The past 3.5 years of living in Maine has taught me a few things.
- There is more in Maine than just rocky coast and a bunch of pine trees.
- While tourists may suck, we need them, and deep down, we kinda love the obnoxious buggers.
- There is a kind of quiet here that I have only ever heard in a select few places.
- Lobster is tasty, but if you’ve grown up in a fishing village, lobsters are just ocean bugs.
It’s fun to think of the idealized notion of life in Maine: quaint fishing villages with old grizzled Mainers sitting on porches, smoking pipes and saying “Ayuh!” a lot. Just like every stereotype, there is a kernel of truth in all that fluff. But I think it’s time to peel away some of those layers to find the real Maine.
The real Maine has a lot more to offer than most people believe. Modern 4-star cuisine; deep woods adventure; a flourishing craft beer industry; a thriving fine arts scene.
Aside from the glorious mountain peaks and beautiful ocean sunrises that have for years inspired hundreds of great artists, poets, musicians, and authors, Maine also boasts cutting edge design and technology cultures in cities and towns like Portland and Rockland. In fact, two world reknowned art schools make their homes here: the Maine College of Art, home to famous artists and exhibitions in Portland’s downtown Arts District; and the Maine Media Workshops, a world famous film school boasting professors who moonlight as Hollywood filmmakers. The world-class Portland Museum of Art plays host to scores of gorgeous artwork, including several Picassos and Degas, and a ton of work from Winslow Homer (who, incidentally, called Maine home for awhile).
I know you’re thinking that Mainers eat lobster all day, everyday. After all, our Maine lobster is world famous for being sweet and tender, and in abundance. And while that’s all true, Maine has quite a burgeoning gourmet food scene that is cropping up on a lot of foodies’ radars. In 2010, Portland alone was named Best Small Town for Foodies by Bon Appetit Magazine! From greasy diner food to top notch meals prepared by 4-star chefs, Maine boasts food from around the world. Lest you think it’s all lobsters and fish, many cultural staples are represented, including Thai, Japanese, Indian, Somalian, British, and Spanish.
I’ve talked about the Maine music scene before, but it warrants another mention. If you’re a fan of music, from rock to bluegrass, classical to hip-hop, you won’t be disappointed when you head out for a night on the town. In Portland, buskers line the downtown streets, their twinkling notes mingling with the sounds of a working waterfront. Further north, you’ll find bar bands and independent musicians across the state ready and able to perform. And even in the Great North Woods, you’re bound to find a camper strumming a guitar or blowing on a harmonica.
The Great Outdoors
Ok, fine, let’s get into it: Maine is mostly woods. We know this. But it is because of the abundance of trees that Maine is one of the best destinations in the northeast for outdoor adventures, from hunting and fly fishing to kayaking, rock climbing, and sky diving. Maine has the first National Park east of the Mississippi River, Acadia National Park, located on Mt. Desert Island. Nearby Bar Harbor plays home base for many outdoor adventurers, especially those taking to the seas. And let’s not forget the 100-Mile Wilderness, one hundred or so miles of logging roads and hiking trails, and not much else, all of which is bisected by the Appalachian Trail on it’s way to its northern terminus at Mount Katahdin, in Baxter State Park. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a canoe trip to rival Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.
New England Charm
There is something to be said for what many describe as that certain “New England Charm.” People certainly are polite here. Coming from the New York Metropolitan area–where you keep your eyes straight ahead and avoid the crazies–I had a bit of a culture shock when, sitting in the center court at the local shopping mall shortly after moving here, I realized that people weren’t staring at me because I had some kind of strange deformity; no, they were making polite eye contact. Who the hell does that? Oh, right…real people. It truly is the people that make this state livable. Whether shopping in the outlet stores in Freeport or hiking a secluded trail in an unnamed territory, you’re bound to get an enthusiastic “Hello!” if not a full on friendly conversation.
This isn’t a love letter to the state of Maine, though moving here was the best move I ever made. Hell, I met my fiancée here. But we have real problems, just like the rest of the country. Poverty, crime, bigotry, racism, low wages, and high unemployment are things that we all deal with here, and sometimes in a more augmented reality than other places, owing in part to the small population.
But the myriad good aspects of living here far outweigh the few bad ones. So even though you may make a very big lifestyle change by living here, the people who do are fiercely loyal to their adopted state. And native Mainers…well, they’re a breed all their own.