Can’t get rid of a thing

There must be something in the air, or maybe it’s the water. Since arriving here to Downeast Maine, a peculiar thing has happened. I cannot seem to throw anything away. Maybe a better way of explaining it would be that, I now find myself holding onto things much longer than before. An actual conversation with myself talks about the likelihood of needing an extra bolt, washer, maybe a few pieces of those off pieces of metal we really never identify. Sometimes I do it without even knowing I am doing it. It’s a strange occurrence, when one realizes a profound change has rendered him different than what he once believed them selves to be.

Back in the Pennsylvania days, which was not that long ago, if it was not identifiable, it was discarded, quietly and quickly. No need for remorse, or over-thinking it, “it” simply went away. Over the course of all those years I am certain I have discarded about two full dump truck loads of stuff with no thought prior to or afterwards as to where those things came from or where they were going. They just went.

Once realizing this change in behavior and attitude had taken place, I went about my days talking to and observing others. Is this a behavior that finally decides to make its presence known after people relocate to another area, or is it embedded in this place? Maybe it is an age thing; as we get older, we hold onto more and more stuff. What I found when speaking with some of the locals is that it really is never given a thought. They simply do it without thinking about it. Perhaps it is a holdover from the Depression days, or a trait passed on from parents to children. Everywhere I go, I notice subtle reminders of this Downeast way of life.

Examples of this self-reliance and preservation can be seen on a simple drive into town. Gardens are abundant, chicken coops are numerous, small herds of goats dot the landscape, and always the relic of a once used piece of machinery sits like a lawn ornament, prized for that long lost part that someone will one day need. Houses, in general, sit unadorned with the unnecessary and, instead, show real use through frugal means. Simplicity at its finest. Items are never discarded, but rather recycled or re-invented for another purpose. One can easily acquire enough to live on for perhaps a week or two simply by stopping and exchanging cash for produce, or produce for another’s produce, or simply trading one item for another; the barter system at its full potential, displayed on these roads we live on and travel by.

When one takes the time to reflect on this way of life, within one’s own life and the lives of others, it is a pretty easy thing to understand. The coastline here is beautiful and offers a bounty of examples of things never going to waste. Clams are dug, sold and eaten, their shells collected by others to adorn festive wreaths on front doors or simply placed on a windowsill. Artists spin fabric and mold clay by hand, or fashion bits and pieces of un-used metal into useful objects to use or simply to look at and admire. Fresh vegetables are pickled and preserved, and many extra freezers line the walls of garages and basements awaiting the bounty of food to be stored for winter use.

As I finish writing this piece, I look out the window to inspect the world we have fashioned here in our own little pocket of Maine. I look past the vegetable gardens, a shed that holds everything, a greenhouse that took too long to build, rain water barrels, and the ladies of the backyard, our chickens, as they pick and forage about, pretty much the same way Downeasters do, when they collect and prepare for tomorrow, and take pride in this life they have chosen today.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.