My brother and I talk about writing. We attend book signings of local authors; we read books and feature articles written by Maine writers. We ask each other “what are the credentials for being considered a Maine writer?” How long does one need to live and write here to authentically portray this place and its people?
My blog has been, among other things, a paean to this land of pine trees. I claim to love it here and yet I’d never been to Aroostook County. Truth be told, I’d never been further north than Millinocket. I’d be lying if I said I had everything figured out from a 48 hour car trip to this isolated place.
It is heartbreakingly beautiful .
Because all this stunning beauty and isolation is still tumbling around in my brain, I will provide you with the truncated version of the trip. Thanks to Maine. The Magazine® for the idea. Oddly enough, they featured a “48 Hours In” Aroostook County in their March, 2016 issue.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Handy steers the Jeep onto Interstate 95 at mile 86 in Sabattus; it’s sunny and cold.
At mile 167, an old Honda blows by us with smoke billowing out of the driver’s side window. I note the driver is holding a pipe of some sort and I foolishly think it’s a vape. Handy corrects me and says no vape would make a cloud of smoke like that.
We arrive in Houlton and make a surprise visit to the Cary Library (a Carnegie).
We pick up our first French language radio station out of Edmundston, New Brunswick.
We see our first Amish buggy parked on a lawn in Easton. Are we on Route 1 or 1A? Doesn’t matter, it still isn’t like the 1 or 1A you’re familiar with near The Kennebunks or York. It’s a long stretch of deserted farm houses. As we continue on towards Fort Fairfield, we pass an Amish man walking along the road and we wave to him. He smiles and waves back.
We arrive at Canterbury Royale in Fort Fairfield. We had a lunch reservation and I hope I don’t sound too gushing when I say I’ve never had such a delightful meal. In 2015, Downeast Magazine readers selected it as Maine’s most romantic restaurant. But that hardly covers the depth of flavor in our meals. Scotch eggs on greens to start with a buttery croissant, then chicken pot pie. Oh heavenly pastry, flaky and divine. And dessert. And tea. And it’s a blog post of its own.
We arrive in Presque Isle and check in at The Northeastland Hotel. We head over to the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library, which began as a Carnegie Library and has grown into something larger.
No dinner for us after Canterbury Royale, but we stop into Copper’s Lounge to use our half-price drink coupons. We chat with two locals who happen to know Bridgewater’s own Beau Bradstreet, perennial winner of the Moxie Chugging Challenge. Six degrees…
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
An Amish horse and buggy goes trotting up Main Street as I’m looking out the hotel window. It’s snowing lightly.
We drive into Caribou and their Carnegie library is closed. We motor on and as we get closer to the Saint John River, Handy says “I still don’t understand how they survive up here.”
We enter the St. John River Valley, Canada and the river to our right. All the radio stations are in French now. We are the only motorists headed to Madawaska. The Acadian flag is on most homes we pass.
We have lunch at Dolly’s Restaurant in Frenchville. I have hamburger poutine and Handy has a rodeo burger. Our meal begins with complimentary ployes and about half of the diners are speaking French.
We reach Fort Kent. “Why aren’t they plowing,” Handy asks.
We stop at the Bouchard Country Store and I buy some ploye mix and some buckwheat flour the farming family grows and mills on their Fort Kent farm.
It’s still snowing pretty hard as we leave the St. John River Valley.
We’re back in Caribou which seems like one big rotary. The library is now open and we meet Lisa Shaw, the library director. She gives us a tour of the building. The library expanded from their original Carnegie footprint in the 1960’s and Shaw explains how the addition’s basement was built as a civil defense bunker; it was the Cold War, after all. Rumor has it there was an underground tunnel to the old post office but no one has ever found it.
Back in Presque Isle, we change for dinner and walk across the street to Café Sorpreso. It’s tasty and flavorful. We are not restaurant critics; we just like good food. I look out the window and the Oasis Salon is still lit up and sparkling. The style of the building, with stairs leading up to the business, reminds me of Newbury Street in Boston. As we leave the café, the owner is closing up and I compliment her on her lovely decor.
We left Presque Isle early Thursday morning on a mission to visit six Carnegie libraries on the way home. We did it, but then, that’s a story for another day.
I think I left a little bit of my heart in Aroostook County this week. It’s a wide-open place of beauty and wonder, desolate and stark at the same time. I’ll need to go back a few more times to earn my County credentials, but it’s necessary for anyone who wants to be a writer with a “voice of Maine.”
Congratulations on your journey!
I was in Houlton last week looking for a place to live, and strongly considered that little blue colonial across the street from the Historical Society and Museum right next door to the Cary Library. The library and the UMPI centre in town were strong factors in deciding to take the job up there.
If you look online for photos of the library, you’ll find plenty, but truthfully, yours is the best one I’ve seen. Nicely framed.
Loved your “48 Hours” in Aroostook County.
What qualifies one as a “Maine writer”? Writing authentically about our state and not just about Portland, or the idyllic qualities of the city’s beer, or doughnuts, or whatever interests the demographic between 25-35. I guess that would put you in the club, if there was one.
I’ve written about some of Maine’s “forgotten” writers, like John Gould, Kenneth Roberts, Sandy Phippen, and others. I’m not sure most people really care, to be honest. But I’ll keep trying to write as authentically as I can about the place where I live and try to get out and understand.
Glad you got to spend a brief time in one of Maine’s special places. Reading your post made me long to make it back to the County in the not-too-distant future.
I highly recommend Canterbury Royale as a reason to visit The County. Passion and hard work = subtly delicious food. I can’t wait to visit again.