Another clash of brawny titans is coming to us from the Lewiston area, but unlike the championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in 1965, this time there’s only one heavyweight: a guy named Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, the super cool, multimillion-dollar outdoor apparel and equipment company.
Chouinard says Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and his plea to President Trump to send back the recent gift addressed to the American public because of states rights, is “baloney.”
“American politicians have always been obsessed with running government ‘like a business.’ They promise to make bureaucracies leaner and let the free market fix all our problems.
“Well, if America’s public lands were a business, shareholders would be shocked by the gross negligence of some of their top executives,” Chouinard said about LePage and others in a recent column first published in the Los Angeles Times.
“Every American citizen owns stock in 640 million acres of federal public lands. We hire public servants to manage our precious assets for maximum return. For decades, we’ve taken these sizable holdings for granted, assuming they’re in good hands. But we’ve let the fossil fuel industry into the boardroom. We’re allowing gas and mining companies to boss around our elected officials.”
In other words, Governor, opposing the 87,500-acre monument for hiking, camping, fishing and paddling along the East Branch of the Penobscot River and Wassataquoik Stream, as well as hunting and snowmobiling in designated areas, plus a $40 million endowment, is nuts, and you should be fired.
The new national monument has already proven to be an economic boon and attracted pledges of over $5 million in local investment. There are new businesses sprouting up, real estate deals closing, roads being built and bridges improved. Moral and civic pride in the area is rising. Curious tourists with fists full of cash are slowly rolling into Millinocket.
It’s fitting a burly, super-fit businessman from Lisbon is the guy one-upping LePage on his no-park pluckiness, but don’t blame bariatric surgery for making the governor a lightweight. It’s probably something in the waters of Washington, D.C., where LePage has been spending a lot of time trolling for a job in the Trump administration and setting the foundation for his anticipated 2018 U.S. Senate run, that afflicts him – a disease that’s been afflicting men in power for ages.
“Potomac fever” is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a disease peculiar to the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that presents chiefly as an intense desire in the infected to be associated with the power and prestige of the United States federal government, particularly the Executive Branch,” and you don’t need a medical degree to spot it.
What else can explain LePage’s anti-economic growth state of mind? Any self-respecting businessman who seeks to reverse progress and reduce revenue needs help. Whether Potomac Fever is covered by Obamacare is a topic for another day, but there’s no doubt LePage’s tough talk to his political enemies is a challenge to their strength.
“Regarding the national monument designation, ‘those cold timid souls who neither know victory or defeat’ argue that you, as president, cannot undo a national monument because it has never been done before,” LePage wrote in his letter to Trump.
Cold? Chouinard spent 45 years developing the world’s coziest sleeping bag and purposefully drank unpurified water to toughen up his ripped six-pack of a belly. When asked about the best survival skill in a Men’s Journal interview in 2010, Chouinard said, “I’ve been preparing myself for tough times by drinking out of every river I fish in ever since I was very young. So I got a good gut. I can go to any country and eat out of the bazaars, and I don’t get sick.”
Chouinard’s not cold and he’s not timid and he’s not sick with fever. He’s tough. The guy has a scar from being attacked by a black bear, the kind of wild animal you might see milling around our new national monument.
“In the early ’60s, my friend and I were probably the only climbers left in Yosemite in November, and the bears were going nuts, attacking everything, trying to eat as much as they could before hibernating,” Chouinard told Men’s Journal. “They ripped off the top of my old Model A Ford. I got so mad I got this one bear up in a tree and just pelted him with rocks. That night I was sleeping on the ground, and he attacked me in my sleeping bag and tussled me all around. I don’t know whether he bit into my forearm or clawed me, but I had a cut there. I screamed my head off, and he finally left.”
Sometimes it takes a tough guy to put another tough guy in his place, and LePage has met his match with Chouinard, whose life story trumps the governor’s childhood tale of woe and offers an American perspective worthy of a national monument.
Chouinard left Lisbon, but instead of taking the shuttle to Dulles International Airport like LePage, Chouinard drove to the tip of South America and skied, surfed and climbed mountains. His experience outside our beautiful state helped create one of the most successful, ecologically responsible businesses in the world, and he supports Maine’s massive and wild national monument because it makes sense. Being in the wilderness develops character and is good for the planet, and don’t worry if you get lost on a mountain in the new Maine monument. With a pot, a rock, a stick, some string and a few squirrels, you won’t starve, according to Chouinard in the Men’s Journal interview.
“I was in the Canadian Rockies with a friend, and we were starving for protein, so we started eating ground squirrels. We used your typical Boy Scout trap, where you put food under a pot and a rock on top, and you lift one edge with a stick. When the squirrel goes in, you pull a string on the stick. But then how do you get this pissed-off squirrel out? Well, you put white gas around the pot’s edges and light it, and that sucks all the oxygen out of the pot. Wait a minute or two, lift the lid, and there’s a dead squirrel,” Chouinard recalled when asked the best way to find food in the wild.
There are good businessmen in Maine from away, and there are good businessmen from Maine who went away and got stronger and more successful drinking from wild rivers instead of sipping D.C. Kool-Aid from cups – like Chouinard, the 78-year-old Lisbon native who this week threw down the gauntlet on LePage.
Now is not the time to turn back the clocks. America and Maine spring ahead with the new monument.
CORRECTION: This column was updated at 11:18 a.m. on March 13 to correct Chouinard’s home town.
Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She can be contacted at: