As I sat in my vehicle watching the concert on the Andover town green several weeks ago, I was touched to see so many familiar faces, people in many cases whom I have known and respected for years, even decades. The view was made especially poignant in these COVID-19 circumstances when so much is unsettled and unsettling.

Stephen Hudspeth

For a half century now, it’s been a special time for us in the mountains, woodlands and lakes of western Maine and especially so this summer with coronavirus-forced remote working that enabled our children and grandchildren to be with us for much longer periods.

When we crossed the state line into Maine in late June, we were greeted by flashing electronic highway signs cautioning new arrivals to quarantine for two weeks. Not the usual “Welcome to Vacationland!” greeting, but very understandable. Maine is a state, like our own Connecticut, that takes COVID-19 precautions very seriously, and that is certainly a good thing. That being said, we didn’t know how well received we would be in our summer hometown. We shouldn’t have worried though: we were greeted warmly, duly masked and social distanced as we were.

After our two-week quarantine ended, we picked up where we left off last summer, still following precautions but integrating back into a community we have known and loved for more than half a century of vacationing here. And what a community it is! From running its own school department and very successful town elementary school to having a really accomplished set of entrepreneurs in everything from retail hardware, market/restaurant, auto-servicing, rental campgrounds/Airbnbs/cabins, hair care, massage therapy and, of course, farming and forestry, to statewide excavation and national ski-equipment-marketing businesses — it’s a vibrant town that accomplishes far more than one might expect, given its population of only 800. Yet Andover has suffered its share of traumas in business and personal impact from the COVID-19 crisis and even before.

That being said, and notwithstanding that the always impressive Olde Home Day celebration with a grand parade and many events that draw hundreds of visitors to Andover is naturally off for this year, we see lots else for the good happening here. There are those outdoor concerts with impressive country and folk instrumentalists and vocalists featuring local professional-grade talent, as well as exceptional regional performers. One of them said recently that he hadn’t been able to appear before a live audience in five months and really welcomed the chance to do so in Andover. Appropriately sized and socially distanced audiences gather on the spacious town green on summer evenings with performers on the elevated gazebo.

At Mills Market, you can pick up great meals and eat them outdoors under a huge tent at tables where social distancing works well, and you can do the same outdoor dining on refreshing ice cream confections at Kate’s Kones.

This (by no means comprehensive) list of all that is going on in Andover really underscores community resiliency here — as we’ve come to appreciate it over many summers. That resiliency derives from an extraordinary body of residents and has become even more apparent as the community has addressed the added stresses coronavirus has imposed.

With a ring of mountains encircling a verdant valley and the Ellis River running through it, the outdoors always beckons in Andover. Many miles of multi-purpose (hiking, horseback riding, ATVing, skidooing) trails course through it, and a good infrastructure remains very much in place to support those who take advantage of this invitingly beautiful countryside.

The pace here is also welcomingly different for us “flatlanders.” Even as we do our business over Zoom, laptops and phonelines, we can take a break and simply step outside to experience a beautifully revitalizing scene.

It’s not easy to keep a town moving forward in such challenging times, but from our many years of summering here, we appreciate that this town knows how to get it done, from the professional hairdresser who led Andover through a successful school district withdrawal and has continued since then as chair of its school board, and the young man who started his own excellent lawn-mowing business and now also this summer, at 16, is driving an excavator’s truck, to the 80+-year-old senior citizens whose tremendously capable hands are volunteered for every major town rebuilding and improvement project, and the hardware-store owner who is always sought out, and willingly takes on, a leadership role in whatever special town project needs doing.

It’s an honor to be a summer resident among them all.

Stephen Hudspeth is a summer resident of Andover.

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