Embracing Maine’s Outdoors in a Pandemic
Maine magazine's new columnist Bill Green reflects on his long career in front of the camera and the role of the outdoors today
If this pandemic has proved anything, it’s that Maine is an outdoors state. No matter how bad things get, people still find relief, relaxation, and tranquility in the outdoors. It even appears that being outside is safer than spending time inside and breathing on each other.
By April, we were gardening, walking, running, and biking. As spring came into bloom, we added fishing, paddling, sailing, and boating. From all over the state, we plotted and updated our summer vacations to not hurt anyone, yet also be sure we would experience and enjoy these all-too-few wonderful summer days. That’s good for me.
I’m a new columnist at Maine magazine, and this is the story of how I got here. I’m supposed to be an outdoorsperson, and while I claim no particular expertise in any activity, I do enjoy almost everything. In fact, I became the outdoors guy at News Center Maine, where I hosted Bill Green’s Maine for two decades, mostly because the rest of the people in the newsroom weren’t. You know those anchors in suits and high heels? Not many of them go out in the woods! Growing up in Maine, my family had a camp on Jacob Buck Pond (it’s pronounced “Jake-a-buck!”) in Bucksport. We would try to keep old boats running to go waterskiing and tubing, and would often paddle canoes around the lake to see what the other kids were doing. Those experiences made me the Grizzly Adams of the newsroom.
Another big influence on my life was an outdoor writer named Bud Leavitt of the Bangor Daily News. Back then, outdoor writing was what has been called “hook and bullet,” and it appeared on the sports page. You could read about the Red Sox losing to whomever and then just move your eyes and read about some guy going hunting. Bud was different. He did what he wanted. He covered the outdoors, the Olympics, skiing, and the Red Sox. In fact, in the cooler-than-cool department, Bud was a close personal friend of Ted Williams.
Bud’s columns weren’t about what a great fisherman he was. They were about the common person reading his story. They were about the guy who christened spring by casting into the lake, putting his rod down on the dock, and walking away, when suddenly a fish hit the lure; he ran down to the icy dock, slipped, and skidded into the freezing lake. They were about the woman snowmobiling in a 1970s snowmobile suit who slipped off to relieve herself only to find out that she had done so in her hood. They were about funny stuff that happened at camp, and often Bud’s fictitious friend Bendy McElbow was on hand, drinking a form of white lightning called Stump Blower. Everybody loved Bud’s stories because they were so human. Someone once said, “I got two chances of getting my name in the paper: Bud’s column and my obituary.”
I had a kind of epiphany around 1990. I was visiting Colonial Williamsburg with my wife, and we were at dinner with couples from Chicago, Miami, and Washington, D.C. The group asked where we were from, and I told them Maine. “Ma-a-a-a-a-ayne?” a man asked, incredulously. (I’ve always felt when someone says Maine with 17 syllables, he’s looking down his nose at you.) They were talking about their cities’ murder rates, which had grown to more than one a day. They asked how many murders there had been in Maine.
I answered, “16.”
“No, last year.”
The subject then went on to public schools and quality of life and outdoor opportunities, and by the end of the conversation I was lying about our state because I was afraid they’d move here! After that dinner, I decided to start bragging about Maine. Here in Maine, we can ski, hike, run, bike, paddle, swim, snowmobile, boat, sail, and birdwatch almost limitlessly and relatively inexpensively. People come from all over the world to do what we can do in our backyards.
It’s been interesting to watch the outdoors draw us out of pandemic mode. While it’s kind of funny to see hikers on the trail or fishermen on their boats wearing masks, it’s a small price to pay in order to do what we love. I don’t know how effective the masks are, but if they make the statement “I’m being careful” or “I respect you,” I’m happy to wear one.
Thirty years after my dinner in Williamsburg, the secret about Maine being great is long out of the bag. Everybody making a list puts Maine, particularly Portland, near the top as a place to live, work, or visit. The very existence of this magazine is proof. What you see in these pages is remarkable. It’s Maine.
There is no more beautiful place to be than outdoors in Maine right now, and this issue is filled with ideas, methods, and stories about how people enjoy our outdoors. I look forward to spending time with you in future columns. Maybe we’ll even bump into each other outside, at a distance of six feet!