Don’t think for a minute that growing up in Maine guarantees one access to the ocean. Don’t assume that all Mainers have climbed Katahdin. Don’t assume we all grew up being stuffed into kayaks. It’s not like that for most of us.

If you grew up inland, like I did, it’s more likely that you spent your free time in a public pool than in the ocean. It’s more likely that you went to a lake once or twice a year and thought yourself lucky. It’s more likely that you hiked down to the local drugstore for a pack of Marlboro Lights than up to a majestic vista overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s likely that you had more in common with a kid from the landlocked Midwest than you did with a kid from Kennebunkport.

The Maine we read about in glossy magazines does not, and never did, exist for most us locals.

Don’t believe me? Drive north. Stay inland. Don’t head for the water, and you will see houses and farms for sale at dirt-cheap prices, begging to be inhabited.

My parents, who still live in central Maine, have bought and sold several houses that were destined for rubble. It will never make them rich, but it does generate some income and improve a neighborhood.


So, go. Please go. Buy a house or two. Rural Maine needs you.

 Transformation in the North Woods: Camp Natarswi sits at the entrance to Baxter State Park between Upper Togue Pond and Lower Togue Pond. Founded in 1936, it still exists as a Girl Scout camp and just happens to be located at the base of one of the most glorious places in the world.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.

To quote President Obama: “Katahdin Woods and Waters’ daytime scenery is awe-inspiring, from the breadth of its mountain-studded landscape, to the channels of its free-flowing streams with their rapids, falls and quiet water, to its vantages for viewing the Mount Katahdin massif, the ‘greatest mountain.’ The area’s night skies rival this experience, glittering with stars and planets and occasional displays of the aurora borealis, in this area of the country known for its dark sky.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Like so many young Mainers, I might never have seen this “awe-inspiring” landscape had not my parents scraped together enough cash to send me and my sister to camp.


 The junk in your trunk: We dragged our trunks through the wooded paths to our platform tents. Our vintage footlockers weighed about 700 pounds and were filled with cutoffs, socks and underwear (but probably not a raincoat, because we did not own clothes for the in-between weather).

Sneakers, yes. A towel, yes. Washcloths, wool blankets in place of a sleeping bag, paper, a pencil, stamps, maybe a book, sheets, a bathing suit (that would not be washed for two weeks) and a flashlight. Definitely a flashlight.

The trunk was then lifted onto the platform and stowed at the end of our cots. It carried everything we needed for our two-week adventure in Maine’s North Woods.

• Choose your journey: At Natarswi, a camper chose to hike or canoe. Once you made your decision, the next two weeks were filled with skill-based-learning activities that either got you to the top of Katahdin or to an island for a two-day canoe adventure. I chose the water and my sister Jill chose the mountain.

I thought going to camp was about getting away from my boring townie life. I wanted an adventure, but learning to hike or canoe was nothing I had ever experienced, so I could not imagine doing it.

Sometime in the middle of this escape from my boring townie life, I learned how to “thread the needle.” With my perfected J-stroke, I steered a beautiful Old Town canoe between two giant boulders.


The pride and purpose gained from this singular accomplishment prepared me for surviving the two nights on an island in a country known for its dark skies. That, and the six or seven silver metal canoes filled with boy campers who landed on the same island for their own adventure.

And my sister, weighing in at about 65 pounds, climbed the greatest mountain.

“With a half of a peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich squished in a used bread bag tied to my belt, it was the most amazing sandwich I had ever eaten – one mile high,”she recalled.

This was the summer we claimed Maine as our own.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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