Tuesday, May 21, 2013
When I knew I was coming to live in Maine and before I actually found my cabin-like A-frame in the country, most of my friends thought it would be a good fit: a nature lover, living on a rocky coast, studying the vast ocean and the limits of the horizon.
But every once in a while, I would be introduced to someone and the postscript to the exchange of names would be: "She's moving to Maine." In one instance, the response I got was a sarcastic diatribe that started something like this: "Oh, you mean the Country of the Black Fly? The Land of the Double Wide?"
I had no particular response at the time, partly because my only real experience of biting flies dated back to camping trips and fishing outings, some of which took place in Maine, though others brought me to Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota and the north woods of Ontario.
The guy who delivered these barbs was a transplanted Mainer himself, and, I was guessing, he was just trying to let me know what a fool I was to leave Massachusetts for the Pine Tree State, what a long fall out of civilization into the backwoods I was about to experience.
Thoughts of that monologue have drifted through my mind in the month or so that I've been here, first as simple observation (a swarm of flies engulfs my car when I arrive home in the evening, and there are a fair number of mobile homes of all sizes and conditions along the route I take to and from work), then later in a slightly different way.
"You know," I said aloud, addressing the dog in the back seat of my Buy American Ford Escape, as we were returning last weekend from an ocean dip near Freeport, "the double wide is kind of growing on me."
I felt a sudden surge of surprise at my own quickly won conversion. I really am living in Maine, I thought, feeling like a hatchling growing its first feathers.
It got me musing on how adaptable humans are, and how rapidly we modern Homo sapiens are able to make the transition from one environment to another. We are so restless and resilient that we join the champion migrants of the natural world -- Arctic terns, monarch butterflies, humpback whales -- in moving from one place to another and another and still another in the changeable lives that globalism has produced. We might have a political understanding of displaced peoples struggling elsewhere, but we are refugees all.
In animals, migration is mostly seasonal and has to do with finding the conditions best suited for reproduction and survival. Every coastal state knows how that plays out in humans; there is no driver who has eluded the long Friday, Saturday and Monday traffic jams that are the tedious evidence of our migratory behaviors and repetitions along the shoreline.
Most Americans move on average every five years, according to U.S. census data, and some surveys suggest many change geographical places of residence more than 10 times.
I have relocated more than 20 times over the course of my life -- and I did not grow up in a military home. My most hurried moves having been triggered by the beginnings and ends of seasonal rentals in the largely tourist areas in which I have spent much of my career.
On the long flight of my adult years, a migration that has landed me in Maine, moving has meant metamorphosis -- early on acquiring possessions and, later, shedding them as quickly as downsizing could accomplish.
But none of my destinations has been a double wide at the edge of a forest or in the middle of a field.
Not that there would be anything wrong with that. It would just mark a cessation of snobbery that I hadn't anticipated -- till now.
To me, one of the best qualities in "Mainers" -- or "Maineacs," as one friend likes to say -- is this fierce independence and stubborn survival instinct, adorned with limited ornamentation. We seem to prefer function to form, saving our sense of artistic display for other things: tattoos, motorcycles, private roadside markets, an array of folk art and crafts.
I like it.
Not that I don't appreciate beauty, especially in natural order and symmetry. But I gladly embrace, too, a way of life that suggests clothes are more than costuming, that cars are means of transport and homes shelter. In that value set, the mobile home occupies a proud place, and the double wide represents really putting down roots.
Talk to me in a few months. By then, the metamorphosis might be complete. I might even own a hawg.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: