Since moving east almost twelve years ago, Maine has been one of my yearly destinations for a vacation. I have visited the coast (“Down East”) as well as the western mountain and lake districts and enjoyed it all. I have also reviewed many Islandport Press titles over the years and they never fail to impress me. In Maine by the late John N. Cole is no exception and it fits in nicely with Islandport’s unflagging love for its home state. Equally in love with Maine was Mr. Cole, (who passed away in 2003), an avid sport fisherman, amateur naturalist, and honoured journalist.
Having come from the big city, he immediately took to Maine and lived there the rest of his life. “I have not always lived all my life in Maine, but Maine is the only place I’ve lived my life,” he tells us in the Introduction, written in 2001. The essays in In Maine are a selected collection of columns he wrote for the (now defunct) Maine Times over 30 years and are here organized into chapters with titles such as “Beginnings,” “Seasons,” “Home Front,” “Wildlife,” “Reflections,” and a brief Afterword. Mr. Cole lived on the Maine Coast so the majority of his essays deal with life on the coast, whether it is fishing (commercially or for sport), farming, or just observing the seasons and the wildlife in the area. His reflections have a wistful and romantic tone to them, but he is not blind to what Maine once was: a thriving state of farms and fisheries that have all but disappeared.
Here’s a brief excerpt from “Seasons:”
If ever there a fine season for a farmer, spring it would have to be, especially in Maine. With the long winter gone, the cows coming to calf, and the fields soon ready to turn and sow, past springs have come as a blessing to every empty place I passed. This day it came as a medium. calling for a visit from the souls of the departed farmers, begging for their return to shore up the sagging buildings, to fix the torn and leaking roofs, to build a fire in the cold and rusted stoves, to clear the bull briars from the barnyard, to move the ancient farm machines . . . to restore a life and purpose to the once lovely, carefully crafted places that now stand alone, decaying in the solitary wind like some untouchable marooned on a deserted island.
These gray and lonely farms were once the strength of Maine, now they are nothing but so much rotting wood, land gone fallow. homes without inhabitants. The fields once cleared with a blister for every fencepost and a year for every five acres are still cleared, but the pines are taking hold, slowly, the way people fill a church for the earliest service. Soon the trees will take it all, and Maine will have forgotten the lives of dignity, independence and grace once lived on these fine farms.
But they cannot be forgotten yet; not when they scream so in the bright spring light. They shout that lives were once fulfilled on these farms, and never more fulfilled than in the spring. Farther down the road, a man rakes the yard of his mobile home, or trims the fence in front of his one-story ranch-style. He is happy for the end of winter, but if he looks up and sees the derelict places, he must also weep for Maine’s loss of its farmers’ spring.
He certainly has an eye for the natural world, and in this respect reminds me very much of Miramichi’s own Wayne Curtis, whose own fictional and non-fictional writings harken back to a more simpler (but not necessarily easier) way of life in my part of New Brunswick.
In Maine is an exceptional revised edition of one of Mr. Cole’s best books, that can be picked up and read again and again. It deserves a place in every Maine enthusiast’s home and camp, and it makes a great souvenir for visitors to the state. I know they will come back again, just like I do.
“as lyrical, witty, and moving as anything E. B. White ever wrote.”
––Down East Magazine