OPINION COLUMNS

Experiencing the Pine Tree State

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, November 4, 2017
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The Fella and I took a trip to New England this fall. We were told over and over “Oooh. It will be BEAUTIFUL!” New England in the fall. It’s so idyllic it’s almost a cliche.

It turns out New England suffered a rather dull fall this season. Apparently, it was a dry year, so the leaves were rushing through the splendor stage of their demise and going straight to dead. Despite the trees’ failure to die spectacularly, there was plenty of beauty for my eyes, which are used to whatever fall Texas can muster.

Joy Carrico

We started our New England voyage in Portland, Maine, where, upon arrival, they proceeded to shove a lobster right down my throat. Well, OK. Not literally. But the pressure to embrace all things lobster was quite overwhelming. In addition to lobster being on every menu we saw, the whole town was inundated with images of lobsters, toy lobsters (stuffed and otherwise) and even just the word “lobster,” or sometimes “lobstah,” written everywhere. Even the pager they gave us at a restaurant was a light-up lobster.

I don’t like lobster. I have never liked it. I’m not a big fan of shellfish in general, but lobster in particular has a weird sweetness I’ve never enjoyed. And so I felt particularly in need to defend my right to hate lobster. I waged a little internal war with the state of Maine over my dislike of lobster. “I know what you’re up to, Maine,” I said (internally). “I have the right to not want lobster. Get out of my head!”

So I ate some lobster. I lasted two days before I gave in. Maine’s counter-argument kept rattling around in my head, “But you’ve never had REAL Maine lobster.” So, to rid myself of the internal Sam-I-Am experience, I ordered some sort of lobster stew which was essentially lobster in cream sauce. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t do anything for me.

I continue to wonder what the big deal is about lobster. The whole world seems to think this giant ocean scorpion is a wonderful delicacy. The good news is that, other than in Maine, my lobster aversion is generally regarded as unremarkable, so I can continue to stand against the world’s opinion on this one without taking on too much pain. I don’t think the internet trolls are going to cyber-shame my life into misery over this (unless they are from Maine).

Other than the constant lobsterpalooza, we loved Maine. Of the New England we saw, Maine was our favorite, although Vermont really tried.

Maine has it all. It has the ocean and the mountains. It has dramatic crashing waves against giant boulders and quaint apple picking opportunities. Driving through the state, it seemed that Maine was competing with itself to knock our socks off with its beauty. It needn’t have gone to all the effort. Maine had us at “Hello, have some lobstah,” or shortly thereafter.

Second only to the powerful lobster lobby was the abundant reference to moose. Stuff to purchase with moose on it was probably as available as stuff with lobster on it. We never saw an actual moose, but we were repeatedly warned to beware of them. They are apparently everywhere, although we wouldn’t have known it but for Maine’s need to repeatedly tell us all about it.

The hoards of invisible moose are in the right place. Maine is the home of all things ruggedly awesome. The L.L. Bean mothership sits in Freeport, which is just north of Portland.

As a kid, I would look at the L.L. Bean catalog and wish I could walk around happily wearing flannel and down vests, enjoying the crisp fall with my other overly attractive outdoorsy companions. But, being from Texas, flannel is rarely called for, and not once in my life have I needed to chop wood while laughing out loud to something off camera. So my childhood self needed to go to L.L. Bean. It would be just like stepping into the catalog.

And it was, including the price tags. Everything in L.L. Bean was crazy expensive. And there was something in the air that got into my head and skewed my perception of what was reasonably priced. “Oh look, this flannel shirt is only $65 dollars, that’s reasonable.” “This parka is $129, marked down from $179. We must snatch up this bargain.” I’m happy to report I fought the L.L. Bean brainwashing techniques and left the store unscathed and possessing no more flannel than I had walked in with.

But it was still fun to see it. It was a lot like the Bass Pro Shop, just more in line with hiking in the woods and carrying baskets of pinecones in a cable knit sweater and duck boots.

Another thing I noticed about Maine was its ability to exploit its postal abbreviation: ME. I saw a magnet in a trinket shop that said “I heart ME.” I loved it. I really wanted to find a T-shirt with that on it so I could give it to my brother. His tendency toward self-obsession is a running family joke. I was unsuccessful. Maine has a unique opportunity here to market “I heart ME” to throngs of tourists. They should probably replace some of their lobster and moose propoganda with it. Massachussetts is the only other state with anything close, but “I heart MA” wouldn’t sell as well. Too folksy.

As we moved inland, we became more enraptured. The Fella and I can appreciate the ocean, but we’re both mountain people. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called the Jolly Drayman Pub at the Briar Lea Inn. I suppose the bed and breakfast itself was the Briar Lea Inn, but the whole name was on the sign outside, so I’m sticking with it. This place made “charming” look like a cheap knock-off. The whole area did. We took a hike that was spectacular by our standards but probably registered as merely adequate on Maine’s fabulous-o-meter. This part of the state even had the mandatory covered bridge or two, just in case we needed a little boost of extra New England charm to tip the scales in Maine’s favor.

There was no contest. Maine took the lead early and held its lead until the end. We must return to this magical wonderland where people have reasons to look like they just walked out of an L.L. Bean catalog.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

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