Some things are noticeable only when you look at the big picture. For example, driving along the east coast of the United States from south to north, visiting beaches, you’ll notice that they fall off around Portland, Maine. No more beautiful long sandy beachscapes. You are in the territory of sharp exposed rocky heads, small scallop-shaped beaches of shingle. There is a “fall line” separating the coastal terrains at this point. The disunity is more than symbolic it’s the boundary between two geological zones.
It was also sometimes described tome as the boundary between southern Maine and that mystical realm known as “Down East.” Being “From Away,” I have no ownership of these terms. Instead, I’m relating what was told to me. South of Portland was a zone that had once been Down East but had been infiltrated by New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. They originally came to “Summer” in Maine, decided that they loved the life, and came back after Labor Day to settle permanently. But, in a frantic rush north, they failed to leave behind what they were escaping and brought it with them.
On hearing this sort of description, I was always a bit uncomfortable. I was originally from New York City – home of the most miscreant invaders. Having studied history and being an anthropologist, I wondered if the Britons said similar things about Saxons, Angles and at last about Normans. Yup, there goes the neighborhood.
In the larger scheme of things, our whole lot blend when viewed by people with whom we have more significant cultural differences. Say someone from Greece, Fiji, or even close at hand in the States – Idaho.
My view of this “Down East” discontinuity rested at this point for years. Then a few years ago, I was showing my carvings at a boat show that was very far Down East. On a slow afternoon, my neighbor in the booth next to me started describing how the Down East concept was shifting. In his opinion, to be Down East, you had to get east and north of Acadia National Park. This was way deeper a bite into Maine’s territory than Portland. If it shifted much further, it would be out of state and country.
Geological boundaries, or the venation patterns of leaves – palmate versus linear- don’t usually change. But, human culture can be resilient, or it can change in a generation. It probably does change in every generation, but time moves forward a second at a time and carries us along with it – only when we look back do we notice the change.