Thursday, August 25, 2016

Two Paths, Two Maines and the New North Maine Woods National Monument

Most of my social media network people seem happy about the new North Maine Woods National Monument. I am not so cheerful on account of my origins.

I grew up until about age 13 as a privileged Bowdoin faculty brat- travel, resources and security were part of my early life. I climbed in the Arches National Park, took piano and guitar lessons and went to a great nursery school. Mom and Dad were there. I was safe.

After that, I grew up a bit more, with gratitude for tins of government cheese and peanut butter and especially grateful for a shower courtesy of MSAD 75 when there was no hot water at my home for long stretches. Winter was a prison.

One side of my family was educated and landed.

The others were laborers and servants.

I am grateful deep down for both. I am grateful for my father, the earth scientist, world traveler and authority on structural geology. I am grateful for my mother who at 83 knows how to swing a mattock like nobody's business and soak up the joy that brings, knows how to grow vegetables, slaughter chickens, pile on blankets and get by.

Maine has the same dual identity. We are sophisticated and we are dug in. So regarding the new North Woods National Monument, I have mixed feelings. Conservation is great, but it would be better if conservation included meaningful human activity rather than just being about aesthetics and recreation.

Roxanne Quimby has every right to do what she wants with her property. All of the free market, conservative, property rights types who are frothing about the new monument need to shut up and remember this fundamental premise of our private property economic model. It's extremely hypocritical to blather on about private property rights and then give someone grief about disposing of acreage as they see fit.

That said, the move makes me sad because if the wealthy buy up wilderness and set it aside as a playground for other individuals wealthy enough to come and marvel as they hike the woods and canoe the lakes, it ensures there will be that much less space for meaningful interaction with the environment by those who live in Maine. There will be no contact with nature that is not carefully controlled by the government or a board of trustees. It will occur during designated hours. Guests will walk carefully and avoid touching things.

We are not spectators. People are not transplanted aliens despite what everything from Judeo Christian to Taoist traditions tell us. We are part of the environment, 4 wheelers and all.

Throughout my life, what brings the most meaning to me is not hiking, taking pictures and saying "oh, how grand," (although I've done plenty of that) but actually physically interacting with the environment in a way that helps feed me, helps me make a living and cultivates a deeper relationship with the natural Maine.

I grew up blessed to work on a farm from the second or third grade until I left for college. After that I worked in the woods. Now I am blessed beyond words  to work on the ocean.

The coast and islands in particular have seen locals forced out first by high real estate values, then by conservation easements and land trusts which exclude working families and elevate views and recreation over all other functions of the land. This is a serious process of segregation, a cultural displacement, a cleansing of those who live and work in connection with nature. Islands where there was a living, breathing community are now the exclusive domains of kayakers and grad students.

The Roxanne Quimbys of the world view locals as ignorant, and a messy threat to the natural environment, not as custodians who are deeply connected to the place where they live, and who also have to provide for themselves. I believe this mentality is why the monument has been greeted with such resistance.

Conservation easements, national monuments, gated communities, pretty much all of Isleboro- they are all the same. Those measures are about turning a land that fed, warmed and housed people into a Disney World experience for the affluent, and where the locals are properly segregated and not messing about digging clams, growing food, hunting, fishing or otherwise interfering with the view.