The punchline of a very old joke about asking for directions in Maine is “you can’t get there from here.” Sometimes that’s nothing less than the truth, especially in the summer when there’s road construction in progress.
Another truism is that many rural Maine people, especially the old timers, have a tendency to give directions by way of landmarks. It’s not uncommon for someone in these parts (the Western Maine mountains, nowhere near the coast) to be told to “go a mile past where old man Johnson’s house used to be, the one that burned down mebbe ten years back, and turn right when you get to the refrigerator by the side of the road.”
You wouldn’t think a refrigerator would be a landmark, at least not a long-lasting one, but back thirty-plus years ago when my husband worked for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department as a dispatcher, corrections officer, and deputy, “turn right at the refrigerator” was exactly how he gave directions on at least one occasion.
Out of curiosity, we took a little drive around Franklin County a couple of weeks back, to see what we could spot by way of roadside landmarks. As you can see above, we found a refrigerator, although not the same one, but it had been abandoned in a spot where someone could make a right turn. We also spotted two washing machines, one with a “for sale” sign on it, and a pair of what appeared to be household propane tanks.
One of our planned stops was in the town of Weld. There, for decades “the man in the barrel” has been causing tourists to do a double take as they pass by. He’s handy as a sign that the turn to reach a nearby state park is just up the road a piece.
There are numerous roadside memorials all over the winding, roller-coaster roads of rural Maine, marking places where a fatal car accident occurred. Friends and family members put flowers at the site, and sometimes toys. They tie ribbons around trees. After a time, everything gets pretty bedraggled looking, but it’s rare anyone takes them down.
And then there are the chainsaw-carved animals, especially in the area around Rangeley, where chainsaw artist Rodney Richards (aka The Mad Whittler) lived and sculpted. The bear shown here was carved out of a tree stump in Oquossoc. Its roots still go deep into the ground. There’s a carved woodchuck on a mailbox on U. S. Rt. 4 near Jay, and out on U. S. Rt. 2, just past East Dixfield Village, stands a black bear wearing a cowboy hat and a bandanna. There’s also a cat, in the area around Turner, but that’s not in Franklin County, so we didn’t drive down there to get a picture of it.
Whether you look on them as landmarks or as roadside attractions, there’s no end to the odd things you’ll see if you take a drive through rural Maine.