Staff Writer Kay Neufeld poses at her first home in Hope, Maine, known by the community as “The Red House.” Neufeld moved to Maine at the end of the summer of 2020 and is now leaving The Red House to live in Farmington full time. Photo courtesy of Lyla Rose

REGION — Around this time last year, I arrived in Maine with my car, a suitcase and intentions to stay for five days. I was traveling to hike in Acadia (of course) and quickly felt at home in Maine. Within three nights, I was searching on Craigslist for housing and jobs, and within four, had found a place to stay.

A few week’s time had put me in a slight state of culture shock as a native and lifelong New Yorker (at 23 years old). But over the past year, I feel I’ve somewhat assimilated into Maine’s specific way of life. My New York accent is immensely toned down (though coffee is still “cawfee”to me); I drive more cautiously and courteously; and I learned how to fire up a wood-stove like my life depended on it (which it did).

I’ll always be ‘from away,’ of course. But here are some of the things I’ve come to appreciate and learn about the Mainer way of life.

Waving is essential

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Maine was that everyone waves at each other: when you let another driver turn before you at the intersection, when you drive past a pedestrian on the street, when you pass someone on a trail – the list really goes on.

In New York, unless you know the person, residents mostly are doing whatever they can to ignore each other.

At first, I was annoyed by this protocol. It felt foreign, forced and a waste of energy.

But my housemate recently told me that waving, which originated on the coastal islands, sends a signal of well-being. If you didn’t wave at a passerby, it was a sign that something was wrong and you needed help, she told me.

This reflects a deep sense of community in Maine, a need to take care of one another, even if that person is a stranger.

Curbside trash-pick-up services are not guaranteed

When my housemates clued me in on household chores, I was surprised that trash disposal was on the list. I had always assumed that in America, at least, public-works services for curbside trash pick up were guaranteed. That assumption was wrong.

I initially found it incredibly tedious to have to separate all of my recycling down to the numbers and transport smelly goods in my car to the transfer station.

But I’ve always heard grumblings that recycling your garbage in New York does not have the impact we think it does. According to the New York Times, “New York City recycles only about a fifth of its garbage.”

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the transfer station’s system. By making a point to separate the many different kinds of recyclables, I feel more confident that my household’s waste isn’t getting dumped at one landfill to rot the Earth for eternity.

It’s also made me acutely aware of just how much plastic I use. I’ve consequently made an effort to reduce my carbon footprint. To an extent, I feel that Maine’s eco-conscious nature has rubbed off on me.

Climate change has already touched down in Maine

Though there is fairly cold weather in New York, I was dreading my first winter here. Many Mainers that I met had expected me to abandon ship once the weather got harsher. But I survived and am still here to tell the tale – in part, because I am stubborn and in part, because I’m told last winter was mild to put it lightly.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Maine “has warmed about three degrees (F) since the year 1900.”

I was initially pleased that I didn’t have to deal with a brutal winter. But no Mainers were pleased by this outcome. The mild weather was out of the ordinary and serves as a forewarning of what is to come.

And though this milder weather made surviving the cold a bit easier, we’ve already felt its consequences. The milder weather killed off less ticks, resulting in a harsher tick season. Local businesses and industries that depend on ample and consistent snow fall, such as ski resorts, suffer. And pollen season is lasting far longer.

On top of milder winters, Maine also saw a few brutal heatwaves this past summer and is battling droughts, which has affected both the farming and seafood industries.

That aforementioned eco-conscious nature is not merely a Maine ethic. Like many places across the world, climate change directly impacts Maine’s way of life. Mainers have a stake in this game. If those from away, like myself, are planning on sticking around, it’s up to us to get with the program.

Winter is not an end to enjoying the outdoors

I have a tendency to hibernate during winter. With a wood stove and comfortable couch, being housebound was not necessarily a jail sentence. But I noticed that for most Mainers, the fun does not end when the sun starts setting at 4 p.m. and snow coats the ground.

I was encouraged to strap on a pair of snowshoes or microspikes and get back outside. The fear of falling on my face never dissipated but it was nice to be outside during a season usually spent indoors.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, spending time with friends also meant going on outdoor coffee dates and the like. I quickly learned that a nice pair of long-johns will get you far in life.

Supporting local life is key and convenience is not

I admittedly arrived to Maine with a reliance on Amazon’s two-day shipping. I quickly noticed that my housemates did not share that reliance. They opt for the co-op, farm stands and farmer’s markets. They take a trip to the bookstore or hardware store. They use local banks, rather than the big kahunas.

I’ve also noticed the importance of buying locally grown produce and meats. The local meat products are especially harder to find in New York.

I found it easier than I expected to transition to this way of life. It may be less convenient than shopping that, after the click of a button, is out of sight, out of mind. But there’s a deeper sense of satisfaction knowing that my money is feeding the life of the community. And your vote is your dollar, after all.

Feeling grateful

Ultimately, my greatest take away has been the way Mainers share a deep sense of responsibility to act as protectors, personally and cumulatively. They want to protect the Earth, their local economies and one another.

Mainers have stopped to see if I was okay when I was pulled over on the side of the road; they’ve offered to help me strap my heavy kayak to my car; they’ve taught me how to light a wood stove; they’ve tapped into their community networks when I’ve needed help; they’ve shared with me the wealth of knowledge they possess on the best spots to forage wild blueberries, the best lobster shacks and how to get by on my own.

They saw a young woman in great need, took a chance on her and let her move into their home with less than a day to decide and have since been welcoming, warm and caring.

Mainers look after each other — even those from away. I may be far from my family, but I know someone will always have my back.

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