US 1 is not a high-speed highway. It is what most Americans would call a secondary road. The small routes off it are back roads. None are straight and all pass through small hamlets, constantly-modulating speed limits, stop signs and frost heave. To further complicate driving, some Mainers think they should stay a good distance under the speed limit just to be safe. They are a lesson in patience for the chronically lead-footed, but my pastor says I should try to love everyone, even slow drivers.
I had the opportunity to drive to Presque Isle on Friday to deliver paintings to the upcoming PAPME at UMPI show. I have this crazy idea that I want to buy a few acres of saltwater farmland somewhere, so instead of taking US 95, we potted up Route 1 to Machias. From there, we headed north through Meddybemps and picked up Route 1 west of Calais. We passed through lovely woodland, beautiful lakes and momentary tableaux of grinding rural poverty. It is no surprise that Washington County, despite its beauty and natural resources, is the poorest county in Maine.
In Waite, we passed a perfectly preserved abandoned Esso station complete with equally-decrepit period cars off to the side. I’m surprised the Smithsonian hasn’t snapped it up whole. In fact, from Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls to the Oldest Trustworthy Store in the Nation in Madawaska, Maine is a state of old-fashioned, well-preserved roadside attractions. (My personal favorite is Big Jim the Fisherman in Prospect Harbor.)
Somewhere near Houlton, one breaks out of the forest and is unexpectedly dumped in the Midwest. There seems to be a blueberry belt in Maine and then a potato belt. The potato farms surprised me by their sheer size and stark cleared fields. This is commercial agriculture on a grand scale.
An occasional windmill turned next to a small barn, but the real business of storing and moving the crops happens in large Quonset huts set into the ground and spaced along the roads. The soil is a sandy, gravelly loam, exactly the color of a potato skin. As in much of America and western Canada, there are too many abandoned older homes.
We made it to the Reed Gallery at UMaine Presque Isle just in time to drop off the paintings. But our mad stab at finding a hotel online was a mixed bag.
I recognized the type from years spent rambling in isolated corners of America. It was a place that catered to hunters, featuring a microwave, a dorm fridge, and a blind eye toward the depredations of canine visitors. A long-gone hound had protested being shut up in the bathroom by scratching the door, and another had stained the carpet. Still, the bed was clean and it was much too cold in that room for bedbugs. We were way too tired to care about amenities anyway.