Paul Doiron here—
Magazine editors aren’t supposed to have favorites. Like parents we are expected to love all of our offspring equally. Of course, that isn’t the case (with editors or with parents). There are stories we boast about and stories we wish we could do over again—or not at all.
I spent a day at the office this past week rereading the last twelve issues of Down East, and I found myself pulled into certain articles, either because they were just as gripping or entertaining as the first time I encountered them or because I remembered the fun we had putting them together.
Are these Down East‘s best stories of 2012? Some certainly are; others are favorites for more personal reasons. In either case here are twelve good reads, in alphabetical order, which you might have missed:
Battle Over Bald Mountain by Jeff Clark
One of Maine’s best journalists, Jeff Clark reports on a story from Aroostook County that flew under the radar in southern Maine. A controversial new law loosened state regulations for open-pit mining with potentially grave consequences for the state’s watersheds. A display of crony politics at its worst—in which both Republicans and Democrats played the roles of villains.
Chaos at the Caucuses by Colin Woodard
The Maine Republican Caucuses were such fiascos last year—with Ron Paul and Mitt Romney supporters engaging in open hostilities—they attracted the attention of the national media. What was even more shocking was the meaninglessness of it all. The party apparatus simply overruled its own members.
The Commute by Virginia M. Wright
If you want to understand some truths about the perpetuation of a servant class on the Maine coast, ride the Islesboro ferry, as Ginny Wright did for a week. Every day workers who can’t afford to live on the exclusive island commute by boat to jobs at the magnificent estates in one of the wealthiest enclaves in the Northeast.
Homer’s Window by Deborah Weisgall
You might have read about the restoration of the Winslow Homer studio on Prouts Neck or maybe you visited the “Weatherbeaten” exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art this fall. In our September issue Deborah Weisgall, who covers art for the New York Times, wrote a beautiful assessment of the work Homer did in Maine and how it changed the man, his art, and the course of history.
The Incredible Edible Eel by Susan Hand Shetterly
Eels are among my favorite fish; one of the few catadramous species (meaning they live in fresh water but journey to the ocean to breed) that you are ever likely to encounter. They are truly fascinating animals who are increasingly at risk from a range of human impacts, from dams that impede their migrations, to overfishing for an East Asian market that encourages a short-term gold rush mentality from the people netting baby “glass eels” each spring along the coast.
The Ledge by Edgar Allen Beem
Lawrence Sargent Hall’s short story “The Ledge” is one of the most harrowing pieces of fiction I have ever read, ranking with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” for its sheer power. Ed Beem’s article from our December issue recounts how a true incident—three lives freakishly lost at sea in December 1956—became Maine’s most famous short story.
The Maine Road by Virginia M. Wright
Ginny Wright drove 527 miles through 81 towns, past 21 McDonald’s and 8 moose crossings to document life along the length of Route 1 in Maine. It is an epic work of cultural journalism, told in five parts.
Part 1 Miles 0 to 69: Acadian Country
Part 2 Miles 70 to 213: Potato Fields and Deep Woods
Part 3 Miles 214 to 333: Down East
Part 4 Miles 334 to 451: The Midcoast
Part 5 Miles 452 to 527: Southern Maine
Moonbat Kingdom by Will Bleakley
Belfast is a cool and crazy city—a place where the back-to-the-land movement didn’t fade away but evolved into a new manifestation of social conscience and live-and-let-live creativity. Will Bleakley did an excellent job of capturing the peculiar nature of a vibrant town utterly unlike any other community I can think of in Maine.
The New Bootleggers by Al Diamon
This story was definitely a challenge: How do you profile a bunch of modern moonshiners when there is a chance that the state and federal government will pursue them for breaking a law that few people take seriously anymore? With great care, we discovered.
Oyster Land by Virginia M. Wright
I would have killed to do the research on this one! Maine oysters have become one of our marquee exports, prized by chefs and gourmets around the country. Now Mainers are discovering them, too, as Ginny Wright discovered.
Rescue Me by Cynthia Anderson
Maine is home to largest seal population on the east coast, and every year many seals are found injured or “orphaned” (in fact, many of the baby seals rescued by ignorant but well-meaning people are simply waiting on shore while their mothers catch fish for them in the sea). This story by Cynthia Anderson showcases the marine biologists and volunteers who work so hard to return each animal to the ocean where it belongs.
Some Like It Hot by Virginia M. Wright
Who knew that Maine is a hotbed of hot sauce lovers — and makers? All of the Down East editors and designers participated in this fiery taste test, which was the funnest article for us to create this past year. One big miss on this list, though is 2 Cats Five Pepper Hot Sauce, which is my new favorite.