Sometimes this face looks so funny

That I hide it behind a book

Sometimes this face has so much class

That I have to sneak a second look.

— Phoebe Snow, “Either or Both”

 

Reading the obituaries last week, I was shocked to see notice of the death of singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow and touched to learn of her lifelong devotion to a daughter with a birth defect.

I was immediately transported to the words and melody of her song “Either or Both” and thought how much it reminds me of Maine. Like Phoebe thinking about her face, we in Maine are of two minds about ourselves.

Looking around, we see a world of unparalleled beauty. Anyone who was born in Maine or has spent any extended time here cannot help but be affected by the fundamental physical nature of this place.

These indeed are “the woods, the rivers and sea” where we have, from our earliest days, “whispered the truth” of our joy “to the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.”

There is a strong and mysterious reality about this place that we hold dear — both the light, airy summers and the heavy, dark winters, both the silent expanse of an endless forest and the crashing waves and tidal aroma of a cold sea.

We know without the least hesitation that this unique spot on the globe is as good as there is. Anyone truly —-of Maine has a confidence in our place that is complete and unquestioned. Maine is a world-class place. We know it, and anyone who doesn’t is simply uninformed. We know about our place what New Yorkers know about their city — it’s the best.

But when it comes to our economy — our jobs, our income, our savoir faire in the wider world, we’re not so sure.

We’ve never earned as much as our neighbors to the south. For generations, our young have moved away in search of wider opportunities and greater wealth. We tend to look to those “from away” for jobs, be they the capitalists who build our mills or the summer visitors whose “cottages” we built and maintain.

And the long history of these patterns tends to overshadow our “natural” confidence. We hide behind not a book, but a diffidence we call independence but that is really uncertainty.

And often, because we feel the need to compensate for our economic shortcomings, we have been and remain tempted to compromise our natural heritage for the sake of jobs and income. Our history of economic development is full of examples of forgoing taxes, filling wetlands, cutting trees and building along shorelines for the promise of jobs and income.

And the temptations remain. What harm can a few innocuous billboards do? Isn’t sacrificing a few mountaintops for windmills just being realistic?

No. As long as we formulate the choice as “either-or,” we lose. The environment versus the economy. Payroll versus pickerel. Land preservation versus land devastation.

As long as we formulate our choices as either/or, we can only lose. If we admit from the beginning that a particular economic development project is a sacrifice of our fundamental natural heritage, then we are, from the beginning, admitting defeat.

We must come to see our choice not as “either/or” but rather as “either or both.”

We must come to see the economic development process not as fighting development to save the environment but rather as shaping development to build, enhance and generate income from our fundamental qualities.

As long as we formulate the issue as Plum Creek versus wilderness, we lose. As long as it is the Great North Woods National Park versus traditional uses, we lose.

Either/or choices embroil us in endless litigation and subject us to the unintended consequences of the millions of small, unregulated decisions that are made each day that will — in the absence of more farsighted policy formulation — become our future, one none of us may want.

We must, instead, demand both, both high-quality industrial, commercial and recreational developments that will bring visitors, business sales, jobs and income to our most beautiful places and physical zoning, green building and use options that will leave us swelling with pride about how we have made the very best even better.

This process will not be easy. And it will not produce complete consensus. But it is the only process that will enable us to be true to our deepest realities.

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at:

[email protected]