Semi-wilderness Saturday

One of my favorite views on the Airline.

One of my favorite views on the Airline.

John Clark sharing the excursion Beth and I took last Saturday. While we’ve visited a great deal of Maine, neither of us had explored the chunk that lies north of the Airline and east of I-95 save for a trip up Rt. 1 before we got married 38 years ago. After a stop at the LL Bean outlet in Bangor where Beth shopped and I finished the book I was reading, we went up 95 to Lincoln holding at 70 and getting passed by every other vehicle. A couple years ago one of my patrons and I were chatting about hot cars and he told me that when he asked a state trooper where he could road test the sports car he’d just rebuilt, the trooper told him to go anywhere north of Lincoln on I-95 around 5 am and he could go as fast as he wanted with no interference. After watching several vehicles pass at better than 90 mph, I’m inclined to believe that he got the right advice.

One of many abandoned houses, it still has character and I wonder why it is unloved

One of many abandoned houses, it still has character and I wonder why it is unloved

One thing we noticed in several places was the prevalence of wind towers, ranging from a cluster of three, to one ridge where Beth counted 18. We agreed that they’re less of a distraction than cell towers and, given the amount of wilderness up that way, coupled with a scarcity of jobs, why not build more.

There are many intriguing pieces of farm machinery like this up here

There are many intriguing pieces of farm machinery like this up here

From Lincoln, we followed Rt. 6 to Lee and stopped at a few lawn sales. A couple were your typical family trying to unload unwanted stuff to help pay bills and Beth bought our granddaughter two nice wooden puzzles. The last one we stopped at was ‘real man’ stuff, rusting traps, military surplus clothing and vacuum sealed rations as well as tools and a nice electric trolling motor that momentarily tempted me, but not for $120.00. After chatting with the gentleman who was selling these items, we learned that we were on the route to the Springfield Fair, (http://www.thespringfieldfair.com/) one I knew nothing about, but has been going for 164 years. You know you’re attending a real Maine fair when everyone who pays admission gets a chance at winning a beautiful used Lincoln right after the Labor Day truck pulls. I think we shocked the fellow who was directing traffic when we pointed up the road to tell him we weren’t going to the fair. I can tell you that they had one heck of a crowd on Saturday.

Fabulous phlox and a view of the Mattawamkeag river across the road. Fixer-upper?

Fabulous phlox and a view of the Mattawamkeag river across the road. Fixer-upper?

We followed Rt. 177 through mostly wooded areas, passing many houses like the ones you see in some of the accompanying photos. It was pretty sad to see so many places that were falling in and looked like whoever had lived there either died or gave up and walked away. I couldn’t help but think what Maine might be like in ten years if we invited some of the refugees who are killing themselves and their children as they desperately seek a safe place to live, to move here. Granted, I understand that the job situation sucks in most of Maine north of Brunswick (and sure as hell in the rural areas), so they probably would require government assistance for a while, but at least we’d be addressing the need for a younger and more able bodied work force. I just read Pashtun by Ron Lealos which is about a young CIA agent in Afghanistan and I couldn’t help but think about a piece of dialogue in it regarding the extremely transitory nature of farming in a country where crops either wither due to lack of rain, or get blown all to hell in turf battles. Imagine the way people used to that kind of agriculture would feel if all of a sudden they were able to farm 20 acres of fertile Maine soil.

Sunlight on the Mattawamkeag

Sunlight on the Mattawamkeag

After going through Wytopitlock, we backtracked just south of town and followed Pitlock Road which runs mostly along the Mattawamkeag River which alternates fast and slow waters and looks like prime kayaking water. We stopped at one bridge to take photos and you can see the diamond sparkles where sunlight was reflecting off a bit of fast water and another where an old I-beam lay on the bottom.

RIP I-beam

RIP I-beam

Beth loves yarn and is a knitter, so we stopped at a gift shop and were pleasantly surprised to find the owner spun and dyed her own yarn. As you can see, the sheep were happy to pose for us. The owner gave us directions to a restaurant near the Million Dollar View. The food was good, the view amazing and Beth found an antique cup with the Pittsfield Library on it which she bought as a gift for Lyn Larochelle the library director there. The place was for sale and even though it was (to me at least) the beginning of the best time to be in Maine, they were getting ready to shut down for the year. There was an unused eagle/osprey platform just below the scenic turnout which looks across Chiputnicook Lakes. A little further down Rt. 1, is another scenic turnout where you have a really decent view of Mt. Katahdin.

