lying mountains, fishing trips, and woodland ski tours were dispensed like candy at a parade.

Many with whom I spoke proudly noted that Great Pond was the lake that inspired the movie “On Golden Pond.” And, yes, the U.S. mail is still delivered by boat as long as the lake isn’t iced over.

It did not escape my notice that many also knew Montana well, and several took pains to let me know that they appreciated our state immensely.

“Montana is wonderful. I’m coming back next summer to see Glacier again.”

“You’re sure lucky to live in a place like that.”

“The fly fishing out there is hard to beat.”

And so on.

The way they said it, however, made it was clear that Montana was a great place to visit, but they were just fine with Maine when it came to a place to live.

In October, the summer people are gone from the lakes in Maine, just as they are in Montana, and those who remain are the communities that live and work in the places most of us just daydream about. Many at the wedding were those who remain all year, the kind who have learned to do for themselves.

What we call a summer cabin is called a “camp” in Maine. The reception was held at a nearby camp owned by the family of another old friend, Richie. When the power went out during the reception under a tent in the yard, it took Richie and others only a few minutes to fire up a generator for the band’s amplifiers and light some candles, and the celebration rolled on into the night.

It was a half-mile walk through dark forest from the reception to the hilltop pasture reserved for parking. I walked alone back to the car, trying to follow a path lit by paper luminarias. Many of the candles were barely flickering, and some were completely out, so I gingerly felt my way along the path through the woods in eerie silence and near complete darkness.

When I emerged from the woods onto the open hilltop, the brilliant night sky sprawled above, lighting the pasture and casting sparkles on the slivers of lake I could glimpse through the treetops below. I stood there, head back, gazing skyward. The stars looked so close that I felt as if I might just be able to reach up and grab a handful of the Milky Way.

I wondered who I knew in Montana who might be looking up at that very same sky at that moment, thinking the same thing.

It’s good to love the place where you live.




Categories: Connections, Family, Friendship, Gratitude