No! We're Friendliest!
Two municipalities compete for the conviviality crown.
The problem with absolutes is proof. As soon as "est" goes on the end of an adjective, the arm wrestling begins. Certainly it's easy to show that Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, and Portland is the largest city. But how to prove that Ogunquit beach has the softest sand or that Red's Eats has the tastiest lobster roll? And what happens when there are two claimants to the same superlative, such as when Fort Kent and Wells both lay claim to the title "The Friendliest Town in Maine"?
"They do? In Wells?" demands Jody Marston, the new executive director of the Fort Kent Chamber of Commerce. "We had no idea."
"I think it's funny," says Eleanor J. Vadenais, Marston's opposite number in Wells. "Having two towns at far ends of the state with the same motto is a strange coincidence."
Neither woman knows how the mutual motto came to be adopted. "It's one of those things that sort of got passed down through the years," Marston explains. "We also call ourselves `The Little Town That Could' [referring to its rejuvenation in recent years as a winter sports center, fishing hotspot, and Acadian tourist attraction], but there was an article in the Maine Sportsman recently that called us the friendliest town in the headline." The new slogan is gradually coming into more general use, but several businesses and signs still promote Fort Kent's friendly claim.
Vadenais says she asked when she took the Wells job earlier this year how the motto originated, but no one could remember. "A lot of people have asked me what it means to be the friendliest town," she says.
Neither town has registered the slogan as a trademark for its exclusive use, and neither Marston nor Vadenais plan to lay sole claim to the motto, especially now that Fort Kent is moving toward a new slogan. "If we were closer to each other, I suppose things could get a little testy," muses Vadenais. No grudge match with its neighbor to the far north, then?
"Oh goodness, no," she says. "Maine's big enough for both of us."
Maybe Maine's big enough for more than two. After all, we'd like to think that every community in the state qualifies for the title "Friendliest Town in Maine."Pick Your ForecastWhen it comes to predicting the weather, Mainers have too many choices.
It used to be that Mainers sniffed the air and watched the clouds and consulted their neighbor's trick knee to predict when a winter storm was in the offing. Then the National Weather Service opened up shop in the late nineteenth century and began sending its forecasts to newspapers and, later, to radio and television stations. It was the only game in town, and Mainers could pretty much depend on the forecast in the morning paper being identical to the one they heard on the radio on the way to work and the one they saw during the TV newscast that evening. The television "weatherman" was more often reporting someone else's forecast than producing his own.
Then weather became a business, with dozens of independent forecasting companies selling their services and cable channels and high-traffic Web sites devoted entirely to weather. Television news directors realized they could attract more viewers by hiring their own meteorologists and dressing their anchors in sweaters and naming winter storms. In the hours preceding one storm last winter, two out of three television forecasts were predicting five to seven inches of snow, while a third said two to three inches with lots of rain at the end. Meanwhile weather.com was calling for flurries.
So who do the real weather junkies depend on, the folks who need to know the weather the best so the rest of us can rush to the store to buy flashlight batteries and toilet paper during a snowstorm? "It's an ongoing process of evaluating all the various sources and going with your best estimate," says Patrick Fox, general superintendent of the Saco Public Works Department. "Ultimately it boils down to the personal preference of the person collating all the information."
Fox says the department contracts with a local meteorologist who provides daily forecasts and then hourly updates during heavy weather. "We also use online weather reports, like weather.com," he admits.
Bangor relies on the services of DTN, a private forecast company out of Omaha, Nebraska. "Their computer and satellite information is sent directly to us," explains Dana Wardwell, the city's director of public works. "We can watch weather approach through their radar links."
Even so, Wardwell says, he goes to the television and the Internet for second and third and fourth opinions. "The National Weather Service and DTN have pretty close to the same forecasts," he notes.
Fox says he wants as much advance notice of bad weather as possible so he can have his equipment ready and the crews rested before the snow starts falling. "We can have everything moving on a half-hour's notice, but it's nice to have a couple of days to plan ahead if they're available," he says.
Accuracy also ranks high, especially since many storms in Saco in recent years have opened with snow but closed with rain. "That's one of our biggest problems," Fox says. "We get two inches of snow and then have to battle the two inches of rain that follow it. We need to change out our equipment in the middle of the storm or else we get major problems with flooding and freezing."
With competing forecasts from competing meteorologists all trying to steal market share from each other by being more accurate and/or more alarmist, perhaps the best advice is to become your own forecaster. After all, weather.com, the National Weather Service, and several other Web-based companies put their radar and forecasts on the Net for all to see. Just remember that in Maine the weather has the last word, and your neighbor's trick knee might be the best forecaster of all.Start-Up StateThe entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.
