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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in ME » MAINE (all topics) » The Other Maine
The Other Maine

Long Live the Lakes!

By Alex Seise | June 27, 2011

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Minnesota’s nickname is, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Though Maine’s doesn’t quite have that number, Aroostook County’s 250 lakes measuring over ten acres in area are anything but negligible.

In fact, like much of the wilderness in the northernmost reaches of the state, these waterways are an important part of the region’s culture.

When we first looked at houses last spring, we restricted our search to in-town homes.   Our rationale: though breathtaking and splendorous, lakeside properties were simply too far removed from civilization for two lifelong New Jerseyans. After all, how could one live without the conveniences of modern connectivity? And what joy could possibly come out of settling down thirty minutes away from the nearest grocery store? No, we agreed, it simply was not the lifestyle for us.

Downstate and elsewhere in New England, many residents maintain a summer cottage on a lake or some other peaceful waterway. It may be nestled deep in the woods, far away from their primary home. But in Northern Maine, it’s not uncommon for people to own a house in town and another just a few miles away on a nearby body of water. The names of these second houses vary—some are referred to as cottages, others as homes and still others as camps, all depending on the owners’ preferences and personal style. Some are no more than simple sheds built to protect from the rain and bugs; others are elaborate three or four season residences with a bevy of modern conveniences. Truly, the lake homes are as unique as their owners.

When David and I first arrived in town last July, the neighborhood was fairly quiet. There seemed to be quite a few empty houses on the street, though the lawns and gardens were for the most part meticulously kept. Whether these homes had secretive inhabitants squirreled away in some basement apartment or if a zealous neighbor tended to the gardens was unbeknownst to us until a few weekends after Labor Day.

Then, as the nighttime temperatures began plunging into the forties, they returned. Leaving in droves from their lovely lake homes, the residents returned to town to overwinter. It was a most curious exodus, as the foliage around the lakes was just morphing into a warm blush and winter’s outdoor recreation season was just a few months away.

This year-round leisure is another draw for Aroostook County’s lakes. Unlike their southern counterparts, these lakes retain a solid icy glaze throughout much of the winter. The ice is thick enough that skaters, ATVs and even pick-up trucks can traverse the crust without falling through.

One of the biggest hobbies on the lake during the winter months is ice fishing. As locals haul their ice fishing huts and shelters onto to the lake, they prepare to reap the labors of a bountiful wintry harvest from deep below the pale blue ice. In summer, the same lakes offer a refreshing oasis that gives residents a chance to dunk themselves in crisp, clean waters. The fall and spring offer fabulous vistas and perfect opportunities for boating.

Driving along the major arteries of the County, lakeside culture permeates every inch of the roadway. Towns and areas like Saint Froid Lake, Portage Lake and Eagle Lake dot the landscape. These places swell during the summer months as out-of-state nature enthusiasts invade for rest and relaxation in the Great Outdoors.

Scenic overlooks, parks and campgrounds are scattered around these tremendous reservoirs, letting visitors soak in as much scenic beauty as they’d like. Like with the townsfolk, as the summer’s days grow shorter, these communities slip into a long slumber while the population retreats during the winter.

Earlier this season, we were invited to a lake home owned by the family of our friends. The experience was unlike any other that I can remember. The quaint home was perched just feet from the water’s edge, and gentle waves lapped at the grasses and reeds of the lakeshore.

David and I sailed out toward the middle of Mud Lake in two sleek kayaks, admiring the pristine water and tranquil landscape. Across the way, a large tract of undeveloped land owned by the local mill stands untouched by man.   As loons cooed in the distance and the warm rays of an orange sunset peeked above the faraway hills, David dipped his paddle into the still water and turned to me.

“I changed my mind,” he said. “I think I could live here after all.”

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