Downeast Maine


My husband and I went downeast today. In the broadest sense, downeast covers the coastal area from Maine’s Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border, but to me, downeast means Washington county only. Each of us has a history there. There is no refuge downeast now that our parents are dead. Really, it wasn’t a refuge while they lived, after we’d moved on. The towns we grew up in are miles and miles apart. We met away from there, not having known one another before.

Washington county contains the last vestiges of undeveloped coastline on the eastern seaboard. Driving past rattletrap trailers and houses beyond repair, we expressed worry that the inhabitants could be cold and hungry. Poverty in downeast Maine is achingly obvious, as high as 20% in some areas. The remaining original families are becoming impoverished as traditional industry vanishes. It’s impossible to escape poverty without money.

People from away (PFA not born in Maine or, in the downeast definition, in a particular town) have been buying property as families move out or die off. My family moved there in 1970, when my parents divorced. All of us kids moved away. When Mum died we sold her Cobscook Bay home, to someone else from away, as a vacation home.

My husband commented that the people in Jonesport are doing the same things in the same places as they were when he fished there, in 1987. It makes sense that they would be. There is nothing to induce change. The people are resiliently familiar. We stopped at a roadside store. I got a cup of coffee and talked with the young man beside me. He told me he’d lived in Massachusetts for 10 years but recently returned downeast and he was glad to be back. Our conversation was companionable in its brevity. I chose two home made doughnuts. The woman at the counter told me they make them fresh every day. We had a short conversation. As I said goodbye, I felt like she’d always been a part of my morning routine.

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About elroyjones

Married, no children, responsibly self-directed, living happily.
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6 Responses to Downeast Maine

  1. I didn’t know you lived in Maine! I was born at Presque Isle Air Force Base, right before it was closed to military activity. My father served during the Korean War. When we left I was a year old and I haven’t been back. My goal is to one day see my place of birth. Have you visited Presque Isle?

    • elroyjones says:

      Yes, I’ve been to Presque Isle. If you ever get there you’ll be astounded by the size of it, very small. The people are friendly. Aroostook county used to be full of potato farms but there aren’t many left now. UMaine has a campus in Presque Isle.

  2. gkinnard says:

    A great description of the area, its economy, and its inhabitants! I’ve never been within a few hundred (a thousand?) miles of there, so I wouldn’t have had a clue. It sounds like it was a meaningful trip.

  3. Peggy says:

    Boy, do I wish I could just take a meandering drive downeast. Just spend the day or even an overnight in a little place driving the roads. There was a time when we were crazy to escape the smallness of the place. Now, I see it as more vast . . . when you aren’t looking at the smallness, you can see how truly interesting some places can be.

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