Seven days after setting out and after three in Maine, I settled upon a conclusion which had turned about on itself for some days before falling confusedly into place: Mainers lack a clear conception of “town” or, more precisely, the notion is rather more vague or, more precisely still, civil divisions lead one to believe so. For the townships in Maine operate as subdivisions of the counties, presumably so that they might have greater authority over day-to-day affaires. Naturally, the township bears the name of the main seat and the smaller settlements declensions of the former, most often of the type North-South-East-West, Upper-Lower or Ridge-Valley-Falls. Even those areas lacking a settlement are similarly divvied up and the traveler meets with Township T4 M9 and so on, the mere abstraction of human urban environments and citydwellers. This designation quickly gave rise in my mind to thoughts of theoretical and utopic towns brimming with paragons of virtue and character and one day to be realized.
Yet signs mark township borders with a formula like the following: “Now entering…” or “Welcome to…” or “x City” or “Town Limits” or “Established…” or “Incorporated…”. Upon seeing it, the traveller expects to come upon civilization of some sort but most often meets with large tracts of woods, the same as before. Having lost the town proper, the traveller as well feels lost, the world withdraws, and the landscape washes before the eyes. If a town is bounded not by buildings, but by woods, it is fair to wonder what remains of the dwelling.
This reflection clarified over the course of a day the better part of which was lost to my companion’s obsessive quest for postcards at the most unlikely of locations, tiny general stores and farflung thrift shops. We turned about, way forgotten, in ever widening circles. In the thrift shop, I heard the crystallization of an amorphous backwoods accent that I had detected in trace amounts over the previous days. In it, I fancied a hint of my native twang run through New England teeth and tongue.
From here on, save for a few outings, my observations fragmented into that which I could glimpse from the road. On occasion, I caught sight of large letters reading “Redemption Center”. Undoubtedly, this was linked to the bottle redemption program put in place by the state legislature. All the same, I could not help but imagine an alternate service which offers not cash but takes it in exchange for the person’s own redemption in the eyes of gods and humans, provided that they can peel themselves away from the asphalt.
With greater frequency, yellow signs promised that, to either side, hidden drives pierced the roadway. They invariably promised but never delivered on their secret content, which I soon forgot as my watching gave way to other thoughts and impressions, such as the roadside lake across which I spied a mountain slope. Its sides revealed downward strips cleared of trees. I wondered at their purpose as they bore no electricity poles. The mystery soon resolved itself as a skilift came into view, further confirmed by clothing retailers targeting the upper-middle class within the bounds of a ski-resort green and empty, as seen only in summer.
Before nightfall, we found ourselves back in New Hampshire in that very town where, as best I could make out, we had traversed five years earlier and almost to the day.