One of the activities I enjoy best involves almost no activity at all. It’s sitting in a comfortable chair, sipping a large cup of coffee, (maybe even a second cup) and looking out the front, south-facing windows as the morning sun expands over a piece of the world I call home. It’s an incomparable feeling of peace as the daily light spreads over our modest six acres, which, in my view, is the most tangible form of physical possession (it’s not called ‘real estate’ for nothing) yet even that is an illusion since the earth really cannot be possessed because ultimately it owns itself.
That last melancholy thought is not the one that I consider, however, after I’ve set out the feeders and enjoy the turkeys breakfasting on corn, the birds savoring their meaties, the hummingbirds (an engineering and aesthetic marvel in themselves) buzzing in constant, high speed motion around the crimson beverage that begins their day.
The scene would be less tranquil, less soul satisfying if there were human activity. Thankfully, there are no bullets or arrows flying through the air heading for an animal target,and the sound and smell of ATV’s is blessedly absent, as is the barreling whine of snowmobiles as they race along a nearby road in winter.
It is a little glimpse of Eden, a snapshot of life as it once was and in some places still is. Do we need more of this kind of experience that quiets the soul, settles the mind, and re-connects us to the natural world? I would say yes but apparently not everyone agrees.
Take the case of the North Woods National Monument here in Maine. If the monument is created in the Katahdin region, it could well be the precursor of a National Park, as it was for Zion, the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Acadia, all of which incidentally faced a good deal of local opposition at first, and now have proved to be economic engines for the areas in which they’re located.
Have these preserved sites changed nearby towns? Of course. Bar Harbor today is nothing like it was around the turn of the twentieth century, though I’ll bet they faced the same dilemma that confronts every town that is swamped by tourists, a development largely tolerated only because of the profit it generates. It’s the Hobson’s choice that humans have had to deal with for countless generations: How can things change and still remain the same?
Of course, it’s ultimately the first option and never the second. Why? Because as Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher put it, “Nothing is constant but constant change.” We don’t have to like it (often we don’t) but we can’t stop it because either immediately or ultimately, it will prevail. What we can do is to adapt and accept the change if it’s to our advantage to do so.
That’s the choice here in Maine. A gift of more than 70,000 acres in the Millinocket area as well a $40 million dollar endowment is on the table. It’s an incredibly generous offer and though Roxanne Quimby apparently can afford it, there’s obviously no law that says she has to do it.
Like many affluent individuals, she could easily live a lavish, self-indulgent lifestyle, ranging from private jets to several, luxurious McMansions scattered hither and yon. I’ve never met Ms. Quimby, so for all I know, she may live in the way I’ve just described (though somehow I doubt it) and, her gift aside, she is still quite wealthy, but the fact remains she didn’t have to make this attempt to preserve a very large tract of land and make it available to the vast number of citizens for whom a national park is a welcome and appealing destination.
So what’s the problem? Why are people opposed to this initiative? First, they’re not as many as you might think. For instance, when non-binding legislation rejecting the concept of a national monument was passed recently in Augusta, it was by a very close margin: 77 to 73 in the house, 18 to 17 in the senate.
Those who remain adamantly against Quimby’s gift are hampered by the fact that they have no alternative solution that addresses the dire financial straits in which they and their communities find themselves.
The mills are gone or going, logging operations are on the wane, hunters and snowmobilers make up only a small percentage of the army of tourists who visit Maine each year. In other words, there is no viable “Plan B.” It’s either the status quo (a depressed economy with no rrelief in sight) or a national monument (or national park) which will certainly bring change to the area but also material prosperity.
Will the area be the same as before? In some ways it may be, but in many ways it will be different. For those who still want to hunt or operate their ATVs and snowmobiles (these last two sometimes referred to as ‘traditional’ though they’re way too new to fall into that category) there’s always the approximately 600,000 acres that constitute Maine’s public lands, a good portion of which is close by.
So long as the specter of ‘from away’ – Ms. Quimby is from Massachusetts – doesn’t cloud our judgment and the bogeyman perception of the federal government (yes, they’re a bureaucracy, but so is any state government including our own) doesn’t muddle our thinking, a balance can be achieved.
The area’s fiscal crisis can be addressed by a reliable, long-term revenue source, and a vast quantity of Maine’s wilderness will be preserved for future generations as well as ourselves. Will there be more out-of-state visitors? Yes, but even in the most visited national parks, there are plenty of opportunities for reflection and solitude without the intrusion of other humans. It’s a connection to timelessness, perspective, and, yes, even healing as we re-establish, even for only a brief period, our link to nature’s pace as we temporarily suspend our own.
It’s a worthy goal that deserves our support because it’s an experience that should be available to everyone.
For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.