By Patty Hager, NRCM Board Member
I’d love to believe that many years from now, my grandchildren will be able to catch brook trout in the same lovely little Maine pools where my father taught me to fish. Those native fish reply so reliably to our visits each spring that it has taken me a long time to realize that I shouldn’t take them for granted. The quality of water, wildness of habitat upstream and down, and access for us fisherpeople are all fragile gifts. My little trout expeditions bring to mind the importance of Maine’s inland and coastal country for thousands of us who cherish such places above all others, even though Maine is not our home state.
On April 2, hundreds of Maine residents will join NRCM for Citizen Action Day in Augusta to visit their representatives and express the strength of their support for Maine’s environmental agenda. It’s an inspiring day as Mainers rally to protect their state. It’s also one of many reminders that, while Maine is my heart’s home, it is not my home state. I don’t vote in Maine. My income does not depend on the health of Maine’s economy. I’m not watching my children try to decide whether they can make a living wage in Maine. I try to listen before expressing my opinions about environmental issues in Maine because I know that the stakes are not so high for me as they are for people whose families have lived here for generations.
It’s tempting to let Mainers themselves haul the environmental sled. But those of us who plan our lives around visits to Maine, who rent or own property in Maine, who plan to retire in Maine, who have family members living in Maine—we are all heavily invested in Maine’s future.
I could use a conversation with others from away and with Mainers about how we devoted visitors can commit ourselves most effectively to the best possible future for the most significant places in our lives.
I imagine that all of us figure out how to support the local communities we visit—from shopping to contributing to regional conservation organizations. Near our cabin in Norridgewock, my husband and I have been amazed to learn about the quiet, visionary work of the Somerset Woods Trustees. Many of our area’s treasured parcels of land, especially along the Kennebec, have been preserved for public access by the prudent efforts of this group. You have to spend time in the neighborhood to realize the full meaning of the SWT contribution to the local community.
Yet Maine faces perils that require action on a much bigger scale also. From the threat of Canadian tar-sands oil to smokestack emissions originating in the Midwest, there are challenges to the health of Maine’s environment and people propelled by powerful national and international business interests. Unless we think and act in full knowledge of the forces that threaten the state at large, we are unlikely to succeed in protecting the dear places that draw us to Maine again and again.
In my experience, NRCM is an especially effective resource for out-of-staters as well as Maine residents. A visit to the website offers both excellent scientific background and nonpartisan political strategy, most of which does not require residency. We can do research on the issues and take action in a variety of ways, from writing to our own legislators on bills that affect Maine, to attending forums, to flinging ourselves into the sea as NRCM “polar bears” raising funds to address climate change. I’m medium confident I’ll have gathered the courage to take this last step by next January’s Polar Dip and Dash.
Especially important to me is NRCM’s keen understanding of the pressing need for good jobs in Maine. NRCM proposals for action are informed by a deep and analytical awareness of the critical role natural resources play in the local and state economies. As respectful non-residents, we need the data and the logic to sync Maine’s economic needs with her environmental opportunities.
Meanwhile, we might do well to celebrate with native Mainers the stories of success. Consider the dam removal on the Penobscot. I find myself daydreaming about salmon making their way into the upper reaches of the Penobscot thanks to the steady, focused, win-win collaboration of the Penobscot Nation, businesses, conservation organizations, and communities with interests along the river. Wouldn’t you think there might be some fishy party as salmon enter the upstream pools of their ancestors?
I wonder how others from away think about our relationship with the places in Maine that define us, and I hope to learn more about your experiences in the places you care about.
A resident of Massachusetts, Patty Hager retired as Academic Dean of Concord Academy in 2007. She is an accomplished outdoorswoman and spends much of her free time at her camp in Norridgewock. She launches many of her extensive paddles from there.