Below is a letter to the editor in oblique reference to the angry callout of raised fees on power in the wake of severe outages this fall and winter. I don’t think the anger would be so expressed maybe 30 years ago. But, as ever, we are in transition as a society and some voices are more strident and maybe more used to the good life than in the past. Those coming here now are more well off, many possessed of the fine second home. The image below is not that referred to in the letter. Actually it is maybe twenty years old, from the aftermath of the great ice storm of 1998. It does not show state-of-the-art equipment used to move power lines around today.
Here’s a bit of small talk on small towns. Small-town America. Iconic phrase, conjuring rural state of Maine population centers. I’ve been rereading Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street about a young woman interested in remaking a small rural town in Minnesota in the early 20th century. Carol’s focus is cultural. She’s a former St. Paul librarian, initially hopeful of elevating the quality of social and cultural life by encouraging artistic and intellectual pursuits in some small town. Her own hopeful is a medical man in the town of Gopher Prairie and she is the glamour he’s hungry for, encouraging her to marry and come home with him to work the town into something wonderful through her inspiration.
“Come on. Come to Gopher Prairie. Show us. Make the town — well — make it artistic. It’s mighty pretty, but I’ll admit we aren’t any too darn artistic. Probably the lumber-yard isn’t as sumptuous as all these Greek temples. But go to it! Make us change!”
Sinclair Lewis is careful early to show Carol’s waxing, waning, waxing interest in town transformation.
The tree stands among a tall grove of white pine above a white lake. Resting lightly in winter, the pine reports once like a gunshot in the deep settled cold. Then, quiet is here, snow-filled silence. But next, from far upslope near the road, the distant buzz of the chipper drifts down through snowy woodland. Passing through trees comes the jingling of winch chains and great chain-dressed wheels, mixed with the gunning of a skidder. Jingling on this twitch trail cut by loggers late last week, the big skidder rumbles right down to the pine. Halting, wafting blue smoke and fumes, the skidder looses a logger.
For an example of town column news content, here’s something on “Johnny’s Bridge,” mentioned elsewhere among pages I’ve written on Maine. This is a change not in the name itself but of the history of Johnny’s Bridge. Thankfully the name remains! Newcomers have sometimes changed place names in some of our communities, made now historic transitions from, for example, Mud Pond to Starlight Pond. And some newcomers would rather have their family name, say on a road, or have some other quirky designation in place of an old settler’s name. While Bean’s Corner is still locally known as such, those “from away” may not realize this and may use the Atlas name: East Be. East Be is in fact a hamlet, so no harm done.
Johnny’s Bridge, on the other hand, has itself been replaced, rebuilt a few times, most recently last year. And still, the name remains.
The Town Column is an intimate news item found in local weeklies, historically, across the nation. Relevant, in print, it’s fortunate to have town columns continue in the age of digitization. Rural community is greatly supported by the continuing institution of the local weekly. It informs us, but also defends all other communal institutions through reportage of everything from schools, town management, churches, clubs and societies, businesses, and local entertainment. But the town columns referred to in this Green and Blue House entry are, additionally, the cozy-news source, the one that makes the reader especially welcome and participating as an individual.
In our local are many columns, each representing rural town-news, towns associated in our territorial school district.
you can bike around the north pond if you don’t mind highway traffic, pulp and tanker trucks, distracted drivers; hills potholes, curves in the back roads. here’s the bridge we’ve been traversing on bikes since moving here 34 years ago.
The day this was taken a member of the pond community stopped us on our bikes to say they were finally going to replace this bridge! We came back the next day to find–Some sons of the camps did this with their fraternity brothers.
Maine humor, dry, often self-deprecating, was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Editor/ compiler W. Storrs Lee, Mark Twain was influenced by Maine’s Artemus Ward (born Charles Farrar Browne just over the hills in Waterford). Ward practiced Maine humor. Lincoln wanted him in the room with him during the Civil War–at least he wanted Ward’s words there, opening a meeting of the cabinet.
I found exquisite humor and style in George S. Wasson’s “Standing Room Only” where night life at Cap’n Simeon’s Store is described. Here old salts gather round the stove, and youths atop barrels and meals sacks listen while simple wisdom and lore unjaded come forth from the humor of experience.
After leaving Ohio we moved a dozen times and finally got a home of our own in Maine. We need a self-cleaning house, because the down side is maintenance and cleaning. The upside is everything else. Or, we could hire a domestic. Yes they work here in rural Maine. But they need to earn a living so that’s out for us.
How do you create a cast of characters? Start with societal roles and extrapolate with details related and unrelated to these roles. For instance, a writer has in mind a role of doctor in the community. Or shop-keeper, volunteer, lumberman, domestic, deputy, journalist, pastor, server, selectman, club-woman, and other roles, all helpful in developing characters. These roles or jobs are archetypal, starting writers on the road to peopling their novels. If you start with these in earnest, the muse may suggest quirks and morals, humors and tastes, suitable for these roles…or even carrying them off in new directions. You can also add in tiny bits you know from personal experience. So you’ll be an artisanal character quilter, taking tiny patches of incidents from life and using in mosaic to make these characters’ lives.
There are reasons for choosing roles aside from sub-creation of character. One of these is thematic. A major theme of THE GOD’S CYCLE is small rural towns in transition.
It’s that time of year in New England. Mud season has not yet arrived but town meetings are underway in Maine. These meetings of town citizens have been ongoing since the State of Maine was the District of Maine, politically connected to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (pronounced, very fast, Mass-chusetts).
We live under a ridge in a narrow vale along an edge of which we snowshoe. This is a mountainous u-shaped valley with deadend road but once extending up the low mountainside to meet another road in these hills. The old settlers actually drove wagons of between the slopes. Don’t know how they did it. Anyway, it’s all wooded now and you can see the old ruts they made. Saplings grow in them. Sometimes, if I’ve “got turned around and woods” (as they say) and I come on one of these mostly hidden tracks, I have the feeling of gratitude, and can follow along until I come to an ATV trail or road.