This week I’ve seen multiple trucks piled high with neatly stacked trees heading south on the interstate. I hope you enjoy your real Maine Christmas tree!
What it means to live Maine: Part II
you can read part I here.
To be a Mainer means to be a hard worker. Whether it be farming, working a trade, putting oneself through school, building one’s own house, running a business, being the neighborhood handyman, or just working a professional job. This State has a culture of working hard. There are few things as disappointing to people as laziness.
I think it goes back to our humble beginnings as those who worked the land and sea and fought off the harsh winter. Maine was slow to modernize and much of the population is still in rural areas where people make their living with their hands. Entitlement only comes from your own sweat and muscle and helping your neighbors.
I can’t think of a better embodiment of working hard than firewood. Trees have to be felled, cut into smaller pieces, chopped or split into logs, stacked to dry, lugged inside for the winter, and brought up to the wood stove every few days. When you heat with firewood at no point are you removed from the process.
A few weeks ago I visited my parents for ‘family firewood weekend’*. In a few hours we had roughly four cords stacked in the basement and garage so that my parents would be ready for the winter. There is no sugar coating it - firewood is mostly a hassle - but there’s something unique in having a hand in the hard work it takes to get fuel to your door. The trees came from my family’s land, my brother split the logs, and we all carried them inside, stacking rows upon rows, until the work was done.
There are many ways that people exhibit their work ethic, some more subtle than others. Working hard is part of what it means to live Maine.
*I am not joking.
When I was 16-years-old I visited Boston and I was never the same. I graduated high school two years later and headed for the City as fast as I could. There was no looking back. Maine was a burden I was happy to be free of.
I spent six years in Boston and they hold a special place in my heart. I made deep, invaluable friends there. I gained some great work experience. I stretched my wings and learned a thing or two about independence. I became a runner there. But Boston has a way of bringing on bitterness and I was not to be spared. The older I got the more out of place I felt in the biggest college town in the Country.
Two years after graduating college something funny started to happen to my heart. I began to see the beauty in Maine and relate to the simpler lifestyle there. You may think I’m generalizing, and maybe I am a bit, but I am not exaggerating. I wanted to feel connected to the land and the ocean and the mountains, not to street lights and pavement and a high cost of living.
I couldn’t bring myself to head north yet so instead I headed to Pennsylvania for what was meant to be a temporary adventure and I began applying to grad school. The message in my cover letters was the same: I wanted to do work that would benefit my home state. All of a sudden Maine was a priority to me.
Last week I accepted a job in the community I grew up in; a job responsible for helping shape and support the community.
When the job opportunity came up I was excited and a little bit nervous. Did I really want to go back home? I thought back to my grad school applications and I knew I really didn’t have a choice. This was exactly what I had always talked about, what I wanted. There is no question in my mind that I am the right person for this job.
My friends and family have been more supportive than I could have asked for. They told me I had to take this job before I had fully realized it. They wanted me to have this role in their community. I am grateful for that support.
I am sad to leave Portland. I wish I could hold onto this City a little bit longer. I know that I would feel this way no matter when I left, though, even if it was years from now.
In a few months The Old Pine Tree will be based in the Midcoast area. I hope you’ll stick around for the adventure.
Last week I went to Wiscasset to visit Chewonki for work. What a special spot they have, and what interesting educational programs available for kids. I was there to meet someone and check out a new biomass boiler*, but I got to see all of their fuel systems. They had every fuel source except natural gas (doesn’t reach most of Maine, let alone a somewhat remote forested peninsula). I saw a (non-working) fuel cell. The control board looked like something right out of LOST. I also saw a biofuel conversion system, and a (noisy) geothermal boiler. The last thing we checked out was the wind tower that was perched on a hill on the farm that bordered the ocean.
