Of all the questions I get asked on a regular basis, the hardest one for me to answer is, “Where are you originally from?” I was raised all over Britain and Europe (my father was in the Royal Air Force); I went to boarding school in one place while my family was often somewhere else; and both sides of my family had long been mobile for many generations. After college I immigrated to the United States and stopped moving around. I have spent 15 years — most of my adult life — in Maine but I know enough to never claim I’m from here. It’s a conundrum for me.
On the plus side, this internal confusion does allow me a degree of objectivity when it comes to the place I call home: Midcoast Maine. I lose a lot by not being able to point to my ancestors in the graveyard, for sure, but I also am able to truly appreciate things that lifelong residents might take for granted as they are still fairly novel to me.
One of the things that strike me as most interesting about this area is the dynamic history of commerce and community that is written in the shingles and bricks of our homes and businesses. By looking at the jumble of styles and eras on our Main Streets and neighborhoods, one can get a real sense of the centuries of bustle and forward-looking optimism that propelled the first European settlers to plant their feet; that carried through the tumult of the Revolution and the twists and turns of the 19th Century; that saw the Gilded Age turn to Depression; and onwards through the decades of constant change to the present day. The change and growth has been evolutionary rather than explosive, but that’s no bad thing. What lies at the core of all this is that what was once new is now old and what is new now will be old in the years to come. Paradoxically, the fact that communities change adds to their constancy.
Of course all change has its opponents, even if in the letters of complaint and resistance once banged out on typewriters are now written on computers or even the touch responsive screen of an iPad. And not all change is good just because it is change. But in debating the merits of the new it is essential that the conversation be allowed to evolve in such a way that all aspects can be explored. It’s distressing in the extreme to see a Tonya Harding approach to dealing with change, with novelty being smashed in the kneecaps rather than being allowed to even reach the edge of the ice.
As I said at the start, not really being from here is both a help and a hindrance in working on issues of how we can grow and evolve without damaging the things that give our communities heritage and meaning. I do know however that just by looking around at our built environment and managed landscape the important thing to remember is that change is a tradition in these parts. It makes me happy then that in Midcoast Maine we love our traditions.
Dan Bookham is the executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce. Call 236-4404, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.visitcamden.com for more information.