Who knew Katahdin was visible this far east

Who knew Katahdin was visible this far east

I was struck by the lack of traffic on this stretch of the road just south of Danforth. In fact at one point, I must have gone four or five miles without seeing another vehicle. Contrast that with the sludge-speed of Route One in southern Maine. If that doesn’t speak to the reality of two Maines, then what does? Likewise the number of empty houses just a holler from the ocean. One other thing that struck both of us was how far it seemed people had to drive in order to buy groceries. Granted, we live in a small town, but my grocery shopping can even be done by walking a couple blocks to the Moose Lake Market. We saw places where folks must have to drive 40-50 miles to buy any significant quantity of stuff. I guess it’s like Uncle Dub says. “There ain’t no damn Wallyworlds in places starting with T9.”

We came back across the Airline, one of my favorite roads in Maine because it’s probably second only to the interstate in terms of condition and ability to put the pedal to the metal. Despite traveling through a couple hundred miles of Maine wilderness, we saw almost no wildlife. For that sort of experience, I’d rather go to Rangeley and back over the logging road that hits Route 27 in Stratton.

Despite the lack of wildlife and the frequent reminders of how hardscrabble much of rural Maine is (and Gerry Boyle describes it as well as any writer I know), it was a great outing and trust me, there’s plenty left to explore in that piece of Maine.

Now, folks, what’s left for you to see of our great state?

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7 Responses to Semi-wilderness Saturday

  1. MCWriTers says:

    I just drove “the airline” last week, too. Fabulous piece of road. Actually, my husband drove part of it and said, “That was fun.” Awfully nice views.

    Katahdin is still on my list, and the Penobscot Narrows observatory, along with getting up to the top of Maine. I don’t think I’ve been north of Presque Isle. Lots left to explore. I was pleased two years ago to get to take a boat out to the middle of Moosehead Lake. And see Schoodic Point. And I got to do a LOT of driving around working on a retired warden’s memoir.

    Kate

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  2. Janet says:

    Love your travelogue and your photos. My husband and I love exploring Northern Maine…from the flowering potato fields to the edges of Eastport…from Millinocket to Madawaska and beautiful Sinclair. Have yet to reach Fort Kent and St. Agatha…and so many more unexplored places. Drove the Airline last week as well…love it so much more since the road improvements a few years back…still stop to take photos along beautiful Route 9.

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  3. Vaughn Hardacker says:

    John:

    Help out a good old boy from The County. Where or what is the Airline?

    Vaughn

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  4. Sennebec says:

    Vaughn, the Airline is Route 9 which runs from Brewer to Calais and has pretty much been completely rebuilt so it’s second only to I-95 in quality. It got its name because pilots used it as their guide when flying back before navigational aids were in service. Lotta mystery on it. A fellow named John Dudley even created a web page of Airline related stuff http://www.mainething.com/alexander/Transportation%20and%20Trade/THE%20AIRLINE%20ROAD.html back in 2003. The turnout where I shot the picture even gave up a skull a couple years ago that as far as I know has never been identified.

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  5. Lea Wait says:

    Great post, John! Maine is a much larger state than most people from away think. There is a LOT of it I don’t know, and would like to visit. On my bucket list: drive up route one all the way, and check out Eastport … and Campobello. (Yes – I know – I’d be in Canada then!)

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  6. Mary Anne Sullivan says:

    Love this post. I’ve only been up there a couple times but what a soul that area has. We have so many places in Maine where these refugees could build a town and make their way. Decades ago, Richmond, ME was built by White Russian refugees. Eventually the generations married into Maine families so it’s no longer a trip to Russia to go there. But for a long time, it was. At Colby College, some of my friends stayed with Russian families for Jan Plan to do a total immersion into the Russian language. Then there’s New Sweden, ME up north. It’s a great thought.

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  7. Ruth Nixon says:

    John, thanks for the wonderful blog about your wonderful State. I’m a big fan of Maine Writers and enjoy reading about the REAL Maine. I know I’m not likely to ever live there but when I see those empty houses my heart aches.

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