Beginning with time spent outside of the state in college and at my employers following school, many know me as “Shane from Maine.” I proudly tell people where I am from and talk about what an extraordinary, special and unique place it happens to be.
I cannot fully explain my love for this state. It’s impossible to put into words the pull I feel toward it, as if there is a special kind of Maine gravitational force acting on me. Neither can I explain the calm I feel — a calm my wife tells me is palpable — whenever I return home.
Perhaps it is rooted in the knowledge that my direct antecedents founded the town where I was raised back in 1736, or maybe it is because my upbringing was filled with an amazing extended family, a farm, fields, and rivers — everything a young boy could ask for.
I know where I come from, I can visit the exact locations where things happened in my family history, I knew everyone in town, and everyone knew me. Some may find that small town closeness to be confining; I thought it was wonderful.
This is the Maine I think about and the love I feel when I reflect on the rural places that make Maine unique.
Since I was a child, I have traveled to many of the rural areas of central and northern Maine for family getaways. I now find myself in those regions occasionally for work and a bit of vacation time as well.
I see the closing businesses and declining population with my own eyes and the resulting circumstances created by that outflow of human capital. I understand that change is necessary and the only constant in life, but thoughts of what could be done to mitigate this trend of decline and save Maine’s rural nature keep me awake at night.
I often wonder how I could help to keep these communities viable and even sought-after, how to turn the inevitable changes into positive ones that provide opportunity and sustainability for the towns that are struggling, the people who live in and love them, and those who may be looking for a place that feels like home.
I recognize why many people may be drawn to more populous areas. It is the lifestyle that is celebrated on television and in movies. We see red carpet awards ceremonies for people living in such areas, and those people are considered successful and accomplished. It’s a picture of success that doesn’t celebrate the people whose hands look like my grandfather’s: calloused and rugged from years of farming and slightly more crooked than they used to be.
These areas radiate the idea that a “faster-paced” life means greater affluence and opportunity. Depending on how affluence and opportunity are defined, that may be true, but such areas depend on a symbiotic relationship with rural areas. Rural areas may need some of their capital, but those cities, those population centers, those people need rural areas. They need our ability to produce food, to maintain a healthy environment, to cultivate a robust wood supply and to provide recreational opportunities.
My field of employment is agriculture. I travel to and visit rural areas across the United States. Some are facing similar challenges to rural Maine, but I do see many that are surviving and even thriving, thanks in large part to the ability of their businesses to adapt. I am not sure if there is a one size fits all solution, but the successes I have seen often hold much in common.
One of these commonalities is multi-generational involvement in rural businesses where the younger generations value, respect and appreciate what the previous generations have accomplished and where the older generations are open to the ideas, energy and resulting change that comes from entrusting their life’s work to the next in line.
The changes I see these rural businesses embrace in order to remain viable, profitable, and relevant often involve innovation, adoption of technology and, dare I say, a bit of risk-taking. This is something that may not always come easy to those of us who are proud to call ourselves thrifty, resourceful, make-do-with-what-you-got Mainers.
I currently live in New York, and my son’s birth certificate says Plattsburgh, New York. (Yes, all affronts to my generations-deep Maine heritage.) Mostly because of work, I have traveled to a great deal of the United States and Canada, and I have been to Africa, Europe, Israel and the Caribbean.
Still, I have yet to see, experience, or feel a place that can hold a candle to Maine.
It is my dream to come home to Maine to live in one of those rural communities, and work to create opportunities for those who still reside in these areas and those who wish they could. I want to do for the rural places and people of Maine what they have done for me.
I am invigorated, enlightened, encouraged, and inspired by them. When I think about them, what could be done and what I would like to do, I can hear myself saying in my head the same thing my son says to me when he is excited and passionate about something, “Let’s do it, let’s do it now!”
I’m just not sure how to start. But maybe, as with so many great stories, it starts with love.
Shane St. Cyr grew up in Gorham and works as a business and technology specialist for Cargill Animal Nutrition. He lives in the Adirondack region of New York.