Going into business for ourselves just comes naturally to Mainers, apparently. A recent national survey of entrepreneurial activity ranked the residents of the Pine Tree State fifth in the nation for their willingness to start their own new enterprises. And it apparently surprises everyone except Mainers.
When the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation recently released its 2006 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, even its author, economics professor Robert Fairlie of the University of California, Santa Cruz, admitted Maine didn't fit the mold. News reports quoted him as saying that high-ranking states were generally characterized by strong economies and booming populations, attributes that most would agree Maine lacks. Of the top five states, four were in the fast-growing southern or western United States. Maine, with an estimated 420 entrepreneurs per 100,000 residents, came in well ahead of nearby New Hampshire (210) and Massachusetts (350).
"Mainers have a long history of entrepreneurial activity," argues Laurie Lachance, president of the Maine Development Foundation and former Maine state economist. "It's always been in our cultural make-up to be self-sufficient and enterprising." She notes that in the past many Mainers traditionally cobbled together seasonal self-employment such as clamming, worm digging, fishing, woods work, and farming to create year-round livelihoods. Today Mainers are doing the same in industries as diverse as tourism and marine technology.
"The composites research coming out of the University of Maine has created an entire new industry in Maine," says Lachance. "Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has sparked a new business that combined microscopes and digital imagery to analyze everything from seawater to cosmetics. We have a lot happening in biofuels, both through the university system and privately."
Lachance notes that L.L. Bean started his world-famous company in a twenty-five-by-forty basement room, Arthur Hannaford's supermarket chain began when he delivered groceries in a cart, and the Cianchette brothers founded Cianbro Construction Company with an old truck and some savings from their stints in the army. "We've always been a rural state with a small labor market, so we've never had the luxury of huge companies coming in and taking care of us," Lachance offers. "If we want to make it, we have to make it on our own."
There's also a new national trend at work that is having an impact on Maine. Rich Karlgaard, author of Life 2.0, was the featured speaker at a conference Lachance attended in October in Portland. Karl-gaard has documented how rural areas and small business hubs across the country are now attracting entrepreneurs who are being priced out of the major metropolitan areas - and don't need the big cities to be successful anyway. "Technology now allows them to live anywhere they want, so they're migrating to places where the costs are less and the lifestyle is more relaxed - and Maine fits right into that pattern," Lachance says.
Whether it's a flower stand on the highway or a Web site development start-up in a Portland loft, "we have a heritage of being just plain enterprising," Lachance says, "and I don't think that'll change. We're used to doing for ourselves, and that's where the future comes from."Blaine House HolidayEven after thirty years, a Yuletide display is remembered.
Memories are important during the holiday season, and many Augusta residents still recall the elaborate Christmas display that decorated the Blaine House lawn in the early 1970s, during the administration of Governor Kenneth Curtis. "I remember being captivated by the mechanical display of elves working in a workshop and other holiday-themed toys," says Geoffrey-Martin Cyr, who grew up in Augusta and now lives in Los Angeles. "To a child, it truly was a magical display."
Cyr and others have often wondered what happened to the display after Curtis left office. Blaine House residence director Sue Plummer says that she believes a horse and sleigh that are erected each year on the lawn are the only surviving remnants, while Earle Shettleworth, executive director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, recalls seeing pieces of the display in storage in the mansion's garage back in the 1980s.
Curtis, now living in Florida, served as governor from 1967 to 1975. He recalls that the display was designed and built by the Bureau of Public Improvements, now called the Bureau of General Services. "As you can appreciate, our two young daughters attracted many of their friends to the Blaine House," Curtis says in an e-mail. His wife, Polly, "had the idea of doing something special for kids."
The display was so popular with the city's children that the bureau put it up every year. "However, in our last year in office Polly was told that it could no longer make it through another holiday," Curtis explains. "The employees at BPI did a great job with a small amount of money in pleasing so many children . . . We doubt if any of it still exists."
These days the Blaine House limits its exterior holiday decorating to lighting a large tree in the front yard and hanging wreaths, Plummer says, as well as putting out the horse and sleigh. "The Kennebec Garden Club comes in during the last week in November and decorates the public rooms," she adds. "They do a beautiful job."
It's telling that a little bit of money and a lot of inspiration created Christmas memories that are still fresh more than thirty years later. Perhaps the same combination could create new memories in the future.Bottles and BooksHow an enterprising library turned one into the other.
