There’s been a lot of talk the past week — and for some time — about monuments, statues, their worth, what they mean.
I’m not going to get all political here, but man-made statues, memorials and monuments tend to have a certain meaning for those who put them up, may have other meanings for others, and are actually simply blocks of stone or cement that have to be looked at with a certain perspective. I’ve heard them referred to as history. They are only history in that they represent a certain philosophy or sentiment, good or bad.
History is the stuff that actually happened, not the stuff the winners (or in the case of some very prominent monuments, the losers) put up to mark their territory.
That said, around the time things were heating up in Charlottesville last week, my sister Liz and I were on our annual camping trip to Baxter State Park.
Baxter has no man-made monuments. What is has is better.
I’ll let Percival Baxter, the former governor who bought the original land for the park say it:
Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all it’s glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.
The same can be said for the entire 200,000-plus acres now. Baxter knew that the whims of people change, that people can destroy the beauty around them out of greed, ignorance or short-sightedness.
The park is famously rigid and limited about how many people can stay there and what you can do when you’re there (no RVs, no motorized boats, carry-in carry-out, etc).
On our way out after a few days camping, we took the time to drive the loop road at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. That was Saturday afternoon, around the same time Heather Heyer was breathing her last breaths.
While it’s really weird for a piece of beautiful land to become a political football, somehow this gift to the people of Maine, and the nation, has.
Roxanne Quimby, one of the cofounders of Burts Bees products, bought up the land piece by piece and (yes, I’m simplifying) donated it to the federal government. President Obama made it a national monument last year. Now it’s being “reviewed” by the current administration, with an eye toward possibly stripping it of that designation.
Our governor has called it a “gave injustice” for the people of Maine and a “mosquito area.”
He and opponents have given a lot of reasons for it not to be there — it will take away from Baxter (really?), the tourists who visit the coast won’t go there (so what? plenty of Maine for everyone), it’ll cause too much traffic, recreational uses now allowed won’t be (there are areas designated for hunting, snowmobiling, etc.)
The bottom line, it seems to me, is that he wants it preserved so that when the forests there that have been hacked away by the timber industry mature again, the timber industry can have at it.
It’s hard to believe that the people of Sherman, Patten, Staceyville and Millinocket, towns that have seen some really hard times, wouldn’t welcome the boost — the non-polluting, feel-good natural boost — this 87,500- acre wilderness area would give them.
It’s also hard to fathom why people who would be the first to jump on landowners’ rights feel the need to criticize a landowner for doing what she wants with land she owns.
There is still a lot of emphasis in Maine on trying to keep the life-support system on for fading industries (timber being one), instead of looking ahead to how Maine can gain economic footing in the 21st century while not destroying what makes Maine so great. Timber gave us a lot, but in some ways also has taken away. But it’s never going to once again be the industry that sustains communities in the deep impoverished rural pockets of the state.
I understand why Weyerhaeuser, the timber company that owns huge chunks of the state’s land, may not want hundreds of thousands of acres to be out of its grasp, but I find it hard to fathom why someone living on the edge of poverty wouldn’t want a positive economic injection into their community. One that preserves, doesn’t destroy.
But I wasn’t going to get political, was I?
It’s hard to find, because he ordered the signs that lead the way to it not be put up.
We found it anyway.
This monument, despite all we people can throw at it, whether it ends up no longer being “a monument,” will be here long after we’re gone. It doesn’t commemorate political views that many find abhorrent, or even ones we don’t. It doesn’t commemorate death and destruction, as so many do.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we are very, very lucky to live in Maine.
Now for the pictures:
Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at@mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at maureenmilliken.com. She hosts the podcast Notes from a Cranky Editor all by herself, as well Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.