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Goodbye Maine. Hello Minnesota

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine

I’m writing my last post for Mark in Maine and my first post for Nick Up North as a slow-moving thunderstorm rolls off Lake Superior and drops maybe an inch or two of rain on our quiet Duluth neighborhood.

I kind of missed thunderstorms.

Maine doesn’t really get thunderstorms. Sure, they get rain, wind and plenty of rough weather, but we rarely heard any thunder and saw no lightning during our three years in Bangor. Hey, if you gotta have a wet and rainy day, why not add a little drama with loud explosions and a crazy light show, right?

But this post isn’t about missing the midwest.

Or maybe it is.

On Tuesday night, we drove across town to a coffee shop called Beaners in West Duluth. The place was hosting a week of live music and Jen knew one of the performers, a singer/songwriter named Emily Haavik. After the show, we chatted with Emily as people filed out the door and headed home.

“So are you going to miss Maine?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “We made a lot of friends there and it was such a great place to explore. So beautiful. The ocean. Acadia. All the little towns. We loved it.”

Emily said she had never been to Maine, but wanted to visit someday – a common response from people I meet in the Northland. Maybe because the two places are very similar: Rugged, mostly empty timber lands cling to the rocky cliffs over a massive, foreboding body of water. Hearty, independent people who know how to hunt for food and drive a snow plow.

Yes, Minnesotans appreciate Maine and might want to visit the place someday but when it’s time for a winter vacation, most forget about lobster and book tickets to the beach in San Diego.

Which is why Jen and I feel fortunate about our Maine experience. A job took us to Vacationland. We weren’t tourists passing through on a sightseeing bus. We had to shovel out after a snow storm. We bought milk at a corner grocery. We paid water bills and could drive to the Bass Harbor lighthouse without consulting a map. Sometimes it felt like we were ex-pats living in Paris circa 1927 – except we had to eat bland sausage pizza instead of confit de canard.

Yes, we got to climb Cadillac Mountain, hike the Gulf of Maine shoreline, eat seafood right off the boat, ski the carriage trails AND we got to sleep in our own bed at night.

But Maine is a long way from home: 1,800 miles to be exact. After awhile you miss the midwest. You miss the birthday parties, the home team, the corn on the cob, the Grain Belt.  Our last three Thanksgivings have been in New York, Montreal and Boston. I’m not complaining. It’s just time for a turkey dinner.

Duluth has a little bit of that Conde Nast Traveler allure to it, as well. The city is undergoing a transformation from gritty rust belt town to regional vacation mecca. The steep mountain bike trails, the shoreline strolls, the ocean-going ore boats, the craft beer tap rooms and, of course, that vast, ever-changing, fresh water wonder called Superior. I’m looking forward to exploring the north shore with my favorite person in the whole world, my smart and lovely wife, Jen.

Bring on the thunder.

Editor’s note: Keep following Mark in his new blog: NickUpNorth


Viewing Maine from here in Minnesota: Photograph odds n’ ends

West Penobscot Bay, Rockport, Maine.

West Penobscot Bay, Rockport, Maine.

Jen and I returned to Minnesota last week and things have slowed down enough to look back at pictures from our last six months in Maine. Mark in Maine readers can get one last look at the vast beauty, historic charm and quirky color that dominates this great state. Enjoy

Jen cross-country skiing. Acadia National Park

Jen cross-country skiing. Acadia National Park


Maine battled through one of the toughest winters on record but it wasn’t enough to stop Jen and I from getting to Acadia National Park (twice!) for some amazing cross-country skiing.

I guess rough winters make for great skiing.

That’s Jen rockin’ down the Upper Hadlock Loop trail.


House. Hartland, Maine

House. Hartland, Maine

Hartland, population 1,700,  sits right in the middle of Maine. A sprawling tannery straddles the Sebasticook River as it roars through town. The business looks just open enough to keep the place alive.

I photographed this empty house as friends bought an old leather sample book from a former tannery employee down the street. Come to think of it, the guy may have just given it to them.


19th Century map of Bangor, Maine

19th Century map of Bangor, Maine

Our old neighborhood!

A detail from a framed map hanging at the Bangor Historical Society‘s Thomas A. Hill House Museum shows where Jen and I lived for the last three years.

Our house was on the corner of Mill Lane and Ohio Street, the road that runs horizontally through the picture. Sometime after this map was made, Mill Lane was dead ended and its name was changed to Holland Street. The covered bridge and mills along the Kenduskeag Street are long gone.