If the Stockton Springs Community Library ever creates a logo, it should include an empty soda can. The little library, which has no paid staff and is open just fifteen hours a week, derives most of its income from the returnable cans and bottles that supporters drop off in the cart near its front door. "The town gives us $3,500 a year," explains Mary Staples, who with her husband, Basil, helped found the library in 2001," but most of our income, about $6,500 a year now, comes from returnables."
Stockton Springs, a small town of some 1,481 people near the head of Penobscot Bay, had never had a library until the Stapleses and other residents saw the opportunity presented by the Colcord House, a thirteen-room sea captain's manse that the town acquired in the late 1990s. After discovering that converting it into new municipal offices would be more expensive than they initially thought, town officials offered the building to the local historical society.
"The library was sort of a spin-off idea," explains Basil Staples, who can trace his roots in the region back at least seven generations. "I've lived here all my life, and I always thought it was sad that a town our size didn't have a library." Eventually, the library will occupy the first floor of the building and the historical society will have its offices, meeting space, and museum on the second floor.
With help from the Maine State Library in Augusta and the Bangor Public Library, a group of volunteers formed the library, acquired nonprofit status, and opened the doors in 2001. Its shelves were largely filled with donated secondhand books.
The Bottles for Books program came from Basil Staples' experience during his career at the paper mill in Bucksport, where millworkers brought in returnable containers to donate to charity. "Stockton Springs doesn't have a redemption center," Staples notes. "So people just drop their cans and bottles off with the library. It's been a great fundraiser for us."
These days the library has about seven thousand books on its shelves, along with videos, audio books, and three Internet connections, plus a wireless router that allows residents to sit outside when the library is closed and still use its high-speed Web link. A core group of some twenty volunteers, whose ranks swell in the summer with the arrival of seasonal residents, keeps the library open year-round. And the folks of Stockton Springs help them recycle empty bottles into full minds.Safety in the NumbersMaine tops the list in the low-crime race.
Each year the FBI releases its Uniform Crime Statistics report, and each year for as long as anyone can remember Maine has been among the top five safest states in the country, usually ranking second or third on the list. But the most recent report, for 2006, gives Maine the top spot in the country, with only 115.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people. By comparison, South Carolina came in dead last with 765.5 crimes per 100,000.
The standing comes despite a slight 2.6-percent increase in crime in Maine compared to 2005. Violent crime rates in general in the United States have been creeping upward over the past several years after more than a decade of decline. Among New England states, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont also saw increases, while both Massachusetts and Rhode Island showed decreases in their crime rates.
The raw numbers for crime are so small compared to larger states that it doesn't take much to move the percentages dramatically - one reason Vermont's 8.7-percent increase looks huge even though the actually number of crimes increased to just 852 incidents, compared to 782 in 2005. (Compare that to the 28,775 crimes reported in Massachusetts in 2006, down from the 29,644 in 2005.) Despite this increase, Vermont came in third on the list, with an overall crime rate of just 136.6 per 100,000. North Dakota, New Hampshire, and South Dakota rounded out the top five, while South Carolina, was joined by Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, and Louisiana as having the highest crime rates.
"I was in New Orleans recently for a police chiefs conference, and they had three murders the first night I was there and three more the second night, bringing their total for the year to 163," recalls Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, "and they still had more than two months left in the year." Schwartz credits Maine's rural nature and lack of organized gangs as major factors in the state's low crime rate. "We get a lot of petty crime, which you have to assume is for drug money," he notes. "The same for our few bank robberies - they're definitely amateurs, not people who do this a lot."
Still, he warns, "No matter where you live, you should be conscious of where you are and who's around you. But the bottom line is, Maine is a safe place to live." That's a list we don't mind leading.
FOUND IN UNCLE HENRY'S:
Washing Machine free for the taking. No idea as to brand or working cond or if of human origin (could be re-engineered alien technology), was in our barn when we bought the house. Easy access next to the road. We can load it w/our excavator. No pictures or other details available, sorry. Probably good for scrap, or use as lg. paperweight for your desk. Windsor, ME.ONE MAINER TO ANOTHER:
The sons and daughters of Maine, whether by birth or adoption, are sometimes known as Mainiacs. This is a singularly apt term. Their feeling for the knobby fist of granite and pine thrust defiantly into the icy waters of the North Atlantic is irrational, far exceeding the love and loyalty normally entertained for one's native province. To Mainiacs, Maine is not merely a place. It is a spiritual home and shelter as perfectly fitting and comfortable and natural as its shell is to a snail; which, like snails, they carry with them wherever they may go. To them, Maine is a state of mind and a way of life inseparable from the geography and topography of the area and from their own bones and blood and thoughts and dreams. It is an element, as necessary to them as water is to fish. It is almost a religion.
-Louise Dickinson Rich
State O' Maine, 1964