August 23, 2021 by Jean
“The Way Life Should Be” is a tourist slogan adopted by Maine in the 2000s, replacing the previous “Vacationland.” The original iteration of this sign said, “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” When the Trump-like Republican, Paul LePage, became governor in 2011, the words “Open for Business” were added. When the State House changed hands again in 2019, the new Democratic governor, Janet Mills, got rid of the “Open for Business” sentiment and changed “Welcome to Maine” to “Maine: Welcome Home,” intended as a message of openness and inclusion to “new Mainers,” especially Maine’s growing African immigrant population.
But what does it mean to say that Maine represents “The Way Life Should Be”? For many of Maine’s “summer people,” the phrase evokes the slower pace and relaxation of summer vacations or childhood summer camping experiences in Maine – of time on or in the water along the Maine coast, on the shore of one of its many lakes, or at a fishing camp in northern Maine. For most, I think, “the way life should be” also references the sheer physical beauty of Maine’s landscapes. For me, there is also a third meaning: the sense of community, trust in strangers, and helpfulness that is part of Maine culture.
That sense of community has sometimes seemed a bit frayed in recent years by political differences and by divisions over masks and vaccines during the pandemic, but I was reminded recently that it is still there, at the base of Maine living. Not long after I finished re-reading Paul Bogard’s The End of Night, I tuned in to a program about Maine’s “dark sky movement” on Maine Calling, a statewide public radio call-in show. During the program, I submitted a question via email, introducing myself as a “seventy-something who can no longer drive after dark” and asking if anyone in Maine was running dark sky tours that provide transportation from nearby lodging to star-gazing parties for those of us unable to get to and from these dark sites on our own. My question was read on air and the guest experts discussed it and made some suggestions.
That was on a Friday. On Monday morning, I found an email message from Jennifer Rooks, the host of the program, forwarding the following message from a listener:
If you would like to pass my email onto the 70 year old who had not seen the Milky Way, I would be willing to try and arrange that for her.
My husband is … an astronomer … [who] has given numerous star parties and conducted night sky events in Baxter State Park.
I immediately got in touch with this helpful stranger. After several messages back and forth discussing possibilities and logistics, we hatched a plan: While she and her astronomer husband are on a month-long camping vacation in Downeast Maine (the southeast, coastal part of the state, near the border with New Brunswick, Canada), I am going to rent a nearby cottage for several nights, and we will hope for clear dark skies on at least one of those nights, when they will take me out for my own private star party.
Soon, I will be heading Downeast to combine all the meanings of “the way life should be” – a relaxing vacation on a beautiful part of the Maine coast where I will enjoy the kindness of helpful strangers, reminding me all over again why I love making my home in Maine.