We had lunch with the kids in the dining hall, a space that is heated solely by passive solar right now (because the biomass boiler isn’t hooked up yet). Food is always locally sourced. We were served baked haddock, roasted root vegetables, and rice cakes (cooked with onions, garlic, and herbs. they were surprisingly indulgent). The students were high school Juniors who were there for a semester. One of the girls cabins had the ability to go off-grid and was powered by a solar panel the girls had secured to a hiking pole. If their lights dimmed a little before they were ready to shut them out for the night they could get on a mountain bike and cycle for extra power. For the entire semester they take the same classes they would at the high schools they came from (around Maine), but all of them are focused around environmental education. These 17-year-olds knew how to run a blower door test and do an energy audit, and where helping to run a farm.
And that’s not all. Chewonki also has an animal lab and an aviary. In the animal lab there was a young alligator, turtles, bats, lizards, and a tarantula. The aviary recently adopted two baby screech owls, which they had in the courtyard after lunch for people to view (but not touch!**). The aviary also had a bald eagle whose wings were too weak to fly because of an old injury. He was quite the talker. Also, he looked just like a turkey.
I was lucky to get to spend so much time at Chewonki and really see what they do there. My co-worker joked that he would pick me up at the end of the semester. Yes please.
*you’re so jealous
**they are so cute. All you want to do is nuzzle them.
In something that is so clear and crisp, sharp and real. It demands attention and almost shines in its intensity.
What it means to live Maine: Part I
When I moved back to Maine in 2010 buying local was cool all over the country and everyone was doing it (and everyone was a hipster. Old Navy had started selling skinny jeans). Even Republicans.
Maybe the fact that buying local was cool made Maine cooler than it’s ever been before (also probably because, thanks to the original hipster, LLBean - boots, flannel, ruggedness - was suddenly cool, which meant everything I’d ever known was turned on its head). In Maine we take it one step further. Not only are people fiercely passionate about supporting local businesses (it often gets political), but people tend to live locally.
Aside from leaving for work a few days a week I do everything in town, usually without my car: frequenting local restaurants (the selection gets better and better every year), watching minor league sports, hitting the parks to run or throw the disc, drinking local brew (kombucha, beer, cider, smoothies), seeing intimate musical performances, and so on.
One big way I live locally is to maintain a garden. It doesn’t get any closer to home than growing your own vegetables. I love giving away jars of dilly beans or pickled beets and being able to say “made with organic beets grown in Portland”.
Getting my hands in local soil, growing local produce, eating local, healthy food. Just one way I live Maine.
1. had a dirty martini*
2. touched an electric fence
3. gotten a tattoo
4. liked Garrison Keillor
One older guy ranting about communists, a two and a half year old demanding a poppyseed bagel, and a man bragging about his literary agent. No, I’m not in Brooklyn.
Popping in at Knox Hollow
Last weekend my family and I popped over to Knox Hollow Brewing for dinner and some brews. They’re just a small brewing operation (getting bigger every year), so you’ve got to know someone to get some*. Some day perhaps it will be available to the general public, but until then, I will just have to drink it for you and report back on how awesome it is.
I’m not a big beer drinker. I usually prefer a pint of dry cider or a glass of wine. But the beer that Knox Hollow brews is good. Last weekend I had the hefeweizen, the blonde, and I tried the mint chocolate porter (which was done so nicely, the chocolate was subtle and was richest at the finish, as opposed to being thick and overpowering throughout, which is often the case).
Always a treat. Thanks again, guys!
*At least that’s what I tell myself
Last night I made a veggie soup that was so perfectly healthy and cleansing and filling all at the same time. I’ve brought it to work with me for lunch so I can continue to do well by my body.
I’ve been thinking about change, and how sometimes it comes on like the tide slowly rolling in over the sand. It could be exhausting, or it may be gentle; I think that is up to us to decide. Today I see it being more of the latter. Maybe change can be meditative?
I am full of a wealth of emotions right now. I’m joyful, and grateful, and excited, and hopeful. I’m also feeling sadness for others going through hard things, and for things I’m reluctant to let go of as the tide of change comes in even higher.
I’ve recently come face to face with the amazing community of people that support and encourage me. How absolutely humbling to see so many people believe in me.
I’m thinking and writing in vague metaphors and comparisons. I feel a little whispy, like the bare white birch, a feeling I’ll sit with for now.
Fragrant Fall Baking
Spices and squash and satisfaction.