Down East 2013 ©
T.S. Eliot once said that “mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” Because T.S. Eliot was a great writer, we should probably assume that he pilfered that quote from someone else.
Authors and magazine editors inveigh against the evils of copying, but the truth is we all read each other’s work and think, “Hmm, I bet I could use that idea somehow.” Over the years, I’ve found inspiration for Down East in the unlikeliest places, from Texas Monthly to The Simpsons. Recently, I was reading National Geographic and happened upon an article titled “Who’s Number Two?” It began by noting that the world’s fastest land animal is the cheetah. But how many people know that the second-swiftest mammal is the pronghorn antelope?
The article got me thinking about Maine’s many runners-up. Kids, for example, learn in school that Katahdin (with its assorted peaks) ranks as our state’s tallest mountain. But what’s the second-highest mountain? It happens to be Sugarloaf. Maybe that factoid doesn’t surprise anyone who paid attention in eighth-grade geography. But do Mainers know that the Penobscot is actually shorter than our longest river, the St. John? Or that Sebago is actually deeper than our largest lake, Moosehead?
I can’t tell you how many news stories I’ve read that claim Bangor is Maine’s second largest city. Sorry, it’s not true. Lewiston is Maine’s second-most populous municipality (as anyone at the Franco-American Heritage-Center will tell you). Also, Eastport gets the nod as Maine’s easternmost city, but the town of Lubec is actually farther east as the gull flies.
There’s probably some lesson here about Americans’ obsession with being Number One and our general disinterest in also-rans. We’re always keen on the biggest, the fastest, the first. Sometimes in our quest to crown the superlative, however, we miss the big picture. Where do the first rays of sunlight strike the continental United States? Is it Cadillac Mountain, Mars Hill, or Quoddy Head — the answer is yes, yes, and yes, depending on the time of year. All three locales should share in this claim to fame.
Not that we’re entirely immune to this boastful impulse at Down East. The Audit Bureau of Circulations, which monitors the paid readership of magazines and newspapers, recently surprised us with some welcome news. For the first time ever, Down East magazine has become Maine’s largest paid-circulation periodical, outranking even the state’s daily papers. So who’s number two? We’ll leave it for the antelopes to toot their own pronghorns.