My husband grew up on an island off the coast of Maine. Islands, for those of us who grew up “on the mainland” provide a sort of eerie mysticism that is the stuff of childhood dreams. It draws to mind pirates and Peter Pan, treasure, and the sheer abandon of abandonment. The reality for adults is often less Swiss Family Robinson and more deep set poverty. These are the lands of Stephen King novels— reclusive and often beastly. If the people here don’t get you, mother nature will, and in this case mother nature is like an alcoholic— sometimes sweet and gentle other times tempestuous and cruel.
Maine has offered up a number of writers and artists because it is a place of great beauty for inspiration and great struggle for relentless resolve to succeed. Often, we only see the sunny beaches of Southern Maine, picturesque light houses and lobster bakes. But when the winter sets in, the tourists have ventured back to the relative warmth of home, the locals hunker in for the ofttimes bad temper of the offseason.
This is not to suggest that there isn’t beauty in these leaner times. Maine also calls to mind skiing and skating and a general winter wonderland. All of this is true. But to display the darker side of Maine is to talk about what isn’t visible from the tourist pamphlets.
It is to speak of struggling people, the forgotten end of Appalachia. There is poverty and lack of education and resources. Where there is survival dependent on the very will to live rather than a hope for something better. And yet, the juxtaposition of these two Maines— the have and the have not— creates a savage beauty that permeates the very landscape into the consciousness of the people who live there. Maine has a talent for blending a “rough around the edges” mentality with an unspoken willingness that endears as much as it exasperates.
The best way to understand this is to look.