Explore the Magic of Maine

March 25, 2019

In winemaking, vintners frequently talk about the terroir of a wine. This French term refers to the interaction of landscape and beverage, the influence that the soil, the topography, and the geography have on the final product. The only real synonym for terroir is somewhereness. Neither term is perfect, but they both describe something important, something essential—how place and land exert a subtle influence on everything that grows and lives there. And I am convinced that there is no place in the world that has more somewhereness than Maine.

Located at the northeastern corner of New England, Maine is a richness of wilderness. It is the most heavily forested state in the union, and, thanks to the many finger-like peninsulas that jut into the Atlantic Ocean, has more miles of coastline than California. There’s a saying in Maine: “You can’t get there from here.” Travelers to the state quickly learn its truth. Maine is made of winding roads and small towns, scenic byways, and hidden treasures.

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It’s a place where you want to get lost, because getting lost means discovering a secret beach where bioluminescence glows under the nighttime stars. Getting lost means stumbling upon a pine forest with trees that were once used as masts for the Royal Navy, tall and straight and regal (known fittingly as “King Pines”). Getting lost means finding a tiny harbor where you can buy lobsters from a fisherman out of the back of his pickup truck. Maybe he’ll invite you home for dinner. Stranger things have happened.

Although Maine has entered the 21st century alongside the rest of the world, there are elements of traditional New England life that persist here. People continue to make their living off the land and to reap the benefits of the sea. It’s not uncommon to meet a fisherman who also harvests timber and makes his own furniture from fine-grained black locust wood. There are still lumberjacks in Maine, and there are hundreds of small family farms and fragrant apple orchards, places where people submerge their hands in the dirt on a daily basis, coaxing forth golden potatoes, leafy dark green lettuce, and huge orange pumpkins from the loamy earth.

Often, on a country road, you’ll come across an unmanned farm stand with a sign that reads, “Fresh fruit and eggs.” If this happens to you during your visit to Maine, always stop and slip a few dollars into the can, for the honor system is alive and well here, and few experiences bring such pure pleasure as eating a handful of blueberries, fresh-picked by a trusting old farmer (or just as likely, her barefoot children).

Whether you’re taking a stroll on Ogunquit’s iconic Marginal Way (which runs above the rocky coastline) or climbing to the top of Mount Agamenticus in York, the coast of Maine is where you’ll most strongly feel the somewhereness of this land. But you can still find evidence of the primal, rugged landscape even in the cities and small towns that pepper the shoreline. There are charming little hamlets, such as York (a quintessential New England village located right on the border with New Hampshire), Wiscasset (the prettiest town in Maine, according to those in the know) and further north, Bar Harbor (a famous escape for the 19th-century elite), not to mention the vibrant metropolis of Portland.

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While this city has more James Beard Award-nominated restaurants than it has any right to, you can also find great eateries in Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, and Old Orchard Beach. After a day exploring tiny hidden beaches, there’s nothing better than finding a restaurant right on the water where you can sample fresh-caught seafood and farm-to-table fare. Maine’s famous for its lobster, but I taste the essence of Maine most poignantly when I slurp down an oyster. Eaten with french fries made from locally grown potatoes and you’re actually devouring Maine’s clear water, mineral-rich soil, clean air, and northern sunlight. It’s a gift, but that’s what coastal Maine is: a place of freely given gifts, honor system delights, and wilderness, unbound.