Hikers pause at an overlook on Tunk Mountain off Route 182 in eastern Hancock County in this photo from January 2020. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Down East is different. When asked what it was that made me move to this part of Maine, my reply was always the same: It’s yesterday’s Maine every day. I have since realized that is not exactly true, but close.

If it’s a local asking, their next question usually is: Can you see the Navy radio towers in Cutler from where you live? I can’t, but there are those who can and take it in stride, others who wish they’d go away and many who remember what this place looked like before the towers appeared in 1960. Perhaps when you have a backyard like ours, the view is like family; it is a part of you and you of it, and sometimes there may even be a disagreement or two.

This place we call home is the last stretch of remote coast before Canada, where much of the view with its wild tentacles of natural beauty remains strikingly similar to our eyes as they were to the Wabanaki, European explorers Smith and Verrazano, and writers Stowe, Jewett or even Thoreau. This Down East landscape is a thumbprint of time.

Clean air, renewable energy, recycling and a move toward eradicating plastics from flora, fauna and the oceans are good anywhere, let alone this place I call home. The pristine trails, mountains, bodies of water and coastal towns are a one-of-a-kind signature of a Down East life, and they, too, must be preserved.

Wind turbines, solar farms and associated electric grid development are knocking on Down East’s door right now, and the differing opinions on the impact they will have long term on the area is stirring much debate. Personally, I do think we rely on technology too much today, but I do realize the important role it plays in areas such as medicine, research, education, and communication.

I also believe climate change is real, that we must confront it now and that generating power through wind and solar technologies does indeed lessen our carbon footprint. All I ask is that we be smart about where we plant these technologies.

I am not against innovative ways to create renewable energy, but, as a resident, I want all those involved to think smart and keep in mind the perspective of others living in the area. Keep in mind those who are making the Down East drive for the very first time and the tourism dollars they bring with them. This truly is the last stretch of unspoiled land for miles geographically and visually.

Recently, a friend and I hiked Tunk Mountain. It was my first time on this trail, and it felt like Christmas. Around every bend were shimmering nuggets — gifts of beauty and majesty. Reaching the summit, the vista was my reward, like a star atop the tree. My mouth agape, the view was one of a kind, a backward glance in time. Scanning the horizon, admiring the mountain range, pockets of water below, the fall colors all around me, I caught sight of the row of wind turbines set upon a range to the northwest. This “before and after” snapshot in plain sight rattled me.

Since finding this place 20 years ago, I have not looked back. Its breath and its open arms took me in, even as a “person from away.” I was drawn to the wildness of it, its simplicity, charm and people. There are no billboards here, just like there are none in Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii. The reasons given are all the same: ethereal beauty, sight of open, untouched land and, most importantly, tourist expectations. As James Longley, then the governor of Maine, said decades ago: “Tourists are drawn to Maine because of its natural legacy.”  

Conservation, tax revenues, jobs, people leaving and an aging population are just a smattering of issues where disagreements are plentiful. But a room with a view is all anyone living life Downeast should agree on. In places where people come home after the day is done, fires are lit, supper on the table, the view out the window into that glorious field, mountain, stream, lake, ocean or just a simple tree in a simple yard is what it’s all about.

The challenges of living Down East are many: long distances, dwindling medical services, low employment and sometimes harsh weather are just a few examples. Should another challenge be maintaining our view out the window? Rather, efforts should continue to expand support services and ensure broadband access across the entire region. The internet is the essential tool in this world of ours, and, with reliable access, young people perhaps will stay or come back to their home with a view. New businesses and job opportunities will grow as more people work from home because the virtual office is here to stay.

Sometimes I have been ambivalent in telling others about this jewel of a place. My twinge of selfishness quickly evaporates, though, because people should come here and see what I see every day. Perhaps some will even decide to stay and help ease the challenges of living here. The person who drives north and arrives on a Down East doorstep is here for two reasons: to seek a place where they can be alone, relatively speaking, and to live in a place where they have been told time has stood still.  

RJ Heller, Down East contributor

RJ Heller is a journalist, essayist, photographer, author, an avid reader and an award-winning book critic who enjoys sailing, hiking and many other outdoor pursuits. He lives in Starboard Cove.