CHERRYFIELD — Emma Thieme is a typical and atypical millennial — independent, a bold traveler, totally adept working online yet possessing hands-on skills as well.
The writer and custom upholsterer also is a fourth-generation Mainer who has lived elsewhere but then decided there is no place like home.
“To be from Maine means to be humble and hardworking, open-hearted and proud of your roots,” said the 28-year-old Thieme, whose last name is pronounced (THEME-EE).
“While Maine is everyone else’s Vacationland, it’s my home,” she said. “I’ve come to know that like my mother, and my mother’s mother, and the mother before her, I’ll probably grow old here.”
Thieme now lives in Cherryfield, where she and her partner, C.J. Perry, a custom home builder, bought 12 acres on the Narraguagus River and built a 555-square-foot house.
Half of the space is for living and the other half is a workshop for her business, Maven Custom Upholstery.
The two camped on their land until they could afford to drill a well, clear the overgrown driveway and build and insulate their new home.
Thieme’s workshop side remains uninsulated, but that will come in time.
Before that experience Thieme and Perry lived off the grid for two years in Harrington with no running water, electrical power or refrigeration.
The cabin was their home base from the summer of 2014 up until they moved onto their property in Cherryfield, although some of the time was spent traveling.
Although her family backpacked whenever they had the opportunity, Thieme grew up in a home with indoor plumbing, a television and an acre of land in an established neighborhood.
She said living off the grid in Washington County taught her how to split wood, haul water and cook a multi-course meal on a woodstove.
“It also took away distractions that I didn’t know I had. I wrote and read every day,” she said, adding that she moved there following a two-year stint in Portland.
“In Portland, I often didn’t know the people who were living next door to me,” she said. “In Harrington, I spoke to my neighbors almost daily because we depended on them. It was their water we were hauling or their land we were crossing to get home.”
Thieme said she also was able to experience Downeast Maine, where her partner is from, while living a life that varies with every day. The area, she said, is starkly different from where she grew up less than 100 miles away.
“But there are some things that are the same no matter where you go: poverty, addiction, a lack of access to resources and opportunity,” she said. “I lived off the grid to save money and gain a new experience, but I never forgot that the conditions I was living under were similar to what many low-income people in Maine live every day.”
When not writing essays, fiction or journaling, Thieme crafts motorcycle and car seats and boat cushions.
She decided to learn the trade when she realized how difficult it was to reupholster the seat of her own motorcycle, a 1980 Honda CM400T, although she is an experienced seamstress.
Thieme attended the Mobile Technical Training Institute in Hackensack, N.J., for a six-week intensive course.
She was the only female student in the building. Most of her fellow students were veterans.
“In my class, I was one of just two people who had not been to Iraq or Afghanistan,” Thieme said.
“Each day that I worked alongside my peers I learned more about my trade and more about what the veteran experience is like in the U.S., especially for those in my age group,” she said.
Her mind expanded even more during a 17,000-mile trip last winter with her partner through the South and Southwest.
“The United States is such a huge and beautiful country, and there’s still a lot of it I haven’t seen,” she said. “Throughout this last trip, though, I was getting constant reminders of how lucky I am to have been raised in Maine.”
They drove through the Gulf Coast region of Texas at night and she mistook the LyondellBasell oil refinery for the city of Houston.
“I was struck by how coastlines and public lands were used throughout the country and it made me want to rush home to protect the ones that I grew up with,” Thieme said.
Another thing she realized while on the road is how much she values her independence — freedom from hefty living costs to freedom from engaging in work that does not advance her creative goals.
Recently she gave up a steady and well-paying gig with an online publication to break out of that mold and spend more time with people — not her laptop.
Thieme said in a recent interview with Maine Thing Quarterly that what she likes about riding a motorcycle is the sense of control.
“I love being so close to a machine that I can make it sweep around a corner on the Blackswoods Road with just a slight shift in weight,” she said.
Thieme said that ownership also includes maintaining the motorcycle, even if it means following masses of circuitry to solve a problem.
She likes spending time with hard working, creative people who know how to do things, such as build houses, weld a metal seam, cook, lobster fish and who are otherwise self-sufficient.
“Sometimes I wonder — should I have moved out to L.A. or New York or some other major city like so many other millennials?” she said.
“But then I meet someone new in my community who not only devotes themselves to their creativity, but who is a wealth of knowledge and hard work,” Thieme said. “I am then reminded of why I’m still here. There are people who can only be found in the wildest and most unusual communities of Maine. I find them to be the most interesting and inspiring. I hope I’m one of them.”