Rambles Around the State
Of course the first place one heads is up the coast. One day Micheal and I drove way up to the Rockland/Rockport/Camden area. All three towns have plenty of charm and lots of photo opportunities, but in July all three are also human zoos. Traffic, horrible. The small, picturesque harbors at Rockport and Camden, jammed with boats; shops and restaurants, jammed with people. The back streets of Camden look like something out of a 1930s Frank Capra movie: big frame houses sheltered by tall, old trees, sitting behind white picket fences. You wouldn’t be surprised to see Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed mosying down the sidewalk singing Buffalo Girls Can You Come Out Tonight. The sea, two blocks away, and in the background, big, round, green hills. I told Micheal living there would be my idea of paradise on earth except in July and August.
We actually climbed — in our car — one of those round green hills. Mount Battie. At the top you find a stone tower where once stood Summit House, a social club popular with wealthy summer visitors at the turn of the century (the last century, that is). You can stand there and see exactly what Edna St. Vincent Millay saw when she wrote, in “Renascence,” “All I could see from where I stood/Was three long mountains and a wood;/I turned and looked another way, And saw three islands in a bay.”* Millay was born in Rockport, and often read her poetry at the Whitehall Inn in Camden.
In all three towns there are lots of art galleries — we wandered through several — and at Rockland there’s the small but first-rate Rockland Art Museum. Thematically speaking there’s a strong emphasis on seascapes, naturally enough. You can see some very nice work, by people you’ve never heard of. Yet another demonstration that the world is full of talented people who never make it big.
But Micheal and I lived inland, so most of our weekend jaunts were not in the direction of the coast. Once we drove up tree-shaded Highway 35 to Waterford. This is a village that looks like a Hollywood set for a New England town. Big, white frame houses with black shutters tucked in a pocket between a placid little lake and a furry green hill, with the mellifluous name of Mount Tire-m. What got me is that there’s no industry in Waterford, or any other sort of business except for a real estate office — with outrageously expensive postings in the window — and an Inn, called Lake House, which looked closed ‘though as a matter of fact it’s open all year. It is evidently quite famous, having gotten itself written up in Yankee Magazine (“possibly the best food in Maine”), and, in a byegone era, having seen the likes of Mickey Rooney, Claudette Colbert, Judy Garland. It started life as a tavern in the 1790s, went through a brief period as a girl’s school, and now passes its days waiting for “functions” (evidently people like to hold wedding receptions and small business conferences there) and the summer trade passing through.
The closest other town is Harrison, which isn’t all that close, or all that big, so I’m asking myself, ‘What do all these people do for a living?” I often wonder that, when driving through all the small towns with which Maine abounds. But most towns have a few small businesses to employ a few folks each; Waterford has nothing. Presumably Waterford came into being as a summer get-away for the wealthy, with its location right on little Keoka Lake. But how many people are that turn-of–the century wealthy now? Well, apparently enough to keep all those big white houses lived in, kept up, and heated. I decided that if I were a Stephen King kind of writer, in the sense of churning out the books and being able to live off the proceeds, I might just opt for life in isolated little Waterford.
But speaking of books, since I had begun working in a small-town public library I’d become fascinated with the species. I was delighted to see that the library in Waterford is housed in a tiny stone house — stone, in a land of white frame! A wonderful metaphor, it seems to me, for the true durability of the written word, as opposed to the fleeting life of such things as houses.
Another weekend we took a much longer drive north to another of Maine’s “twin cities.” Like Lewiston/Auburn, miles to the south, Rumford/Mexico is separated by the Androscoggin River. Mexico is supposed to be the scruffier of the two small cities, but both looked pretty down at the heel to me…which is also the case with Lewiston and Auburn. All of these cities owe their lives to the mills and factories that were built on the river in the 1800s. They still look like factory towns, emphatically lacking the picturesque charm of the coastal towns. On the other hand, I think of them as the places where “real” Mainers live. I suppose one could also say it’s where the unlucky Mainers live.
Rumford’s claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Edmund Muskie. My memory had to do a bit of scrambling to come up with just who Edmund Muskie was. He was a senator from Maine for 10 years before losing his bid for the vice presidency in ’68, and for the presidential nomination in ’72. But he was a successful Democratic senator, and before that governor, in a then-predominantly Republican state, which isn’t a bad record to leave behind, even with all the big-time losing he did later.
Rumford’s most noteworthy feature is a small waterfalls tumbling down beside the power plant. There’s a little roadside park from which you can view the falls. Between the park and the river are slabs of broad, flat rock, on which are bolted a number of flat, black cutouts of an Indian family at work and at play. Well, yes, it struck me as a pretty good place to set up housekeeping. I myself loved standing out on the rocks, allowing myself to be mesmerized by the rush of water opposite me. I did notice that the froth had a brownish tinge — mud, churned up by the water? Or something more sinister? I suppose it’s indicative of the society we live in that the possibility of “something more sinister” even occured to me.
Certainly getting there and back was the most satisfying aspect of this trip, because of the scenery. Which is true wherever you choose to go in Maine. Hills, everywhere, trees, everywhere, bodies of water — the sea, or rivers, or lakes, or what they call ponds but you and I would call lakes, almost everywhere. The only ugliness to be seen is invariably human-made. Which can be said of so many places in this country, and which is surely an appalling commentary on our stewardship of the land. I think, for example, of all the trailers. Lots of folks living in trailers in Maine. Rarely do these seem to be a part of the landscape; rather, you have this two-toned railroad car with a small wooden porch tacked on plunked down beside the highway, obstructing, rather than contributing to, the view. I can’t help wishing cozy little cottages could be as (relatively) cheap as old, beat-up mobile homes, so that all the poor folks in Maine (remember, there’s no place to work!) could be lively cheaply without their domociles marring the landscape.