Maine Course: You Up for Down East?


I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have now lived here long enough to do what everybody else does, which is vacation in Maine.

Which I did last week.

My wife and I abandoned our children, our jobs, even our cats — left behind not just Facebook but the entire World Wide Web — and rented a cottage for a week in a 16-acre thicket of woods on the Maine coast. Where, you ask? I’m not sure. I believe it was someplace between Acadia National Park and needing a passport. As ignorant a newcomer as I am in Ipswich, I was even ignoranter — an even newercomer — in Maine.

But now, after seven continuous days of firsthand experience, I am an expert on Maine. As a public service, I offer seven fun facts:

  1. Maine produces nearly 90% of the nation’s lobster supply. Maine also produces 90% of the nation’s toothpick supply — because you always need a toothpick after eating lobster.
  2. Maine also has clams, but they don’t hold a candle to ours. They look pretty much like Ipswich clams, but the similarity ends there. Maine clams don’t taste right. They taste like a cross between an oyster and a rubber doorstop — and with a consistency somewhere between a Super Ball and, well, actually, a rubber doorstop.
  3. We thought we had it bad on the North Shore last winter, with 10 feet of snow, but that was child’s play compared to the folks Down East. They got 14 feet. It was not a pleasant time for them. Many ropes were gotten to the end of. Now that the weather is nice, Maine is absolutely wallpapered with For Sale signs. You can buy vast swaths of Maine real estate for rock-bottom prices. Unfortunately, you will neither be able to get onto nor off of your property during the winter, and when you finally do gain access, you will find that the roof collapsed under the tonnage of snow, and your living room is now a fungus farm.
  4. Maine’s state animal is the moose. Maine claims to have more moose per square mile than any other state. They perpetuate this myth with thousands of “Watch Out for Moose” signs along their highways. But the moose are not profuse. In fact, we have never yet seen a single such Down East beast. I now believe that there is actually only one moose, which they move from place to place, and take photographs of, to post the photos online. There is also just one cute little baby moose, who makes it into some of the photographs. There may have been more moose in Maine at one time, but after 14 feet of snow, they have all moved to Florida.
  5. Maine is also famous for its mosquitoes. Their mosquitoes are bigger than our mosquitoes, and growing rapidly. Thanks to the natural processes of evolution, Maine’s mosquitoes are enlarging to take up the space left behind by the moose. This should be no surprise. You’ve seen photos of moose standing in swamps. Mosquitoes breed in swamps. The only difference now is that the mosquitoes are six feet tall at the shoulder. And some are growing antlers.
  6. Maine is larger than the other five New England states combined. I never knew why until I spent a week there. Now I understand. They need the space for all that junk. Here in Massachusetts, we have “antique” shops, but Mainers are not given to such fancified euphemism. For the most part, they just tell it like it is. It’s junk. I saw more than one sign offering — without embellishment — “Old Stuff.” I saw enough junk shops in Maine to worry that we may soon have a shortage of junk in the rest of the country. If there’s a spike in the price of junk, Maine is gonna get rich.
  7. A favorite pastime for people in Maine is to watch for cars with Massachusetts plates and then pull out in front of them and drive 10 mph under the speed limit. Traveling to Maine? Plan accordingly.

I’m back now. It was a beautiful vacation. Really. But I’m happy to be home — for the reasonable weather, for the tasty clams, for the normal-sized mosquitoes, and most of all, for the sensible traffic.


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