We were sitting outside the snack shack at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor last week when my mother, a resident of the smallest state in the Union, said something we’ll both long remember: “Maine could be a country,” the keen observer from Rhode Island said as we chomped on an oatmeal cookie and sipped tasty coffee during an afternoon of frolic and adventure in Vacationland.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

“What do mean, Ma?,” I responded. “Is it Maine’s geographical size? Is it the different things you can see and do here? Is it the different kinds of people? What do you mean exactly?” this former nosy news reporter wanted to know.

“All of that and more,” she shot back, somewhat perturbed with my need for explanatory details. “It just seems more like a country than a state.”

The conversation that took place in the beautiful Boothbay garden was preceded by days of visiting different sites in Maine, everywhere from Bath and Brunswick to Fryeburg, Harpswell and Scarborough.

I, the Mainer, was enjoying a staycation due to coronavirus lockdowns and my mother, with a fresh COVID-19 negative test result, was in Maine for a weeklong vacation.

The conversation, in persuasive writing terms, provided the premise, theme and conclusion for the week’s adventures: Maine is a big place with lots to do, offers a chance to get away from life’s worries and is unequaled in beauty and grandeur.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time, since we both needed a change of pace and scenery after five wearying and worrying months of government-imposed lockdowns, societal breakdown and economic collapse.

After my mom’s insightful declaration, we set about trying to figure out why “Maine could be a country.”

Most countries, especially the important ones, my mother noted, have coastlines. Check that off the list. Maine has one of the best coastlines in the world.

Countries also have definite regions where daily life differs dramatically. From the potato farms and poutine of Aroostook County to the inland paper mills and coastal fishing industry, Maine is as diverse as the number of plant species surrounding us as we conversed at the botanical gardens.

As any large country would, Maine’s populace varies widely in terms of wealth, as well. We have everyone from the über-rich owners of coastal mansions to impoverished country shack dwellers.

And the people who live in those various housing situations make a difference both locally, nationally and globally at their jobs. We have scientists working on COVID-19 drugs, top-tier colleges, huge construction firms, oil companies, shipbuilders important to the nation’s defense, a revered bottled water company and a lobster industry known worldwide.

Like a country, we also have thick regional accents. A Cornish resident sounds a lot different from a Houlton or Eastport resident, for example.

Our multifaceted natural surroundings befit a vast country, as well. Huge mountains, blueberry-laden plains, rocky coastline, massive lakes, huge swaths of forest and all the critters that inhabit these places are vast and varied.

And the place is just plain big. It takes longer to drive from Portland to Presque Isle than it would to drive from Portland across four other New England states to New York City.

Yes, we concluded as we enjoyed our afternoon garden-side respite, Maine could be a country unto itself. It has all the ingredients.

So, if you haven’t already, consider spending your 2020 pandemic-limited vacation time exploring our great state that, as my wise mom says, could indeed be a country.

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