The state motto should be: ‘Maine is for Maniacs’

“Virginia is for lovers.” Now, there’s a state slogan that works like a charm, at least for luring tourists. “Live free or die” is in another category altogether, a state slogan with attitude. There is even a state with the slogan, “Great potatoes,” which I am happy to report is not Maine’s slogan, not that we are not proud of our potatoes.

Other states have been rebranding themselves. Alabama is no longer the “Heart of Dixie,” perhaps because not everyone has such fond recollections of Dixie. And Colorado recently changed its slogan from “Fresh air and fond memories” to “Enter a higher state,” apparently referring to the Rockies before voters embraced the recent marijuana referendum.

But back to Maine.

A number of years ago, I was returning to Maine with my wife when we got delayed in bad weather at a connecting airport somewhere in the Midwest. There were a large number of stranded passengers in a small waiting area back before 24-hour news cycles blared incessantly overhead and before so-called smart phones, so we actually spent time interacting with each other.

I was sitting next to a talkative fellow from Mississippi. He asked us where we lived and we told him. He looked startled and asked incredulously, “Do you have to live there?”

All of us know there are three things that come to most Americans’ minds when thinking about Maine – lobsters, lighthouses and winter. We have done a pretty good job turning what some people consider to be our greatest liability – long, hard winters – into marketable assets. Our state slogan used to be “Vacationland,” but people do not tend to think of a visit to Maine in winter as a vacation.

No, instead we offer tens of thousands of miles of snowmobile trails that crisscross every town and corner of the state. And we have the fabulous downhill resorts at Sugarloaf and Sunday River, that bring in large numbers of out-of-state-dollars. Maine Huts and Trails has also done an admirable job of creating an ever-expanding system of cross country ski trails ending at off-the-grid huts with a warm staff and cheerful bonhomie.

Up in the County, the Maine Winter Sports Center with facilities at Presque Isle and Fort Kent, hosts international Olympic qualifying cross-country ski races and biathlon events that have brought millions of dollars to a region that would otherwise not have seen one of those dollars. They may offer tastes of Maine’s rebranded slogan, “The way life should be.”

During a winter like this past one (is it really over?), you have to be slightly crazy to relish the thought of outdoor activities. The Polar Vortex, which descended over the eastern two-thirds of the country for almost a week in January, was headline news every night on TV. But then it went back to where it came from everywhere else in the country except Maine, where its giant boot tried to crush us week after interminable week for four months.

The HBO show, Game of Thrones, gins up fear and anxiety among viewers through the repetition of the dirge-like one-liner, “Winter is coming!” which happens also to be the motto of the appropriately named, House of Stark, the Lords of the North in this convoluted but gripping tale. And the scariest creatures in this dark story are the White Walkers, large, deadly mysterious creatures who live beyond the Wall — Out There! No wonder most Americans seem to have a primal fear of The Cold, a.k.a., Maine in Winter.

So what to do? I am not recommending this strategy for everyone; in fact, I hardly recommend it to myself after this winter. But, nevertheless, it is a valuable trick of the mind. Between December and March get up in the dark, put on running clothes, gather in front of your local Post Office with anyone you can get to join you, put your head down and run or walk into the early stirrings of the day.

Get the blood going, and the rest of the day will be easier. I guarantee it. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, which is why after this winter I think the state motto should be, “Maine is for Maniacs,” as my friend from Mississippi would agree.


Philip Conkling

About Philip Conkling

For the past 30 years, Philip Conkling served as the founding publisher and senior editor of Island Journal and The Working Waterfront at the Island Institute in Rockland.