We are in Maine for a couple of weeks, taking full advantage of a parental vacation home as visitors to the old homestead. Last year as we cruised for lobster (lobs-staa) over to Cutler (cut-laa) on the coast. We were amazed at all the new asphalt (tahd-rud) we rolled on. The stimulus was in full swing in northern Maine. That was a good thing, the northern section of Route 1 was corduroy until about 25 years ago. Corduroy is a road made out of sawn logs laid side to side, they’ve been making roads that way since the 1600′s. It takes the “new fangled” a little bit longer to work it’s way to northern Maine.
This year what’s left of stimulus funds are fast running out, as evidenced by the empty houses and egregious and bountiful display of “for sale” signs on the way to Cutler. Families are moving out and south, or in with each other. Winter will be crowded and quiet this year.
Maine has always been a hard place to live. We are tempted to think of Maine as one of the original 13 colonies, but it was actually a territorial holding of Massachusetts until 1820 when the Missouri compromise made Maine a fully fledged state. However, like many parts of the Northeast people have attempted to live there since the 1600′s. The rugged seacoast has hosted many British and French colonies It’s also a bastion of self-reliance, not by choice however, which would be very romantic, but rather by effect.
Maine is almost 31 million square miles populated by 1.3 million people. Thousands of people live “off the grid” in Maine because of the ruinous cost of having power lines run to their houses. Another of the great expenses is one you’d expect, heating through the long winters. Although Maine is the worlds largest producer of wood pellets, an incredibly efficient heating method, most residents either heat with cut wood or oil. The pellets are mostly sold in europe for a better profit.
Although the per capita income in Maine is slightly above $24,000, in the north it is primarily due to residents holding two or three jobs as well as several earning “hobbies.” Like several states I can name there are better and worse off parts. In Maine it seems the be the north where the living is harder. As the recession drags on people become trapped in their businesses, their investment drip, drip, dripping away. Others, not so well off, are stuck in their jobs having less and less to cover the bills.
There is a man over here in East Machias (east m’chi-es), Bernard Morse Jr. (bernud moss), who makes me thankful that I was never a “junior,” it sticks with you your entire life. He runs Juniors (j’nyaars) boat and repair yard and offers the business to every customer who comes in. “You buy it and I’ll even work for ya, How’s zat?” He fixes outboards, sells boats, ATVs and just about anything that moves or floats. Junior has a sharp eye for used things and a big family hea’bouts, but he’s stuck all the same.
Mainers, as they are called, although sometimes Down-easters in the north east, are fast drivers. Towns, establishments and houses are far apart, and days are too short for dawdling (dod-lin). The windy roads are long and unlit at night and often only as wide as what other states would call a lane and a half. The roads have very soft shoulders and very few guard rails, that job is mostly done by thick stands of trees. This kind of driving challenge may account for why Maine drivers have been referred to as “Maine-iacs” but as many will tell you “Bet-ta a Main-E-Ack than a Maass-hole!” (Referencing drivers from Massachusetts.)
It’s no wonder that Maine, once a Republican stronghold has drifted Democratic for the past 20 years. Even their Republican representation is known for being much more centrist than the main line party members. If we all can remember, it was the senator from Maine who broke ranks in favor of the Affordable care act. Demonstrating more loyalty for her state than her party.
Like several other American states Maine has a sparsity of resources. Where some states can claim oil, coal, or precious minerals, Maine claims large forests and great beauty. That’s a hard one to sell at the bank. Still Maine does use it resources producing more toothpicks than any other state and well as 25% of all the blueberries sold. It has a good shipbuilding industry and it’s men have plied the cold ocean for it’s riches for 400 years. Of course now there are as many “for sale” signs on working boats as there are on houses.
What’s really killing this state is anemic investment. As far back as the depression great projects were started in Maine only to be killed later by a reluctant congress. The Passamaquoddy tidal power project was one of the most advanced electric power projects of it’s time. Utilizing the daily 18 foot change in water level around Passamaquoddy and Cobscook bays would have spun generator turbines both as the water came in and went out. That would have provided power to sell and lots of jobs, a easy pay back for a government loan. But since it was a favorite of FDR’s, republicans wanted it dead. Tidal projects like Passamaquoddy have only recently begun to be explored again due to their success in Europe.
The same can be said for many large corporations, who come to Maine to take what they can and then move on when the going is easier somewhere’s else. Maine has a history of being uncooperative on easing environmental regulation, they are wary of the depredations for profit. They may not have a lot of resources but they are bound and determined to keep what they have.
The lower population (almost smaller than Rhode Island) and a resultantly small representation in congress puts Maine on the bottom of most lists for investment. Without powerful industry lobbies to assist them, Maine has a tough time scaring up any new government dollars, but is likely to be more hurt than most states when the cutting begins.
The recession will be long for states like Maine, banks and credit institutions are harder on them when it comes to lending. They only want to “get in” when the money’s already flowing. Sometimes they forget that sometimes “Investment” means getting in first. Until then winters will be “haad” and some summer days will be “soft” (soft seems to mean raining like hell), and the Mainers will go on the best they can.