From my home office, if I crook my neck and peer through a web of branches and beyond the barn and grassy fields, I glimpse a midcoast Maine river where it begins widening into a bay. Settled by German farmers deluded into thinking they’d find rich fertile soil instead of thick forests and rocky lands, my town later earned fame for shipbuilding. These days, it’s more of a pass through for those heading down one of the two peninsulas it unites.
Which is just fine with me. I like the quietude. I love the endless miles of woods roads and trails I can walk, snowshoe, or ski. And I appreciate that those who live here range from clam and worm diggers, lobstermen, and woodworkers to skilled artists, button-down executives, and uber-wealthy summerfolk. It’s a nice mix that works most of the time.
Life Without Travel is a series of first-person accounts from the Getting On Travel team. Each post offers a personal glimpse into the lives of our travel writers and bloggers apropos of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
An assignment about the sustainability of Maine lobster made me realize the economic costs of COVID-19.
Maine lobstermen were already dealing with the fallout from the Chinese tariffs—China was a huge importer of Maine lobster—and pending, controversial regulations restricting gear, as well as climate change, when the market for lobster all but disappeared overnight. My sustainability story evolved from solely lobster to the survival of not only those who fish for it but also their communities: those idyllic, coastal villages wrapped around harbors filled with fishing boats and edged with wooden wharves topped with buoys, ropes, and traps.
Research on this taught me a new term: solistalgia. That’s the combination of solace and nostalgia reflecting homesickness while being a home. Initially coined to deal with climate change, I think it reflects our current state of existence:
We’re homesick for life the way we knew it—hanging out with friends, making spur-of-the-minute plans, eating out, traveling, playing sports, enjoying concerts, shopping, etc.
Oh, fill the steins to dear old Maine
You’ve heard the slogans and ditties: Maine, the way life should be; Vacationland; As Maine goes, so goes the nation; and The Maine Stein Song, made popular by Rudy Vallee way back in 1930. That celebratory song’s lyrics should be undergoing a revival.
Instead, my home state recently experienced every teenager’s nightmare: What if you gave a party and nobody came. That’s what COVID-19 did to the March 15th kickoff of Maine’s 200th celebrations and to the rollout of related activities and events.
Like many of you, I’ve watched my livelihood disappear. I have two existing story assignments to finish, and then my calendar is empty. Editors have stopped showing interest in Maine-themed stories—or any stories, for that matter; most are wondering if their publications will survive.
I’m supposed to research a new edition of my Moon Acadia National Park guidebook over the next few months, but that’s on hold. While I can do some research online, I won’t be able to tell what businesses survive and how those that do might change. Many of Maine’s coastal communities are especially seasonal. If the tourists and summerfolk don’t come, the very existence of those communities, like those of the fishermen, is threatened.
Feasting on local foods and distant memories
Forget the freshman 15, I’m well on my way to the COVID 19, thanks to snacking on too much chocolate and cheese. Until this week, I couldn’t exercise, thanks to a skiing mishap in early January. I’m finally allowed to start walking and doing isometric and other light exercise, as well as to drive again, but the world has shuttered. It’ll be a while before the woods roads and paths behind my house recover from March Mudness; April showers aren’t helping. (But wait! Is that a crocus?)
I’m fortunate in that I buy my meat, fish, and in season, produce, direct from farmers and fishermen in midcoast Maine. Fishermen are collaborating to sell lobster, clams, oysters, etc.; numerous outdoor farmers’ markets are operating; and many farmers have self-serve stands or online ordering. Although Maine is under at Stay at Home order, going out to purchase food is allowed.
I took advantage of a $4.50/pound price on lobster to buy direct from a lobsterman: Fresh cooked on Sunday night; lobster grilled cheese from leftovers, Monday night; and planning on a garlicky lobster pasta with what’s left. Bought sweet Italian sausage at a farm market and that along with spinach and other veggies will make a hearty brown rice, lentil and spinach soup that should last a few nights.
