Down East 2013 ©
When my dad was a teenager, growing up in Sanford in the 1950s, he used to race homing pigeons. He kept a coop in the yard behind the house on Nason Street, and he and a friend from Guilmette’s Market would drive the birds to Rochester, New Hampshire, or sometimes as far away as Concord, as practice for the big races. Even then, he says, his fellow participants tended to be on the older side. Pigeon enthusiast Mike Tyson might recently have infused the sport with a retro kind of coolness, but the truth remains that racing “homers” has never been the pastime of the young and the hip.
And yet the sport continues, as Nicolas Tanner writes on page 80. The Biddeford Racing Club still holds its annual spring auction of prime fliers; it still lets loose flocks of birds in Vermont and waits anxiously for them to return to their roosts. You can chalk up the persistence of pigeon racing in Maine to the stubbornness of nostalgia, but in my mind we have good reasons to cling to our traditions these days. In a time of rapid change, holding onto the past is sometimes the best way to hold onto a sense of yourself.
Change, of course, is a given. The question is how you view it. Other states make a virtue out of reinvention; they advertise themselves as destinations for people looking to start over. Depending on your circumstances, Maine can also have that appeal. Given that the 2010 Census saw Maine’s population increase by a mere 4.2 percent, we certainly need help on the recruiting front. That’s why organizations like LiveWork Portland, which seeks to attract creative entrepreneurs to the region, are so vital now. If we are to grow as a state, we need to welcome a new generation of “Mainers by choice,” people with much-needed skills and the kind of work ethics my dad showed bagging groceries at Guilmette’s.
Some of the people who are moving to Gardiner [page 70] exemplify those values. They are attracted to the small city, having experienced life in noisier, flashier places. But ultimately these new Mainers find themselves drawn to a community that places a premium on authenticity and that welcomes them to become part of its traditions.
I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t predict what Maine’s population will be in 2020 or what Gardiner will look like then. But I hope there will be pigeon racers there.
Editor in Chief
Photograph by Lori Traikos