September 21, 2019
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Bidding goodbye to Conversations with Maine

Editor’s Note: Bangor Daily News columnist Robin Clifford Wood has decided that it’s time to move on from her column, Conversations with Maine. Robin has taken us into the lives and homes of Mainers for five years, showing us the connections between people, their communities and their passions. As she enters this next chapter of her writing, we wish her the best and hope she continues to tell the interesting stories she discovers on so that we can all be a little more connected.

After five years and 173 columns, I have decided to retire Conversations With Maine. Back in 2010 I wondered if I’d eventually run out of people to write about, but I soon discovered that I had unlimited material. Everyone has a story to tell, and every story has something to offer — inspiration, illumination, entertainment, or all three. As I say goodbye, I’d like to sum up the best of what I’ve learned from the people of Maine.

First: there is no age limit on infectious enthusiasm. Whether you’re an 8-year-old historian throwing a 100-year commemoration party for the Titanic, or a 98-year-old beachcomber who makes bookmarks and seaweed pudding, loving what you do infuses energy into everyone you meet.

Second: there are no geographic boundaries on living a rich life. I spoke at length with Mainers who have barely ventured beyond their hometowns. Another had tallied up 105 journeys around the world. Some have devoted their lives to family or to local institutions, others have volunteered extensively out of state and around the world. One found her heart home in Senegal, Africa. Whether home or away, all of them have touched the lives of others in positive ways, made discoveries, and found deep fulfillment within themselves.

Third: creativity breeds contentment. I spent long afternoons with boat-builders, knitters, painters, bakers, sculptors, filmmakers, gardeners, crafters, writers, musicians and woodworkers. Maine seems to be a place that calls people to follow their creative passions, whether full-time or as a hobby on the side. No matter the focus of their creative pursuit, when people discuss their work as artists or artisans I see their tensions lift. A spark alights in their eyes and a smile on their lips.

Fourth: a close connection to the outdoors is deeply therapeutic. I hung out with one Mainer for three hours, sipping soup at Paddy Murphy’s, mesmerized, while she told me about hiking both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail. I met a College of the Atlantic student who recreated the historic Maine canoe journey of 1800’s naturalist Fannie Hardy Eckstrom. There was a high school student who was selected for the Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program, a ski instructor with a lifetime connection to Mount Abrams, and a woman who broke through stereotypes to become a sea captain. All found their inspiration under the sky more than under a roof. That same inspiration is what has drawn many transplants to Maine, who told me their stories of becoming farmers, backyard putterers, seagoing regulars or serious homesteaders. Perhaps more than anyone, the members of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes that I met emanated a deep, soul connection to both cultural history and the natural world, here in the state of Maine.

Fifth: giving through teaching crosses boundaries of both age and species. I interviewed a preschool teacher, some high school teachers and an instructor at the Penobscot Valley senior college, all of whom impressed me with their devotion to passing on the love of learning. But I was no less moved by the people who bring dogs to libraries to read with children, who rescue traumatized horses, or who visit hospitalized patients with therapy dogs.

Here’s the bottom line: I am humbled and endlessly grateful to the many generous people who gave up their lunch break or opened their homes and shared a piece of their lives with me. Whether you are a nursing home resident, brewer, postal worker, physician, gas station attendant, Pulitzer prize winner, the host of the East Benton Fiddlers Festival, one of the people I’ve highlighted or one of the additional dozens I’ve surely left out, it has been my great privilege to sit with you, listen to you, and try to convey what you’ve all taught me.

I also have to thank you readers who have given me such wonderful feedback and support over the years, including many fantastic leads on amazing people that I never would have met without you. I will miss this job. Nevertheless, it is time for me to start a new chapter in my own story.

I plan to keep writing. I may even make an appearance now and then in the Bangor Daily News. The BDN has been good to me, and I value its presence in our state, but I’m ready to explore new challenges. Fueled by the spirit of so many wonderful Mainers, I hope to discover new ways in which I, too, might inspire, illuminate, or entertain the people that I encounter along the way. Wish me luck!

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

 



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