Speaking of recipes, I’m also using this downtime to travel through my cookbooks. I have a wee bit of a cookbook obsession—it’s my souvenir of choice when traveling. When I say a wee bit, I mean I have more than 1,000—not all from travel, mind you. Many are community cookbooks from Maine towns and nonprofits. Some are finds from used bookstores. A few aren’t even in English.
Of the ones collected during travels, I especially treasure those that not only have images but also little sidebars with stories and anecdotes. When I page through one, I’m transported back to the destination through the senses: The pictures trigger memories, the stories often remind me of local accents and characters, and the recipes tingle my taste buds and nostrils.
Diversions & pastimes
Thank God for jigsaw puzzles. I trade puzzles with a friend, and some recent ones have been especially challenging. She received a birthday gift certificate for an online puzzle store only to find most of the ones she wanted were out of stock due to COVID-19 demand. She ordered a bunch of Christmas-themed ones. Well, at least those should keep her, and later me, jolly.
If you’re looking for some good reads, here are some by my favorite Maine authors and/or stories set it Maine. (Note: in no particular order)
- Ruth Moore: Captures coastal Maine in the 1950s—Moore characters are well developed, her plots are tight, and she nails the lingo. I think Spoonhandle and The Weir are two of her best.
- Elisabeth Ogilvie: Another writer focused on island life in the 1950s, her stories are lighter and far more romantic. Start with the Tide Trilogy: High Tide at Noon (1), Storm Tide (2), and The Ebbing Tide (3).
- Monica Wood: If you were alive during the Kennedy Camelot years, start with When We Were the Kennedys. I frequently recommend this book, and I’ve yet to find anyone who didn’t love it. Wood is a master storyteller.
- Christina Baker Kline: A Piece of the World brings painter Andrew Wyeth’s masterpiece “Christina’s World” to life. (I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read by Kline, so if you like this one, you’ll likely enjoy others).
- Paul Doiron: Love a good mystery? Get hooked on Doiron’s Mike Bowditch series, focused on a Maine game warden. Tightly written, great character development, and good stories. Start with The Poacher’s Son.
- Sarah Graves: Her Home Repair is Homicide mystery series, which takes place in way downeast Eastport, are light and fun reads.
- Cathie Pelletier: Pelletier, a resident of Allagash, a tiny community at the end of the road in way, way northern Maine, writes humorously of life in fictional Mattagash, Maine. Start with The Funeral Makers.
- If you’re reading to the grandkids, Maine children’s classics include E.B. White’s Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan; Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, One Morning in Maine, and Blueberries for Sal; and Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius, Island Boy, and Hattie and the Wild Waves.
Other recommended reads:
- All the Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books ever; it’s masterfully written and just beautiful. It’s set in Paris during World War II. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
- A few years ago, when I was browsing in a bookstore in Ludlow, Vermont, the owner picked up The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay, and handed it to me: “This is the only book in this store I guarantee,” she said. “If you don’t like it, return it for a full refund.” If anyone had told me I’d like a book about boxing, I would have replied that they were crazy. Read it.
- I still mourn the closing of The Personal Bookstore in Thomaston. It delivered on its name. The owner recommended The Empress of One, by Faith Sullivan. I loved it along with Sullivan’s other books
So many more, but these should keep you busy for a while.
I hope when the world rights itself and reopens for business, you’ll visit Maine and perhaps celebrate the state’s 200th birthday at one of my Maine Travel Maven alter ego’s favorite Maine lobster shacks.
In between authoring three Moon-series Maine guidebooks, “Maine Travel Maven” Hilary Nangle has skijored for Snow, cast a line for National Geographic Traveler, breakdanced an Olympic downhill for VIA, bared her soul for Organic Spa, savored the world’s best chocolates for Black Card/Luxury, slept around for Jetsetter, sipped screech for Ski, square-danced for Private Clubs, beach-bummed for The Guardian, perused Mumbai’s markets for Life Refined, and almost petted a lion for Home & Away.