Unless you got caught and eaten, it's been a good summer
if you're a trout, though it probably hasn't been
the season most of us would have hoped for. The rains have
kept visitors down, there's been lots of grass to mow,
retail business has been off a bit, and apart from the weather,
sometimes it's hard to see why things are as they are.
When that happens, going somewhere's a decent idea.
Leaving the Catskills even for change of scenery does make
some of us cranky, though it can pay off in new perspectives,
or at least in understanding what it means that everything
comes at a price. The license plates in Maine say Vacationland,
and there's no way to miss that the state's economic
engine is one big pipeline of cars up an interstate highway.
The historic route, the costal route, has been so long choked
with traffic it's all but lost its sense of place, even
as it passes through some of the county's oldest and
most beautifully sited towns. At 10 mph with a Burger King
every 15 minutes, it's kind of like any place in America,
except for the lobster graphics on a good share of the business
signage, part of a transformation of what's regionally
unique into a signature caricature of itself, like the pilgrimage
shopping town of Freeport. Half-looking for a pair of steel
toed or Kevlar-lined boots in a place where LL Bean, Patagonia,
and The North Face all share a parking complex, I finally
get the answer I should have guessed: "Oh sure, I know
what you mean. Yeah, you'd have to go to Sears for that."
Okay no problem, there's one back in Kingston or better
yet, there's Kenco. Perhaps it's the perception
of ruggedness that sells better than the reality, as if protected
from drizzle in a sexy $200 rain shell, we might also be magically
protected from puncture or chainsaw accident, or maybe if
the future heads south, fundamentalist Islam or John Ashcroft's
read of the Constitution, whichever's scarier.
Thankfully though, we live in a part of the world with a pretty
low threshold for B.S. And that's a reflection
both of the sanity and the soundness of our native cultural
values, and the critical thinking of those who've located
here by choice. Each stream has enriched the other, and our
Catskills civilization in the 21st century is amongst the
sanest in the world. That's why of course we have the
kind of lively dialogue we tend to, especially when it comes
to navigating the future.
Halfway up the Maine coast, a few miles upstream from where
a formidable river melds with the sea, a pack of harbor seals,
fifty or sixty on an offshore spit of rock, flop and snort
and grunt, bellies to the sky and stuffed with herring. I
watch this from a place, an old family farm, where back in
the sixties neurobiologist Dr.John Lilly wrote Man and Dolphin
one summer, still the seminal work in the field of interspecies
communication. Funded by a lifetime National Science Foundation
grant, Lilly was immortalized as the William Hurt character
in Altered States, the guy who discovered that dolphins talk,
invented the isolation tank, and whose life helped prove that
understanding comes through taking risks, that risk is personal,
and that anything really worth learning is worth the risk
it entails. It's all part of the history of science
now, and if our species' story is about the evolution
of consciousness, credit belongs where it's due. Lilly
died a few years ago, and I haven't a clue as to what
the seals in his family's ancestral cove are talking
about. But you can tell from their tone of voice that they're
serious, though whether about herring or mating or the occasional
lobster boat that comes through beats the heck of out me.
By the way, closer to home, we ask anyone who speaks bear
to contact us, as we think, after this summer, they've
got some explaining to do for themselves.
People come to Maine, they put up with the traffic, because
once you escape that, it is a magical place; different
from, but also just like home. The magic of our mountains
is far easier for far more people to get to than Maine's
magic is, and if unspoiled is the draw, we win hands-down.
Whether in the Catskills we're willing to pay the kind
of price they have here for their visitor business, well,
it's an open question still. Most Maine locals have
been priced out of the nice housing market for years, and
whether personal income keeps pace with the cost of services
or the changes in the quality of life, well that's open
to interpretation too. Just like home, the answers probably
aren't simple ones. But the questions are worth asking
and the comparisons worth noting.
There's a couple weeks left to summer and our view is
it ain't over till it's over so let's make
it count. Get out there in the creek and find some dinner,
or just get your butt wet. If there's people you've
been meaning to invite over for a barbeque, just call Œem.
Haven't managed to schedule that playdate, that hike
you promised yourself, a night out under the stars? C'mon,
it is summer. It's not going to stay this nice out forever.