Northern Appalachians: Maine II
Part 5: In which we consider living in Maine
Maine is poor and that makes it rich.
Compare it with suburban Massachusetts and you see the difference. In the hills around Boston, the old homes have added jalousie windows — large panes of plate glass — and behind them you can see a collection of things bought in antiques shops. Out front is a Volvo or a Beemer.
But in backwoods Maine, the same antiques have gathered dust in the old farmhouse since they were new. Out front is a rusted Chevrolet or a Ford pickup.
The New England homes, with their thin clapboards, are thickly painted and repainted their chalky white, and the paint nevertheless peels back on the window trim, showing gray, weathered wood underneath. The foundations are wavy with age and the lines of clapboard match them, looking like uneven topographic lines of a map. Screen doors have holes; barn doors sag on their hinges. But it is the sagging of use, not of neglect. In Rumford Point, for instance, many homes proudly tell the date they were built. You see ”1762” on one door, ”1780” on another. On one small building, you see ”1964,” which is a joke.
Along the Androscoggin River are tall-steepled churches left over from the middle of the past century, still with their signs out front: Services held 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
One of the characteristics you notice is that the farmhouses are connected to the barns by a covered series of adjacent outbuildings. The winters are so severe that no one wants to go outside to tend the livestock, so you pass from the kitchen to the garage to the toolshed to the barn, all in toasty comfort. Well, as toasty as you can be when the siding boards are as loose as lattice and don’t always come down to the dirt, leaving an ankle-high draft.
There are scrollwork on the eaves, wide fans over the door transoms, white fences along the sidewalks and, even in midsummer, storm windows. For even in July, on a wet, rainy day, it can be a raw, humid 70 degrees and it gets into your joints, so you feel arthritic. Or perhaps they are needed for protection against mosquitoes as big as hailstones that gather in swarms in cool, muggy air.
But the countryside is poor, or if not poor — because that brings to mind inner-city malnourishment and anomie — certainly not well-off. As in much of southern Appalachia, the poverty is misleading. The people own their homes, grow their own food, know their own land. There is a Yankee self-sufficiency that grows with the spartan winters, lack of amenities and isolation.
NEXT: The Appalachians enter Canada