Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finding Scents of Maine

I have lived in Maine for 77 of my 78+ years. (One year I was foolish enough to think I would be better off in Florida.) I have found that every area of Maine has its own special scent.

I spent many summers of my childhood at Goose Rocks Beach in York County. There is a scent at that beach that I have never found anywhere else - not even at any other beach. Every year I say I am going to take a one-week vacation back at Goose Rocks Beach just to fill my lungs again with that sweet smell of ocean. The tide a Goose Rocks ebbs about a quarter of a mile. (Maybe a half: as a child I thought it was at least a mile.) Maybe it's because it slowly comes in over that stretch of hard packed beach, or maybe it's because it comes up from the unpolluted sea beyond the pile of rocks it recedes behind - I can't explain the reason, but the scent is fixed in my memory.

The scent in Yarmouth where I take my dog to run, is entirely different. There are tall evergreen trees - big pines that drop thousands of cones; there is a variety of small apple tree - the apples are small not the tree; there are acres of woods beyond where I go, and the land is not far from the ocean. The scent is spicy. Not sweet and salty like Goose Rocks. I pick a few leaves from the growth on the ground and crush them between my fingers. I find clover and other plants I cannot identify but none of the emit this strange aroma. I love it. I wish I could pitch a tent there an sleep one night in that clean herbal air. (I say herbal, because I don't know how else to describe it.

There is a baked bean plant (factory not greenery) in Portland. It is just of what is now a busy thoroughfare, on the edge of the back cove entrance. It is brick - a small establishment compared to buildings today. It has a tall stack which makes a lovely landmark. The Burnham & Morrill (B& M) Baked Beans were processed there. Real beans - real salt pork - molasses; makes my mouth water just to think of them. Driving past the B&M factory on processing day you could smell the beans cooking. I have been told they also processed corn. I never heard of B&M corn. I am quite sure the scent coming from that factory is baking beans. (Bob Marley, a homegrown Portland boy made- good as a comedian did an entire comedic piece on "putting the pork in the beans." )

The paper mills in Maine emit a less desirable scent. They used to pollute the air with their Kraft paper process (brown bags and wrapping paper). The "smell" - hardly what you would grace with words like "scent" or "aroma" was breathtaking, discolored the paint on houses, and clung to the laundry hanging on the line on a fine breezy day. The paper mill in Westbrook Maine has been so diminished it no longer emits any odor to speak of. We don't miss that disgusting smell, but the economy has suffered with the downsized business.

Maine has almost as many lakes as it does people. Small and large, they are nestled among pines at the foot of a mountain or the low places where rivers and streams converge. The scents around Maine's lakes are usually of pine, birch, and other hardy trees. There is something "smooth" about the smell of fresh water. Until, that is, the motor boats and personal water crafts pollute the air with the smell of gasoline and exhaust. And the quiet atmosphere with their raucous roaring and screaming.

If you chance to find a fishing village - or a waterfront where there is an active fishing industry - you will find the salty ocean scent is blended with the distinct "odor" of fish. There is no avoiding it, fishing boats smell like a bad day at a bait shop. Lobster boats carry bait barrels that have "trash fish" - lobsters and crabs love it. Fishing boats have holds that have to be able to keep fish for several days in order to profitably harvest from the off shore depths. You cannot keep fish four days and avoid the smell. You don't want to find it in your local fish shop, or in the supermarket, but if you are near the docks it tells you the fishermen are working which is a good thing.

The old school I attended had a distinct smell. It had hardwood floors and plaster walls and chalk boards that had been wiped and washed thousands of times. I can still conjure up that smell today as I am writing about it. They are making that school into apartments for low income elderly. If they went to school there they won't mind that smell. It will take them back to their happy carefree youth.

If you are lucky enough to be in Maine, breathe deeply of the sweet scents whilel you can.