John Clark slowly melting like the Wicked Witch of the West on a brutal August afternoon. After three months out knocking on doors and listening to people in Somerset County, any doubts about there being two Maines are long gone. First off, this is more about commonality than politics. I’m going to share some of the moments that have stuck with me from Beth and my adventures in the six towns comprising District 105 along with some other things that are indicative of how remote parts of Maine work to connect.
Many interesting trails await rural explorers
We have several Amish families who have moved into Palmyra recently. Friends who know them say that more are coming and I’m happy to hear it. When my writer friend Susan Estes and her husband sold their inactive dairy farm, one of her biggest worries was that whoever bought it would spilt it into lots and not use the land wisely. The Amish family who purchased the property has quite the farm going and Beth swears their strawberries taste better than ones we pick in Athens. We make an effort to wave every time we pass by all three of our new farming neighbors. These families have started working with Moodytown Gardens, a farm in Palmyra run by a young man and his wife who are passionate about such farms being a big part of the future if rural Maine is to survive. There’s labor swapping, reciprocal selling of various crops and joint haying ventures already up and running. It’s the sort of cooperation everyone was used to 50 years ago that has dwindled over the years.
Amazing to see how the Amish hay
Many of the experiences we’ve had on rural roads have been uplifting. Nearly everyone wants to talk and be heard. In between the issues, there are moments of connection. My late friend gospel bluegrass musician Jack Woodbury’s name brought smiles and brightening eyes at a couple stops. A husband and wife were enjoying an afternoon with their granddaughter who had been frog hunting. I shared my experience some sixty years ago when we found a blue frog at the Hardie’s farm pond.Her grandparents had played with Jack numerous times over the years. Another woman who plays at several nursing and assisted living facilities every week, got Jack to sing Amazing Grace the day before he died.
At the beginning of a dead end dirt road in Ripley, the woman who answered the door was worried about her thirteen year old stepson. He wants to become a game warden, but school doesn’t interest him. I told her about A Good Man With A Dog and since she had a card at the Dexter Library, I encouraged her to check out a copy. A week later, my successor at the Hartland library weeded a copy and on my next trip through Ripley, I left it on the seat of her car with a note reminding her about our chat.
Thirsty butterflies in Cambridge
Among other moments on the trail have been countless encounters with dogs and chickens. Almost everyone in Ripley and Cambridge has free range chickens as a viable tick deterrent. When I hit the last house on the Todds Corner Road, three of them hurried to greet me. That led to a lengthy conversation with the young homeowner and his daughter. He drives from St. Albans to Embden 5 days a week where he works with group home residents for minimum wage. His situation is far from unique up here. I’ve chatted with plenty of people who work 2-3 part time jobs, often driving at least 60 miles daily to make ends meet.
Every day I’m on the road takes me to new territory. Before agreeing to run, My only experience with Cambridge was going through on my way to Guilford. Now, I’ve been on every road in town and the same applies to Ripley. I’ve met conservatives, liberals and people everywhere in between. Everyone has been civil, a high percentage eager to talk, and more often than not, have something to tell me that’s new to me. I’ve learned plenty about the challenges facing dairy farmers, met a woman whose eighteen year old step son is dying of brain cancer, heard about the frightening staffing issues facing critical care nurses and shared favored spots for finding beach glass with two young sisters in Cambridge. In fact, Beth and I set aside some of our latest finds on Campobello to drop off next time we go by their place.
You never know what’s overhead unless you look.
We know where to go come winter to admire deer atop a silage pile. The woman who told us said she often sees as many as fifteen at a time. We got to admire a quartet of swallowtail butterflies taking a drink from a freshly watered garden, were invited into an artists home to see the city landscapes he makes from discarded pierces of computers and similar equipment. They’re fascinating and his enthusiasm was contagious.
What’s next on the trail? Who knows? I do know that win or lose, this is going to be an enlightening and rewarding experience…And I’ll be waving an an awful lot of new friends in my future travels.