Maine has a raft of unincorporated townships, and some of them even have names

For those of us who come to New England from other parts of America, the insistence that here we live in either a town or a city but nothing in between comes as a shock. There’s no saying “near” anywhere, even if the place has its own post office. Nope, either city or town, the difference being the kind of government it has.

Eastport, for instance, is a city, while neighboring Lubec, roughly the same size, is a town.

And each may have its own neighborhoods or villages, further complicating the picture. A town typically has its historic center, even when larger development came later somewhere else within the boundaries – maybe out along the railroad tracks, for instance, or the mills. Note that when you look at maps.

Maine adds a third twist to this model. Much of the state was surveyed into parcels, typically six-by-six-mile squares, that never lived up to expectations, at least in terms of habitation and development. They remain uninhabited, seasonally or year-’round, or lack sufficient population to self-govern themselves.

Here in the Pine Tree State, they’re designated as townships or even plantations, though some do have names or have reverted by necessity from self-rule to management by the state.

Thus, when driving along you might see a highway marker like the one announcing that you’re entering T26 ED BPP.

There are many more signs like this, equally baffling. This one translates as Township 26, Eastern District, Binghams’ Penobscot Purchase. Don’t ask me more, I’m already confused, as I’m sure you are.

There’s even another variation, PLT, for Plantation – and, no, it has nothing to do with fields of cotton or tobacco.

The Plt stands for plantation, which has nothing to do with a privately owned farm in Maine.

Significantly, more than half of the state is uninhabited. Hard to think of that, considering the urban and suburban density and congestion of so much of the rest of the Northeast.

Somehow, nobody’s counting mosquitos or moose in the equation.

What do you have to explain to others about the political setup of the place you live? Ward politics? The county sheriff? The nut jobs, right or left?

Any number of things can happen with the color

Golden perfection.

As you likely know, trying to record the changing colors is a challenge. Does your camera ever get the hues and shades to match what you’re seeing? Or is it usually either too cool or too garish? How about those of you who are instead using watercolors, oils, pastels, or acrylic?

One spoiler for a photo, as I’ve found the hard way, is utility lines along most roadways. They’re the prime culprit among a host of other distractions your eyes don’t catch but the lenses do. This year, I was on guard and enjoyed the color in those stretches without stopping to take a shot.

Since most of Maine’s forests is evergreen, I scoped out stretches of deciduous trees free of those intrusions before the color change and kept checking in weekly, at minimum. In my case, the core of the route was an unpaved lane in the Baring district of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the country roads getting there.

There’s no way of predicting how things will develop. Drought, blight, storms can take a toll.

But we know what will follow. Boy, do we.

Here’s a look at how it all unfolds here.

It is an invitation to kayak.
Round Pond.
How swiftly it passes.
Even when half of the leaves have already fallen, there’s more to come.
Loud geese take flight. Quaking aspen and birches give the forest a dominant range of yellows.
By midmonth, the palette is turning somber.

And if you want to see what I experienced in New Hampshire, go to my Chicken Farmer blog, where I’ve also posted in-depth reflections on the soul of New England itself. The posts and slideshows appear in the New England Spirit category from August through October 2013.


Looking ahead to the year 2050

I’ve been part of a study group that’s been trying to envision a sustainable future for our small corner of the globe.

It’s been an exciting exercise, actually, looking for ways we can enhance what we have in conjunction with neighboring communities.

But it’s also terrifying, when we look more broadly.

Nine billion population, up from one billion when I was born. Can the globe really carry that load? I’m doubtful, but maybe.

Let’s start with increasing urbanization. I was blown away by the fact that 75 percent of Britain is considered urbanized today.

Add to that global warming. The regions where population is booming will be scrambling for food and water. Yes, water becomes essential. As well as ways to earn a livable income.

Now consider the automation of many jobs, something that points toward income readjustment, which is being largely ignored in public discussion.

Get political, and Republicans are in utter denial about all this, something I find deeply troubling. Engage, intelligently, will you? The future of humanity is at stake. Or are you really dinosaurs, just looking only for your next meal?

According to the projections, I’m in a good place to survive this – or at least my descendants are. Yeah, the ocean will be closer to our doorstep, even if we are higher than the downtown we adore. Still, the directions on the charts point to a lot of turbulence ahead, especially desperation and violence.

Here, in these workshops, we’ve been looking at the enhanced value of tourism, seeing our place as a pocket of natural wonder. As much as I love that projection, I doubt things will be that easy.

Will Florida actually be off the map by then, along with all of its reactionary politics? Or maybe those partisans will still be denying global warming would ever happen.

