Down East 2013 ©
By Julia Spencer-Fleming
This is the paradox of Maine: We’re a place filled with down-to-earth, unpretentious, proudly humble people who love nothing better than to look at ourselves. Nowhere but in Maine do folks spend so much time thinking and talking and arguing about what defines their state. Alabamians, for instance, don’t vex themselves wondering what symbol best expresses their slice of Dixie. (Everyone knows it’s football.) Residents of Washington, D.C., don’t get into arguments over who qualifies as a real resident. (If you’re there for more than one election cycle, you’re a native.) But here in Vacationland? You can kill an afternoon debating whether rock salt or kitty litter is the Maine way to skid-proof the back of a pickup truck.
Maine Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Pine Tree State (Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut; hardcover; 112 pages; $16.95) steps into the fray with a look at what makes Maine so irresistibly, uniquely Maine. Jennifer Smith-Mayo and Matthew P. Mayo do wheel out the old reliables: there are lighthouses, blueberries, and chickadees, all photographed with the kind of rich detail that has the reader shivering in the Atlantic breeze or salivating over a pie. But Maine Icons goes beyond lobsters, L.L. Bean, and Lubec. Have you ever run the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race? Browsed the books and antiques at the Big Chicken Barn? Flown a seaplane to the remote Libby Camps in the Great North Woods? I know, me neither.
Now, it’s true, I’ve only lived in Maine for twenty-four years, which makes me something of a newcomer. However, Maine Icons had a few entries that surprised even my husband, a graduate of Deer Isle-Stonington High School. (That gives him pretty solid Down East credentials.) “Have you ever had bean hole beans?” I asked on a recent drive to Boothbay Harbor.
“What? No. What are they, cooked in the ground?”
“Yep. Baked overnight in a pot surrounded by coals.” I showed him the picture, and he began making the sort of noises a big, bearded Mainer does when he Must Eat Beans. Fortunately, the Mayos provide information on the museums and fairs where this gourmet dish is served. They also let the reader in on the best places to see Maine’s native tribal art, where you can celebrate a three-day lupine festival, and the must-have accessory in every Mainer’s vehicle. (No, it’s not an ice scraper.)
Part travel guide, part food journal, part history: Like many Mainers, Maine Icons wears more than one hat. It’s the kind of book to keep in the summer camp for day-trip ideas, or to have on the lunch counter, where the old salts can argue whether Moody’s Diner really does have the best pies. It will be a welcome gift to the couple making their very first visit to the Pine Tree State, and, perhaps most importantly, the perfect bedside read for all those not lucky enough to live here year round. Just open it to your page, “Summercators,” and sink into the view of lobsterboats, mountains, and bay. Not long until summer comes round again. Not long at all.