Jeanette Beaton, born in Moscow, Maine, in 1919, has visited all 50 states plus more than 50 provinces, territories, islands and countries around the world. Her specialty is northern climes. She has attended Alaska’s Iditarod eight times, spent the night at Sweden’s Icehotel, ridden the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow, Russia, to the Sea of Japan, and took part in a reindeer safari in Finland. In the midst of the winter of the polar vortex, the 94-year-old woman hasn’t lost her enthusiasm for the chill.
“I like cold weather,” she said in her Bangor home earlier this month. She even still shovels her own driveway, if she can beat the neighbors to it, “because, well, I know how.”
Jeanette, the oldest of seven children, grew up in various parts of Somerset County. Her dad worked as a lumberman and did roadwork in the off season. When the Wyman Dam was built in 1930, the family made the first of several moves around the county. It was many years before Jeanette traveled further than a couple of towns away, but her longing to explore the world started young.
“I always wanted to see the places I read about.”
Jeanette traveled vicariously through geography and history classes during her school years in Moscow, Pleasant Ridge, The Carrying Place, and Bingham. After high school, she got a job as a telephone operator for Moosehead Lake Telegraph Company and went to work with one primary purpose.
“I didn’t buy a cup of coffee or go out to eat; I was always saving for travel.”
One way Jeanette saw faraway places was by requesting transfers to phone companies in Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Whether there or in Maine, she’d build up her earnings and vacation days, then ask for extra time unpaid to maximize her travel time.
“I’d go as far as I could for half the time, then I’d start back.” And she built up a lifetime of stories.
After World War II, Jeanette took her first major trip, sailing with her mom from Hoboken, N.J., to Galway Bay, Ireland. On other trips, she saw Winston Churchill outside 10 Downing St. in London, Charles DeGaulle in a parade in Paris, and Pope John Paul carried in procession at the Vatican.
During her trans-Siberian journey, she found out she was just north of Mongolia and thought, “I might as well go down there.” So she did. Everywhere she went she liked to explore off the beaten path, but she had her limits.
“We got invited into a yurt, and the man served us fermented mare’s milk.”
“Did you drink it?” I asked.
“Are you kidding me? Luckily there was bare ground, and when no one was looking I poured it out.”
In Sweden’s famous ice hotel, Jeanette slept on a bed made of ice, visited the ice bar and drank out of a “glass” made of ice, which was thrown on a pile to melt in the spring. There’s also a chapel, all made of ice, where wedding services take place.
“They tend to be pretty quick services,” Jeanette said.
On her trip to Lapland, her group traveled on toboggans pulled by reindeer. One night they stopped for a cookout.
“We sat on logs outdoors,” Jeanette told me, “and the sky was right here;” she held her hand over her head to illustrate. “I really liked that.”
Jeanette’s home has a world map on the wall, bristling with pins in the places she has been. The rest of the décor is dominated by souvenirs from Alaska and the Iditarod dog sled race. On her first trip to Anchorage, she met a guy who gave her the inside scoop on the best way to see Iditarod action. After that, she always traveled to Nome to watch the finishers. Over the years, Jeanette has become friends with several mushers, some of whom are pictured on her wall.
I wondered if Jeanette was ever tempted to stay in any of the places she visited. Though she admits there are nice things about every place, one spot wins hands down. She had the good fortune to live there for 12 years with her husband, some of her best.
“The place I loved more than any place in the whole wide world is Mt. Desert Island. It’s my absolute favorite.”
Jeanette’s independence and spirit of adventure remain undiminished. She walks the half-mile to the Fairmount Market almost every day, “breathing in and breathing out air that nobody else ever has.” She’s been on airplanes, ocean liners, trains, dog sleds, and most every type of conveyance (except camels, “They smell and they spit!”), but traveling under her own power is one of her favorites.
“I’ve always liked putting one foot in front of the other.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at email@example.com.