The first acquaintance I made when I moved to Maine last month was a park ranger.

He introduced me to my second: a nesting phoebe.

You could have considered it auspicious, I suppose, two ties to the natural world surfacing right off, good connections in a state that still has so much nature left in it. Since I come from coastal Massachusetts, namely Cape Cod, the Maine shoreline — and 20 to 30 miles inland — seems like more like Newfoundland than the northernmost state in New England.

The ranger, from Baxter State Park, had driven three hours (a habit I am beginning to get the hang of here in Maine) to meet me on his day off and show me a rental property within 30 minutes of Portland. That seemed to be as close I could find an affordable rental home, given that I arrived with a 10-year-old golden retriever in tow.

The house, an A-frame with some additions tacked on over the roughly 40 years it’s risen from the ground like an arrowhead, had an undeniable appeal: the phoebe, hunkered down in the beams over the shed, all natural pine indoors and big windows looking out into nothing but pines and birches, hemlocks and oaks. It was just the right size — a small two- or three-bedroom, depending on how generous you wanted to be with the definition of “bedroom” — but not too tiny to leave one feeling cramped, or camped, for that matter.

After lingering, pragmatic indecision on my part, I did rent the place and on several occasions I have felt as though I were camping — as I had 15 years ago in one of the “cottages” at Recompence Shore Campground in Freeport. It was the feel of being surrounded by unvarnished wood on every side that captivated me and keeps me here, despite a few quirks, or vulnerabilities, in the dwelling. It is impossible, for example, to run two large appliances simultaneously, like the refrigerator and the dishwasher, without tripping a circuit breaker.

We have been overrun by carpenter ants for a month, and if I were to treat the interior with any more pesticides, I think the dog and I would be found dead on our backs one morning, arms and legs and paws splayed out.

I now cannot imagine spring and early summer in Maine minus the ants, but I still find myself intolerant of the pest problem. I know all there is to know about treatments, Borax and sugar, Terro traps, deadly white powder to replace diazanon. For the first time in my life, I have even hung spirals of sticky flypaper strips.

I’m claiming my spot on the land, you see. In the forest.

And it has more or less become that — my place — if you don’t count the territorial imperative of “mosquitoes the size of moths,” as a friend described the flying insects on the property on the rainy day that we arrived with movers to haul in 6,000 pounds worth of “stuff,” mostly liquor boxes filled with books and plastic tubs full of fabric. Furniture was not the big offender; addictive leisure was.

But it seems the perfect setting for quilting, where quilts and afghans and woolens are pretty much the name of the game in cottage industries. On the way to cover the Great Schooner Race of the Maine Windjammer Association, I saw along Route 1 a boatload of signs for quilts and fabric — and one yard crisscrossed with clotheslines, draped with at least 20 quilts, all different ages and sizes and squares.

I did not stop.

I have been charmed by Portland and lured by Freeport, but during my early days in Maine, I have been struck more by the open and congenial resourcefulness of the residents here than by anything else. I am living a ways inland, and I have spent significant time driving back roads that slice through rolling fields and hills of forest to reach the ocean and the tidal flats that keep my own blood memory alive. I could say that, since coming to the Pine Tree State, I have spent a lot of time lost on back roads, but then I call to mind that old saw that holds “not all those who wander are lost,” and I feel a little better about having apparently abandoned any sense of direction I ever had.

Everywhere I have wandered from Cumberland to Camden, I have marveled at all the out-of-the-way places where people are practicing professions or finding ways to make ends meet in an economy that has been difficult here for as long as I can remember: an accountant working from home in the middle of nowhere, someone selling pure Maine maple syrup, a 10-year-old hawking lemonade on a hot day along a road that carried about three cars an hour, a household offering day care, some farmer selling split firewood from a makeshift display operating on the honor system: Take what you need and leave payment in the metal box at the side of the stack.

I like it. In a subtle way, it reminds me of my Midwestern roots, of rural Michigan — though I have been warned not to say that to proud Mainers. But the similarities stand as compliments: rugged, friendly people of few words and little sentimentality; hard workers with demanding jobs they perform without complaint; individuals who love the land and cherish the sea — and the lives they have built from the raw materials here.

It’s all good.

The state, I am sure, has its issues; nowhere I have ever lived was trouble-free. But there are many happy surprises — tall trees again and tall ships, big inland lakes and a rocky coast, cold waters and unbeatable lobsters. And something I never expected: a $5 dump sticker (or free, if I was willing to forego bringing brush).

Five dollars.

On Cape Cod, the other coast from which I migrated, dump stickers were $125 a year. And beach stickers were an add-on over that.

This, alone, made a believer out of me. 

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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