Bathroom poster. Chase's Daily. Belfast, Maine

Bathroom poster. Chase’s Daily. Belfast, Maine

Chase’s Daily was one of our favorite restaurants in Maine.

A hip vegetarian restaurant with odd hours, a cool staff and a farmer’s market in back on weekends.

Oh, and killer cinnamon rolls.

The restaurant always showed wonderful work from local artists – even in the bathroom.


Bakery. Biddeford, Maine

Bakery. Biddeford, Maine

Never made it inside this place but if the donuts were as good as the sign we might have moved to Biddeford…

Mill District. Biddeford, Maine.

Mill District. Biddeford, Maine.

And I could have worked at the Pepperell textile mill downtown, it employed 10,000 people in 1900.

Oh wait, the last bit of the mill closed for good in 2009.


Jen & Jen at the beach, Kennebunk, Maine

Jen & Jen at the beach, Kennebunk, Maine

We celebrated JenFest a little early this year. The Jens both have birthdays in November but the party started early during a glorious Labor Day weekend on the beach at Kennebunk.


Mount Kineo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

Mount Kineo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

We heard a ferry-boat hauled hikers and golfers to Mount Kineo State Park, an island on Moosehead Lake. We didn’t know it would be a pontoon boat with a zip up shell.

It made for a rough boat ride but a fantastic hike.


Cleaning up the ketchup & mustard

Cleaning up in the Mustard Room. (Photo by Jennifer Moore)

Cleaning up in the Mustard Room.
(Photo by Jennifer Moore)

We said goodbye to our ketchup & mustard rooms.

That’s what we called our Bangor dining room and living room.  The deep red and sorry yellow on the walls looked like they came out of a plastic bottle with a resealable cap. A home designer might call it bold. We just called it funny.

Before we moved into the place three years ago, the property manager decided to add a fresh coat of paint to the lower level. The handy man boasted to me one day that he painted the two rooms with a new product that combines the primer and color in one can.

“It was something new. You could do it all in just one coat,” he said. “I think it looks pretty good.”


Anyway, the boxers and movers took over the ketchup & mustard rooms during the last 48 hours and put everything we own into a huge truck.

Then we had to clean, sweep & mop.

With the rugs rolled up and hauled away, we rediscovered the “unique” hardwood floors in the ketchup & mustard rooms. It was one of our first impressions that will remain a great memory of our time in Maine.

Who knows when, but sometime in the history of 355 Ohio Street (maybe the Great Depression?), it was decided to refinish the living and dining room floors. The beautiful 19th Century hardwood had gone from shiny, grain-streaked pine to a crusty, scuffed and blotched mess of a floor.

Time to sand the floors down and add a few coats of poly, right?

Sort of.

Before we moved in, Jen and I stopped at 355 Ohio. We didn’t have the keys yet and had rented the place sight unseen. We were eager to get a look at our new home. Peering in the windows, this is what we saw: the outer edge of the floors were sanded and clean. The middle was still a pea soup color with more than 100 years of scratches, scuffs and stains.

“What?!” said Jen. “Look at those floors!”

Somewhere down the line, money was saved on a home improvement project: Just sand and refinish around the edges, the carpet will cover up the rest.

It was our first lesson in the thrifty and creative ways of many real Mainers.

As I put the finishing touches on our last day cleaning, I handed Jen my camera phone.

I swept the sanded and dirty part of the floor. Jen snapped a picture.

There we stood in the empty mustard room.

Just a couple of hot dogs.

Back Roads County Churches of Maine #6

First Congregational Church. East Machias, Maine

First Congregational Church.
East Machias, Maine

This church was so stunning I had to use it in my final installment of “Backroads Country Churches of Maine.”

The First Congregational Church is located in East Machias at the northeastern tip of Maine. The church is on a hill high above Hwy. 1 and about a mile or two from Machias Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Not exactly a “country church.”

Still East Machias is a small river town of 1,300. A 10-minute drive north features plenty of Maine country: forest, lakes, quarries, blueberry barons and small farms.

The country folk of Washington County built this church big, grand and strong and then covered it in white paint to make it look like a snow castle.

And believe me, a church on a slip of land between the mighty Atlantic Ocean and the endless Maine forest needs to be as strong as a castle. That way you know it will be there every Sunday.

Wanna buy a used car?

An old tractor

An old tractor “for sale” somewhere outside of Bangor, ME

Instead of planting flowers or pruning bushes, a lot of Mainers turn their front yard into a used car lot each spring.

For example, the guy across the street parked a dark blue 2005 Dodge sedan on his lawn several weeks ago. A sign in the window says the car is “for sale” with “only 51K miles” on it.

