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I was standing along side one of our picturesque country roads the other day looking a lot like a character in a Down East story when a car full of confused tourists drove up and asked if I could direct them to a beach. I was tempted to have some fun with these naive visitors, but I didn't. Instead, I tried my best to help them.
Since I've traveled quite a bit, even to other states, I knew something of these "beaches" that these naive travelers spoke of, and I knew immediately why these same tourists looked so confused as they drove around the Maine countryside. You see, here in Maine a beach like they were looking for is as difficult to find as palm trees.
The folks who write the dictionaries that define things like beaches know almost nothing about Maine. For that reason you'll often find that the average dictionary defines a beach as something like a sloping stretch of land down by the water that is covered with lots of gleaming white sand. What nonsense.
Here in Maine we have all kinds of land stretching along thousands of miles of coastline. But most of our waterfront is covered with trees and rocks, which is just the way it's supposed to be and just the way we here in Maine like it. Oh, we have a yard of sand here and there, just to make things interesting, but most of our shores are covered with rocks of various shapes and sizes.
Our scientists at the state university tell us that Mother Nature is always working on our rocky shores and grinding them down a little more each year. These scientists figure that with waves, rain, ice, snow, wear and tear, and all, nature will eventually grind up all of our magnificent rocks - first into big stones, then into smaller and smaller stones and finally into beautiful sand. It's just going to take about 10 million years or so to do it. Most tourists only have a week or two for vacations, and they can't wait.
Here in Maine if you've found yourself a stretch of sand over 20 yards long that will hold a dozen people or so on a few beach blankets, well, then, you've got yourself a fine Maine beach, and you should be content with it. If you're up here in Maine for a week's vacation, the last thing you want to do is go running around looking for these imaginary stretches of sand that are so scarce in these parts.
Anyway, these tourists were looking for a beach, and I directed them to a nice little beach not more than a few miles away. As I spoke they began shaking their heads, and then one of them said they had already been to that place, and it was too small, had too many trees and not enough sun, and there weren't even any gift shops or take-out stands there.
As they drove off I realized that beaches area just one of many things that some of our summer visitors misunderstand about Maine. A lot of people from away think our big cities are too small and our small towns are too quiet. It's said by some that we have too many moose and not enough malls and our airports and our phone books are so tiny.
I was once told by a summer visitor that our church bean suppers should serve other things besides just beans.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Fajitas would be good."
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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