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Around this time every year our beloved state is flooded with hordes of what we politely call “people from away.” Over the years tourist folks in Augusta said they wanted us to use more “correct” phrases like “summer visitors” to describe these people, but these same officials admit they are pleased that most have stopped insensitively referring to these people as ''summer complaints.”
In the interest of acceptance and inclusion and all that stuff, I thought I'd include here a few interesting facts for our visitors about this place called Maine. Just by coincidence, many of these facts are included in my latest book: "down the road a piece: A Storytellers Guide to Maine." I hope you summer visitors can read and enjoy these useful facts before it's time to pack up your things, including all those kayaks, designer bicycles and barbecues, and head down the turnpike toward home. (If you’re not from away, just pass this along to someone you know who is; they shouldn’t be too hard to find this time of year.)
First, you should know that here in Maine – also known as “Down East” – we make a big deal about the fact that we are farther east than anyone else in the country. I'm not sure how special that particular distinction makes us and I'm not prepared to argue the merits of being farther east than the rest of you, but the Maine city of Eastport boasts of being the eastern-most city in the United States. It also claims to be the first city in the United States to receive the morning's sun. But, when you consider how early it is in the morning when Eastport first sees the sun, the rest of the people in America are apt to say something like, "Who cares?”
OK, maybe that fact didn't do anything for you.
So how about this? You might not have learned this in your American history classes but Eastport – yes, the very same one — is also the only city in the United States to have been under rule by a foreign government. It was held from 1814 to 1818 by British troops under King George following the conclusion of the War of 1812. You may be wondering – as many of us have – why U.S. government officials didn't exactly work up a sweat trying to get Eastport back, but the simple fact is they didn't. Once the Brits decided they weren't really that interested in keeping our easternmost city it was eventually returned to its rightful owners – the people of Eastport.
Moving on. Maine is the only state of the 50 states whose name has only one syllable and we're the only state that is bordered by only one other state – unfortunately for us that state happens to be New Hampshire!
Our other New England state neighbors often have trouble dealing with the sheer size of Maine since all five of our neighboring New England states can easily fit into the area known as Maine. We're grateful none has yet tried to do it, but they could if they figured a way. On some summer weekends they've tried to get all their people into Maine but most of their land they've left behind.
To use one more example of how large Maine is compared to our neighbors, Aroostook County at 6,453 square miles covers an area greater than the combined size of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Impressed?
OK, how about this? It's a little known fact that 90 percent of our nation's toothpicks are whittled by hand by teams of retired loggers right here in Maine. You may laugh, but considering how many toothpicks a band of loggers can whittle from a good-sized 12-foot birch log, and considering they now sell for about $2 a box, toothpicks are probably the most profitable wood product on the planet. Think of that the next time you wedge one between your two front teeth.
And we don't like to brag about such things but we'll make an exception in this case. Best-selling author and Maine native Steven King is a resident of Bangor; former President George Bush has a summer home in Kennebunkport and the world-famous retail giant L.L. Bean was founded and is still headquartered in Freeport, Maine.
Have a safe trip home!
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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