July 10 – 16, 2020Vol. 22, No. 5

When a State Turns 200

by Esther J. Perne

When a state turns 200, history steps up, fascinating facts emerge, timelines are charted, fictions flow, and anecdotes make headlines. When a state turns 200 and the big birthday party is postponed a year and a day, the qualities to be celebrated remain undiminished, because when a state turns 200 and that state is Maine, all it takes is a quick look around, a short drive around, a brief commune with the outdoors to understand why the state is called "the great state of Maine."

The facts and even the fictions, as unique and intriguing and significant as they are, don't do Maine full justice. The fabric of the state does.

The fabric of Maine is the awesome, inspiring geography. Maine was carved by retreating glaciers that graced the state with unique formations — kettle ponds, eskers, cirques, high mountains and mighty rivers, thousands of lakes and a coastline so ragged that straightened it is the third longest in the United States. With time, trees carpeted this diverse land, some so lofty that they were fit for a king and many so intense that a booming timber industry was born.

Maine can be credited with many other successful industries, too: fur, apples, potatoes, sardines, shoes, wool, textiles, tools, maple syrup, leather, paper, wood products, tourism, retirement — industries that have fueled the diverse economy, brought recognition to the state and made famous the Maine work ethic.

The fabric of Maine is the people — unique, independent, hard-working, appreciative of their state — from the Indian natives to the arrivals from everywhere. Maine people are a roll call of diverse names: Indian names, French names, English names, names from all over the world, old world and new world. There is no need to follow the surnames in a phone book or directory to figure out from where. Instead look at an ordinary Maine road map — a DeLorme most likely — and read the names of rivers and ridges, of hunting grounds and towns, roads and wherever raw land was coaxed into farming or rough waters into fishing ports or a man took a whim to repeat the name of a place he had been to or was from. Yet for all of those names romantic and exotic and from far-removed places, Maine remains a simple one-syllable state — the only one in the nation.

The fabric of Maine is verbal. Maine is a story-telling state, a tall tales state, a stretching the truth state, where going to town is part business and more socializing. From the hum at the locals' table in a coffee shop to the casual Saturday music jams in a neighbor's kitchen, words flow in Maine — words of work and heritage and paying the bills.

The fabric of Maine is survival: weather, hunger, heat, loneliness — live through come what may. Live through a big birthday bash being postponed.

But wait. The fabric of Maine is flexibility. According to Maine State Senator Bill Diamond, head of the Maine Bicentennial Commission the celebration won't miss a step. The parades, the tall ships, the expo, the time capsule will all take place on the same dates plus a day in 2021.

Maine is always ready for a good party, but it doesn't always hold one. There might be a blizzard or a pandemic. The fabric of Maine is patience. A year and a day? No problem.

Until then the best way to appreciate this 200-year-old state is to walk out the door and gaze at the stars on a clear night — stars that large areas of the world never see; or walk through history along a downtown street on a genuine sidewalk — a walk that in many parts of the world would not be wise; or go to a lake or trail and see and hear from nature what other people only dream.

When a state turns 200 and the party is postponed, the qualities to be celebrated are not diminished.