Crossing the Bridge

By Jamie Blaine

A front-page article in the current Working Waterfront announces that, in the wake of the work and lifestyle changes spurred by Covid, Maine is now the 8th fastest-growing state in the nation.

I confess to mixed emotions.

I didn’t come here for the crowds. I came for the pleasures of living in a small community, for the natural beauty of this place – and for the solitude. When people talk about moving here, I often tell them about June’s mosquitoes and January’s blizzards, about the price of groceries and the crowds in the park. Sometimes I end by saying I hear it’s real nice in Vermont.

But there are plenty of reasons why more people, especially the younger families now coming, are good for ME – and also for me. We need them to keep our shops and restaurants open, to fill our schools, to do the jobs we need done, to reinvigorate our town with fresh faces and new voices. We don’t lack for people in August, but by February the line between solitude and isolation can be a thin one.

As a recovering summer person who now lives here year-round, I like to imagine I have a foot in each camp – sort of like the Trenton bridge. I’m kidding myself of course: When you’re the guy who puts on gloves to cut wood and shovel snow, it’s pretty obvious you’re from away. But that’s OK. It gives me a somewhat different perspective on our community – on what holds us together and what pulls us apart. Like the rest of America, we have our divisions, most obviously between summer and year-round residents – but in all the other ways as well. Yet none of that stops people from greeting each other on Main Street or working together for a common cause. I think they make Mount Desert a better and more interesting place to live – because a community is made up of people, not clones, and it only grows stronger when we celebrate our differences and embrace the eccentricities of a small town. Today, that diversity is threatened by the lack of year-round housing.

I’ve met few people who openly oppose affordable housing – until someone actually proposes building it. Change is hard, and not all of it is good. Yet it’s happening all around us. As real estate prices soar, small houses morph into big houses, big houses are knocked down for bigger houses – while long lines of cars and trucks transport the people who build and maintain those houses to their own homes across the bridge. With them go the children they could send to our schools, the money they could spend with our merchants, and the time they could give to our volunteer services. Despite the enormous influx of wealth it has brought, this rural gentrification impoverishes our community and is unsustainable in the long run.

Beyond the beauty of the park and the majesty of the ocean, it’s the little things that define this place: walking up to Haynes Garage and getting, along with my car, a tour of Dan’s museum; morning conversations at the post office; having one of the many Browns cheerfully drop off a new tool I will soon break; the loaf of fresh bread that magically appears on the kitchen counter. There is a level of trust here, mostly unspoken, that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. It’s the soul of the town, and it’s worth preserving.

Our children grew up here as summer kids. They now live across the country – San Francisco, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, D.C. Yet when they cross the bridge onto this island, they still let out a cheer – and so do I – for they have come home.

Jamie Blaine has lived in Northeast Harbor, at least part-time, since
the mid-1970s.
He is a member of the Town Economic Development
Committee, The Neighborhood House Board, and volunteers with Hospice.