The Working Waterfront

Maine: ‘Birthplace of Social Distancing’?

Downeast retreat from Midwest makes sense today

Tom Walsh
Posted 2020-04-24
Last Modified 2020-04-24

By Tom Walsh

It seems there is no better time to be living in the middle of nowhere.

In fact, Maine might consider rethinking its archaic “Vacationland” license plate slogan. Maybe instead, “Birthplace of Social Distancing.”

Maine has a population of 1.3 million people scattered over 35,383 square miles, including its 3,000-mile waterfront and hundreds of uninhabited islands. You do the math. 

For nearly 20 years now, family and assorted old friends from the Midwest have visited and bunked with us at our seaside Downeast home, wondering—generally aloud—why in the world we would pull up stakes after 30 years in Iowa to move to where the only house you can see is a mile across the bay?

I try to explain the concept of “splendid isolation.” Somehow, our remote neck of the woods on the Schoodic Peninsula has never seemed either as splendid or as isolated as it does right now, given the death and debilitation inherent within the growing pandemic.

This virus crisis will apparently persist for months, if not longer. The best guess—and a guess is all it is, given the paucity of testing—is that hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans will die. As this bleak situation continues to rapidly devolve, there is a more-than-less national lockdown urging everyone, everywhere, including Maine, to Stay Home.

Good idea. This time, I’ll do the math: People who have no contact with others also have zero chance of infecting others. Or being infected by others. Win-win.

In the meantime, those wise enough to stay put need to cope with staying put, finding ways to turn lemons into lemonade, and all that. For those over age 60, this shouldn’t be a problem. Undoubtedly their households are drowning in books. Remember books? It’s not only the books they’ve amassed over the years between high school and dotage, but the bibliophile collections of their parents and their parents’ parents, most likely unseen for years and stored away forgotten in basements or attics.

The Maine Sunday Telegraph recently asked its readers to submit insight into what book they’ve been reading to cope with the endless days of shelter in place. I didn’t respond, as I for one have been reading six different books simultaneously for about two weeks. When one book becomes tedious, there are always the five others.  And when all these current six have been fully absorbed, I can just move on to six more of the other hundreds of volumes cluttering my life. No batteries, nor device chargers, required. 

In recent weeks, I’ve learned through these books a lot about early Maine history, the origins and economic evolution of fracking for oil and gas, the fragile status of America’s global military-industrial complex, the curious origins of words, and the work of magician Harry Houdini and others who 100 years ago were busy debunking “mediums” and their fraudulent connect-with-the dead séances.

With books, the opportunity for insight is endless. Next week, who knows? Maybe I’ll move on to the techniques of Japanese book-binding or the nuances of magnetosphere physics. Or maybe just find a good recipe for Tandoor chicken.

Strap yourselves in, folks. Find yourselves a dozen good books. Or more. It’s becoming clearer each day that this has only just begun.

Tom Walsh is a retired journalist and frequent contributor to The Working Waterfront, whose home in the middle of nowhere home overlooks West Bay in the Hancock County village of Gouldsboro.