Why L.L. Bean started making all those kayaks, canoes, and duck boots

Maine is bigger than you’d think, and half of it is still unpopulated.

In fact, the easternmost county in the USA is more than twice the size of Rhode Island or New York’s Long Island – or, if you prefer, bigger than the two of them put together. And it’s merely half of Downeast Maine, with Hancock County comprising most of the western flank.

Washington County, aka “Sunrise County,” has a population of only 32,000 – about the size of Juneau or Fairbanks, Alaska, or Dover, New Hampshire, my home of the previous 21 years. You know, the one I repeatedly referred to as a small city. My, how my perspective’s changing!

Most Downeast folks live near the rugged coastline, with the largest municipality in Washington County being Calais, the connection to mainland Canada, followed by Machias-East Machias, Eastport, Lubec, and Jonesport.

The four largest public high schools have about a hundred graduates a year – combined.

One of the many streams and wetlands.

There are many reasons Downeast reminds me of the Far West, though it’s generally much wetter. In fact, 21 percent of the county is covered with water, much of it as big ponds running along the valleys between the low-elevation mountains. Many of these often island-specked bodies extend two to five miles in length and at least a mile across. And that’s before getting to the bogs and fens or wild rivers and tide meadows or marshes and swamps or prolific beaver ponds. The technical definitions vary, depending perhaps on how wet your shoes get. Quibble as folks might, the northern half of the county seems to be more lakes and wetlands than solid ground. I’m not sure if the Atlantic bays and coves even count in this tally. Quite simply, we’re surrounded by a lot of liquid, so watch where you step.

Lake Meddybemps

What also strikes me is how little development rings the shoreline of the lakes. Many have only a few “camps,” as we New Englanders call the cabins, trailers, or cottages and their docks, with the remainder in full, unspoiled forest. Make a bid, if you must.

It does make for a lot of unspoiled tranquility, for those who are so inclined, if you can deal with black flies and mosquitos. Moose often come as a bonus.

Often you’ll even see a beaver lodge.

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