Aroostook County has always had an allure for me. Not just because of the great trout fishing, of which my family and I have partaken often over the years, but for many other reasons, too. As a youngster who left Bangor and spent some pre-teen years living in Houlton during the late 1950s, the County got in my blood from the moment my family moved there from Bangor. My sisters longed for Bangor. Not me. I loved the County, all of it — the fishing spots, delivering the Bangor Daily News amid windblown snow and bone-numbing cold, frosty October mornings away from schoolrooms picking potatoes behind the harvester, and, of course, the people. Wonderful friendships were formed during my too-short residence in the County.
Recently, in an attempt to scout out some moose country where Diane has a moose-hunting permit for this October, she and I headed for the County with our camper. We stayed in Winterville at the St. Froid Lake Campground, not far from the town of Eagle Lake on Route 11. Our days were spent driving logging roads looking for signs of le cheval des bois. It was hot, too hot for moose to move, but we did find a cow and bull soaking in a wallow. No guns. We took pictures. We’ll be back to that spot come October, for more than picture taking.
A flat tire, pierced by road shale, slowed us down. It only took me four hours to lower the spare tire from under the truck frame. Who invented that system, a sadist at Ford Motor Co.?
A round of golf at the Portage Highlands Golf Course got us off the dusty roads for a morning. Casual, infrequent golfers, we were nonetheless astonished that a small town in Aroostook County is home to such a magnificent, expansive and well-groomed golf course. The backdrop and the grounds are spectacular! Check it out. It’s worth the drive for a day of golf.
As you might imagine, the County is resplendent this time of year. Potatoes in blossom. Rolling hills with lush green backdrops. Modest, neat-as-a pin homes catch your attention as you travel Route 11, north of Moose Alley. What you rarely see around these well-painted homes are abandoned cars, old refrigerators, lawns gone to weed or front doors with no steps. Diane and I asked ourselves. “Why is Aroostook County so different in this respect from other parts of rural Maine?”
We rediscovered something else in that part of the County. From past experiences we knew it existed but had somehow forgotten just how common and pronounced it is. The people you meet, on the street, in the stores and eateries or the gas stations, have a natural spontaneous warmth and conviviality that is striking in comparison with other parts of Maine.
People, even young people, hold doors for you. The store clerks smile and make eye contact. They express appreciation for your business, rather than be annoyed that you interrupted their cell phone chat.
We’ll be back to Aroostook County, sooner rather than later. You might want to make the County connection next chance you get. It will lift you up.