Among the unexpected pleasures of visiting rural Maine outposts during their busier times (a relative term, to be sure) is this: Sometimes, you get the chance to swap stories with folks “from away” who show you — again — just how easy it is to take Maine for granted.
Up in Ashland on Monday, I stopped by the local moose-tagging station and ran into John Lundy and Leslie Eisenhower, who drove 16 hours from their Pennsylvania home just so they could sit on the porch of Gateway Variety and make some new friends as hunters stopped in to register their moose.
“We just like it. We like seeing the moose. We do some riding around, try to see some live moose as well,” Lundy said. “It’s just a little vacation. We don’t go home until Wednesday. We just hang out.”
Pennsylvania does not have moose, Lundy will tell you, and after he came to the Maine for his brother’s moose hunt 15 years ago, he’s been hooked. Three years ago, he brought Eisenhower with him. And each year since, they’ve returned to make a few more friends and see a few more sights.
“People look at me and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to [Maine to] see dead moose?’” Eisenhower said. “It’s more than that. And it gets us out in the woods. Who doesn’t want to be out in the woods?”
Many people, unfortunately.
Watch: Opening day of the 2019 moose hunt
Not everybody embraces Maine’s far-flung rural hubs the same way Lundy and Eisenhower do. In fact, I’ve run across plenty of Mainers who tend to dismiss any other Maine location that they view as more remote than their own backyard.
At a track meet last spring, I heard one college-aged southern Mainer complaining about the state championship venue.
“I can’t believe how far north we had to come,” he said to a pal. “I’ve never been this far north.”
I might have laughed, if I hadn’t been choking back a more snarky response at the time.
So which far-north outpost was this meet being held?
All of us become a little hometown-centric, I suppose, and newspaper staffers are not immune to that disease of inertia. One longtime athletic administrator in Aroostook County used to chide the BDN on a regular basis, reminding us that “I-95 doesn’t end at the Old Town exit.”
That was his way of inviting us to extend our range and to visit his neck of the woods once in a while. Over the past 20 years, I’ve tried to take that invitation to heart and to visit as many corners of the state as I can.
And I’m glad I have.
I’ve found that the people in Maine’s rural outposts are among the best you’ll find anywhere and are generally happy that you’ve stopped by for a visit. Up in Presque Isle on assignment several years ago, I stopped next to a house where a man was mowing his lawn, and told him I was lost and needed directions.
He quickly decided I would never find my way on my own, grabbed his car keys and told me to follow him. He led me on a roundabout trip crosstown, stopping and pointing when we reached my destination.
People willing to do things like that are quite common in rural Maine, I’ve learned, both through personal experience and the reports of colleagues who have experienced similar things.
And that’s not always the case in other locales. Lundy and Eisenhower can tell you that.
“Where we stay, at Dean’s [Motor Lodge in Portage], the people are super nice. You don’t have that everywhere,” Eisenhower said. “You don’t have that ‘Hey y’all, I’ll talk to you, and you’re a stranger [attitude everywhere you visit].’”
It’s that down-home, friendly feel that keeps the Pennsylvania couple coming back, they said, as they munched on the sandwiches they purchased at Gateway Variety and waited for another happy hunter to show up and tell their story.
Some may not take the time to appreciate little things like that or to even visit the tiny hamlets where things like the annual moose hunt are a marquee event.
“It’s so neat. You meet really cool people. You hear really beautiful animals,” Eisenhower said. Then she pointed across the road at the bright reds and yellows of the foliage that had already begun to change.
“And even sitting here [is cool],” she said. “The leaves. Wow.”
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.