Where do you see the world in just 30 years?

Or even in just six, 2030?


Anticipating the fall foliage

It’s a common topic of conversation this time of year in New England.

How’s the foliage shaping up?

Are drought or wetness, heat or cold, or any number of other factors impacting it negatively?

Or is it going to be another banner month across the six-state region?

Vermont and New Hampshire tourism tries to capitalize the most from the colorful outburst, but they’re hardly alone in sometimes dazzling displays. New York and Pennsylvania can also be memorable.

So here we are, trying to make the most of the outdoors before winter cold sets in all too soon.

What’s it like where you are?


The dramatic bridge over the Penobscot Narrows

For many people, the dramatic wishbone bridge at Fort Knox, Maine, is the welcome to Downeast Maine, the portion of the Pine Tree State that sits east of Penobscot Bay and its river.

The big span carries the major highway to Acadia National Park, for one thing, and allows shipping to continue upstream to Bangor and Brewer. It’s also the slighter slower of the two routes from our home to the rest of America.

The glass pyramid atop the one pillar covers a public observation deck. It’s on our to-visit list.

(Photos by Jessica J. Williams)

Off to Aroostook County

I was feeling a little down as Eastport turned into its annual ghost town. Cooped up, too, especially under the tedious revisions to the Dover history, even before seeing how much I still don’t know and will likely never know, even if I spent a month at the University of Massachusetts going back through the Quaker archives.

Then I realized I hadn’t been anywhere other than eastern Washington County since mid-April. Six months confined to this sliver of rocky coastline and piney interior. The largest city has only ten thousand population and has commercially suffered under the Covid border restrictions. So I decided to see something new and finally settled on Aroostook County, widely known simply as The County, and thus hit the road at 7:15 Monday morning and headed up U.S. 1 without a plan other than turning back around noon.

I can now tell you it’s four hours to Caribou and a lovely drive, some of it through long stretches of forest, others through the tidy farmlands of The County itself. Yes, tidy, unlike many of the rural residences in this state.

Remote Aroostook County is famed as potato farming country.

Turned out to be the perfect day. Sunny, foliage in its prime, little traffic, small roadside sheds selling new potatoes on the honor system. I really felt at home amid all the farmland wonder.

Feeling sated with the visual glory, I felt ready to head home. At Caribou, turned over to Fort Fairfield to follow U.S. 1A back to Mars Hill, and was surprised to find a yellow “share the road” sign with a horse carriage emblem. And sure enough, I found a large colony of Amish. I’ve missed them and Mennonites and Brethren since moving to New England, and this was exciting.

Amish families are finding a place here.

After passing one Amish farm and its bright red barn – yes, that seems to be the custom here, red next to the plain white farmhouse and laundry on the line – I noticed a small church and whipped around to take a closer look.

Never would have if a Friend hadn’t tweaked my interest by sharing something he found online.

The meetinghouse is one that escaped Silas Weeks’ research for his definitive book, too.

Afterward, I learned that one of our good friends was from Caribou, not further north as I’d thought. And then another was from Presque Isle.

So now I have a much better grasp of what folks are talking about when the say “The County.”

I should also mention I came home with 60 pounds of new potatoes from three different stands. Ten pounds for five dollars, three different varieties. Turns out they’re ones that didn’t pass the baggers’ standards, usually because of irregular shape or size, but that’s no problem for us. The skins of new potatoes are so soft and tasty – no need to peel them, even for mashed potatoes. You do need to unbag them, wash and inspect them, before storing. Otherwise, a few damaged ones can spread rot.


Next time I venture that far north, I plan to visit the entire solar system. Seriously. I caught a clue of it with a model of Saturn atop a pole beside U.S. 1 followed miles later by Neptune. Turns out all of the planets sit beside the road to Presque Isle, scaled in size and distance from the sun at the University of Maine branch campus. There really is a lot of emptiness in space.

One more thing to impress me.

Is there a dry cleaner in the county?

Geographically, Sunrise County is one of the largest in New England – the county line is an hour-and-a-half drive away from where I live, unless you’re going to Canada – but there are a lot of things we don’t have.

There are only three traffic lights, for instance – all in Calais en route to the busy international border crossing.

So I was wondering, just in case, where the closest dry cleaner is. We have two laundromats, but say, what if I wanted to send my dress shirts out to be washed and pressed, as I did back when working in an office?

The answer, it turns out, is forget it.

This really is a do-it-yourself kind of place.

If you’re planning on visiting, be prepared.