My sister, Virginia, spent a year of high school at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics up in Limestone, which, if you’ve never heard of it, is so far up north your cellphone thinks you’re in Canada.

Her time there overlapped with me working toward getting my driver’s license. Since I-95 north of Bangor has two lanes and almost no traffic, which makes it perfect for a highly anxious new driver, I have a lot of happy memories involving the 75 mph speed limit and my family’s old Lincoln, which had a V8 engine.

My Uncle Tim‘s mother lived in Presque Isle, and we’d frequently drive him up with us to visit her. At the time, Vivian was in her mid-90s, and we didn’t know how much time she had left. Uncle Tim would accept the ride only if he knew we were going up to visit Virginia – he didn’t want to feel like an imposition – so I’ll admit, sometimes we lied and said we were picking her up and bringing her home for the weekend just so he’d let us drive him to and from Presque Isle.  

Vivian Lamar outlived her son by six years, dying a few weeks ago at the age of 101, deaf as a post but otherwise in good health up until the very end. Stopping at her house was always a highlight on those trips because she wouldn’t let us leave until we took two days’ worth of sandwiches. She insisted on shoveling her neighbor’s driveway into her 90s, because, as she said, he was elderly and couldn’t manage it himself. (Her neighbor was in his 70s.) We joked that the cold air up north preserved her, but it could just be that they don’t make them like Mrs. Lamar anymore. Just because she wasn’t related to us by blood doesn’t mean she wasn’t family, so my mom and I made the long drive up 95 once again to pay our respects. 

If you’ve never been north of Bangor, up to The County (Aroostook), you should, at least once. Halfway up the state, the forest changes from deciduous to boreal – to subarctic taiga, all evergreens and bone-white birch. There’s something about the way the trees loom so tall on the sides of the highway that you can’t see the towns past the exit signs that really make you think, “Ah, yes, so this is why Stephen King writes the way he does.”  

Eventually, sections of forest start opening up to potato fields, which can be surprisingly beautiful for such a lumpy vegetable. This is around the time that you start seeing the first of the steel and fiberglass planets in the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s scale model of the solar system, which extends for nearly 100 miles along Route 1.


Starting with Pluto, in Houlton, you can follow these planets all the way to the sun (located on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus, of course). Each mile along the highway is equivalent to one “astronomical unit,” which, I won’t lie, I didn’t realize was a real measurement until the process of drafting this column. The installation makes what can be a long, monotonous drive into a journey across the universe. (I’m pleading the Fifth when it comes to jokes about looking for Uranus.)

It also gives you something to look for, because there aren’t enough cars to play the license plate game. My mom and I, two writers trapped in a car together, also play a game where we make up characters based on the exit sign names, which usually have two town names on them. For example, as we drove by “Alton Lagrange,” Mom decided he was a well-to-do farmer who is a prominent citizen because he invented a vitally important tractor part. A few miles later, we passed “Howland Lagrange,” who I figured would be the ne’er-do-well brother. 

There are surprising contrasts up there in The County. You pass by 200-year-old farmhouses, still sheltering farmers as they have for 200 years, but then you look past the planted rows and see modern wind turbines up on the hill. They’re usually far enough away to look like pinwheels or, to my Catholic-school-educated (and very myopic) eyes, like the crosses up on Golgotha. And while you might not expect the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which all the locals just call St. Mary’s, of course) in Presque Isle to be a bastion of internationalism, the priest leading Mrs. Lamar’s service was Father Anthony Korir, originally of Kenya.  

There are no more Lamars left up there for us to visit anymore, but that doesn’t mean I won’t find some other reason to go back up north. Looking at the vast majesty of the Maine wilderness is reason enough for me, I think. 

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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