Naturally, there have been moments when we find ourselves second-guessing our decision to relocate to a remote fishing village at the other end of Maine. Technically, it’s a city, reflecting its peak as the sardine-packing capital of the world, though today’s year-’round population is a mere 1,300 – about the same as the enrollment in my high school minus the 700 freshmen.
I could easily do a Tendrils on what the place doesn’t have – a Laundromat, Chinese or Mexican restaurant, even a pizza takeout, for starters. It’s in an economically challenged region, to put it politely, and the county has a population of only 32,000 stretched across an area about 2½ times the size of Long Island, New York. That comes to about 10 residents per square mile. What, three households? Around half of the townships have no residents at all or at least not enough to incorporate – they have to rely on the state for local governance.
The closest city of any size and resources is St. John, New Brunswick, population 68,000, an hour and three-quarters drive mostly east – once the U.S.-Canada border reopens.
Next, and more likely, is Bangor, 33,000 population, a two-hour-plus drive to the west. (Practically speaking, it’s also the nearest Toyota dealer, when we need serious work on the Prius, the closest medical specialists, the closest U.S. airport providing commercial service or even an Interstate highway.) Portland, seemingly cosmopolitan, takes four hours – with Boston an additional two or so beyond that. (More in the tourist season, when traffic backs up forever at the turnpike toll plazas.)
Are we crazy?
Yes, I’d have to say.
We’re also enchanted.
Crucially, Eastport – on the Bold Coast in what’s aptly dubbed Sunrise County – does have an active arts community, making me think of the TV series “Northern Exposure” and its quirky characters.
And there’s all that North Atlantic water and maritime activity. What makes an ocean so mesmerizing, anyway? The appeal goes far beyond romance for those who rely on moody appearances. This new realm is also deadly and terrifying and constantly changing, unlike anything I knew growing up in landlocked Ohio, for sure. Not even the then far-off Lake Erie.
Somehow, Eastport quickly revives my memories of Port Townsend on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, back in the late ’70s. At the time, it was an eclectic blend of working-class, outdoors types, and marginal artists, many somehow connected to the Fort Worden state park for the arts. Its proximity to booming Seattle, a mere 2½ to 3½-hour trip, plus any down time waiting for ferry connections, does put it in a cosmopolitan orb, unlike Eastport’s seven- to nine-hour drive or bus ride from the Hub of the Universe, Boston.
When I lived in Washington state, I harbored dreams of moving from our home in the desert orchards east of the Cascades Range and resettling somewhere like Port Townsend, perhaps even up in the Alaska Panhandle or on coastal British Columbia. That was crushed after the eruption of Mount Saint-Helens and career upheavals that had me reeling back to the Midwest and then Baltimore and finally New Hampshire. I really missed opportunities to spend time in the wilderness during much of that. Even small pockets of forest could be rarities.
Eastport, though, has rekindled that awareness. It’s not just the deer all over town or the eagles or the seal and then whale I saw from the lantern room of a lighthouse across the channel. There’s also the First People’s presence, which was a part of my Northwest experience. Did I mention you have to drive through the Passamaquoddy reservation to get to town?
In ways, I’m sensing the move promises me a chance to get down to some serious unfinished business. Me, with my certificate in urban studies, my yoga training, time among Plain Quakers and the more liberal end of Mennonites, my labors as a poet and novelist, and all those years in the newsroom.