I haven’t seen anyone kicking the tires.

Maybe he’ll add balloons to the bumper and wax a “new low price” on it for Labor Day.

In an attempt to document this spring tradition, I drove the 36-mile stretch of Hwy. 15 between Bangor and Dover-Foxcroft one morning last month. I photographed every vehicle being sold from a front yard. The selection was amazing. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, motor-homes, tractors and more.

If I wanted to get into the logging business, Hwy. 15 could deliver:  A 1975 Brockway Barko 80 Loader was available for $18,500 or best offer.

Or maybe I could take up stock car racing:  A blaze orange 1981 Malibu was for sale on Hwy. 15 for just $3,500. One catch: No motor.

A few folks saw me pull up and came out to deliver a sales pitch. A man offered to show me the inside of his motor home. I declined. An elderly dog the size of a bathtub barked at me before being shooed inside by his owner. It all happened in slow motion. A woman wearing a mu-mu as colorful as a fruit salad told me where the owner of a broken down Jeep liked to drink after work. She also asked me if I knew any available single men.

“The only thing they need is a car and a driver’s license,” she said. “I like to go dancing.”

Well, I know where any suitors can find a car.

Mark in Maine on the move

Flea market in the winter.  Searsport, Maine

Flea market in the winter.
Searsport, Maine

Mark in Maine is moving to Minnesota.

In case you haven’t heard the news, Jen and I will be leaving Maine this summer for new adventures in Minnesota. Jen landed an assistant professor position at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where she will continue to teach journalism and research journalism history. So we’re packing up our tent and headed to an even colder place than Maine – the shores of Lake Superior.

But fear not Mark in Maine readers, I will continue to post dispatches from “Vacationland” throughout our stay. I have a few stories and some wonderful pictures already in the hopper and we plan to take full advantage of our final weeks in Maine and share our final days in this great state with you.

And of course there are likely to be some harrowing moving day stories.

Now I need to figure out a name for my new blog…..Mark on Superior?

Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

The Greatest Photo ever taken from a Sleeping Bag

Jen made this iPhone picture of the June 5 sunrise at Cobscook State Park while lying in her sleeping bag. (Photo by Jennifer Moore)

Jen made this iPhone picture of the June 5 sunrise at Cobscook State Park while lying in her sleeping bag. (Photo by Jennifer Moore)

It’s the greatest photograph ever taken from inside a sleeping bag.

Jen photographed the brilliant sunrise through the window of our tent with her iPhone at 4:55 a.m. June 5. The picture was made from walk-in campsite #57 at Cobscook State Park near Lubec, Maine, the very northeastern tip of the United States.

We can thank a noisy crow for this one.

The bird visited our campsite just before dawn and made sure we knew another day was on its way to North America. It sounded like the crow stood on top of our little blue tent with a Marshall Amp secured on its back.

“CAW, CAW, CAW,” said the bird into some kind of trick microphone. “Brrrr, Brrrrr, Brrrrr. pa-CAW. pa-CAW. pa-CAW.”

Translation: “Wake up you lazy bums and check out this amazing sunrise. The muted blue light. The black rock silhouettes in the cove. The chrome colored water at low tide. Get up NOW.”

I squirmed around in my sleeping bag, sat up on my elbows and looked through a crack in the tent window. The crow was right. We were missing something spectacular.

“O.K. Mr. Crow you can move along now,” said Jen, from her pillow.

And with that the sun popped up from behind a row of trees across the cove maybe a quarter mile away. The inside of our tent burst with light like a disco ball hung over our heads.

“Roll down the window,” I said.

Jen unzipped the arched shaped window and we both looked at the morning through mosquito mesh.

Then Jen reached behind her sleeping bag and grabbed an iPhone from the tent pocket. With one hand, she dialed in the camera and took aim through the mesh window. I watched the screen as the she framed the sun, the sky, the trees and the cove


She looked at the results. Put the phone back in the tent pocket. Lied down on her pillow and closed her eyes for more sleep.

Later that morning, I ran into a man carrying a camera bag and tripod near the campground parking lot. “Did you get any good pictures?” I asked.

“I won’t know until I get them home and have a look on the computer,” he said. This guy was a hard core photographer – even the tripod looked expensive. I’m sure he was up at 3 a.m. scouting photo locations and setting up equipment.

“The best light is just before the sun comes up,” he said like someone who photographed dawn sky more than birthday parties.

“I’ll have to give it a try tomorrow,” I said.

But I knew neither one of us would get anything better than the photo Jen made lying in her sleeping bag.

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