I recently spent an afternoon with two people who have quietly and determinedly forged paths of their own choosing. Between them, this highly inquisitive couple has completed multiple academic degrees, published professional articles and books, raised two sons and taught countless students of all ages. They also have traveled all over the world. But when it came to publishing their first book together, they found inspiration right here at home. Their title, “Maine — Beyond the Usual,” is an apt description of both the book and its authors, and a worthy tribute to central Maine.
John and Marisue Pickering, who have called Orono home for most of the last five decades, are now retired and living in the Dirigo Pines Cottage community. There is a distinct atmosphere of serenity in the company of this couple, married for more than 50 years. They enjoy drinking tea and practicing the meditative art of Qi Gong, both of which fit the unhurried and focused nature of their conversation.
John and Marisue’s peacefulness, however, by no means indicates idleness. The Pickerings are brimful of talk, stories and the kind of patient, meticulous exposition you’d expect from lifetime teachers.
They have an insatiable curiosity and enthusiasm for exploration and learning, which has manifested itself in different ways in each of them.
Marisue, born in Texas, moved a lot as a child. She attended seven schools before fourth grade, which some children might find unsettling. For her, though, it was interesting to be in so many new and unknown places.
“I appreciated the moving around; I learned so much.”
Marisue is also inherently self-disciplined, especially when it comes to organization and recordkeeping. The meticulous file-keeping skills she cultivated as a part-time secretary during high school and college served her well through many years as a student, University of Maine professor (in language and speech disorders), department chair and vice-provost of academic affairs. Those same skills came in handy when it came to producing “Beyond the Usual.”
For John, who spent all his youth in Ohio, exploration and change came later in life.
“I’ll lead you on a merry chase,” he said in reference to his job history, “because I’ve worn a lot of different hats.”
John got a BA in history, then shifted to theology and campus ministry. It was that course of study that sent the Pickerings on a travel experience that influenced both of them deeply. They spent a couple of months touring the Middle East and Europe with John’s seminary group.
“It opened our eyes,” they said — to doing different things, seeing the world in new ways, learning from history, archaeology and religion.
When Marisue took a full time job teaching at UMaine, John made the decision to stay home with their two young boys. It was an unusual path for a man in 1973, but the Pickerings have never balked at independent thinking, even when John’s friends were perplexed by his choice to be a full-time dad.
“All our friends were trying to figure it out. For me, it was a wonderful time to learn about the boys and to think.”
Meanwhile, John’s interests evolved from theology to teaching and education. He taught at the college level and also spent 10 years in elementary education. Today he still enjoys doing docent work at the Hudson Museum and giving tours at the bog boardwalk in Orono.
“Each thing that I did seemed to feel right at the time,” he said.
In the same way, writing a book together seemed right to both John and Marisue a couple of years ago.
“One criterion for the book was that it be based in central Maine,” John said. He and Marisue had enjoyed taking full and half-day trips from Orono for some time. John took photographs, Marisue kept notes and files, and together they composed articles for a feature in the Dirigo Pines Cottage newsletter called “Pickerings’ Picks.” From that beginning, the idea for a book was born.
“A lot of tour books don’t give Bangor and central Maine the honor they should have,” said Marisue.
Their book does the job well. Most of the museums, bridges, monuments, parks and historic buildings are an easy trip from the Bangor area. Better yet, the information they provide about each destination opens the door to even more explorations you can do on your own.
The Pickerings might have started something big. After reading the book, my husband and I plan to keep it in our car, and maybe find some more hidden gems around the state. I asked John and Marisue if they had any ideas for a second edition.
“We already have 30!”
Maine has a lot to offer beyond the usual, and now we have two enthusiastic guides to point us in the right direction.
For more information, visit mainebeyondtheusual.com.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.