Hitting the County Hard!
I’m ashamed to admit that I was born, raised, and have always lived in the state of Maine but had never set foot in Aroostook County until recently. A fellow writer scheduled book readings at both University of Fort Kent and University of Presque Isle for us. We would be reading from an anthology Compassionate Journey we are involved in with three other authors. This dear friend lives on the very first mile of Route 1, so I was not just in the county but almost at the very top. It is said that to truly experience a new area well, one has to stay with someone who lives there. This certainly was true of my visit to Fort Kent, Caribou, and Presque Isle. I met wonderful people and had the inside scoop on where to go to see the important things.
McDonald’s is the mecca of Fort Kent for many people, and this is where I met two nice, elderly French gentlemen upon my arrival after a few hours of dodging frost heaves and logging trucks. There were no numbers on the buildings on Main Street making it difficult to find my friend’s apartment, so I stopped in at the infamous fast food place for directions. I was unnerved by the French conversations that filled the air inside the restaurant. When I asked a group of people which of two buildings across the street was number seventy eight, two older gentlemen, both sporting navy blue watch caps at a rakish angle, flanked me and one offered help in broken English. With much effort, I managed to get them to understand what I was looking for. They conferred with one another in French. One of them said the other one would go find out for me. Protests from me about how this wasn’t necessary fell on deaf ears, and the gentleman who remained with me stayed very close, watched out the window, and pointed in a very animated fashion as the other dear man scurried across the street and ran about the two buildings. The investigator finally returned, related his findings in French, and then both men pointed to a building on the right. I thanked them. Later, my friend I was staying with laughed when I related my experience as she thought she knew the two gentlemen who had assisted me so graciously and told me they were indeed very helpful to everyone.
There are gorgeous examples of old architecture in the northern part of Aroostook County, but my favorite ones were the huge, Catholic churches. A beautiful church with a very unique, porous-looking steeple graces Fort Kent just down the street from where I was staying. Others peeked out from small villages as I traveled down Route 1. In Edmundston after I crossed the border into Canada, I was overwhelmed by the stately Church of the Immaculate Conception. With its stone façade and stained glass windows, it played king of the hill and watched over the New Brunswick city elegantly. Its interior was just as breath-taking with gracious statures and pulpits.
Farms dotted Routes 1, 11, and 161 as I traveled around. Too many of them were deserted, though, showing signs of the economic depression of the area. Bright business signs on the roadside made promises of things like fresh baked goods or tasty lunches that couldn’t be kept as the building were closed down. As in other areas of central and northern Maine, here businesses often fail too soon.
Our book readings at the universities were successful. At Fort Kent, young nursing students turned out in great numbers to hear my friend, the director of nursing at UMFK, and me. Our anthology about mother/daughter angst at times seemed to puzzle them, but many stopped by to talk after the program. I learned even Generation Zs have troubles and worries about their mothers, and there is a great need to talk openly about it. Our audience at UMPI was receptive as well. I met wonderful women in their senior years who are brilliant and busy with diverse interests.
One elusive inhabitant of the county absolutely bewitched me with its two, brief appearances. Traveling north on Route 11 after Sherman Mills, Mt. Katahdin made an appearance through the clouds on my left. I stopped at the roadside to take the picture shown with this blog posting. The mountain played peek-a-boo with me again as I was going south on 95. A bit out of Houlton upon seeing a sign for Oakfield, the giant Katahdin suddenly appeared on the horizon of the highway in front of me. It was magnificent. It disappeared quickly not to be seen again for the rest of the drive.
Aroostook County is a beautiful place that is probably just as fun to see when it is not covered with snow as I saw it the first week in April. I’d like to give a shout out to Bogan Books in Fort Kent for promoting our anthology and also to the Swamp Buck, a restaurant and bar with unique décor and good food. All in all, I am glad I finally took the drive up north!