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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in ME » MAINE (all topics) » The Other Maine
Spring Sunset over Patten, Maine
The Other Maine

In the Night

By Alex Seise | March 28, 2012

Regardless of the time of year, there is only one thing always certain about nights in Aroostook County: they are dark.

The Moon Rising over Saint John River

But the darkness here isn’t like the pale glow of the night sky in southern New England where large cities like Portland and Boston pollute the heavenly blackness with lingering glimmers of light. With no sizeable urban centers around for miles, the skies and land of Northern Maine instead melt into a black void after sundown.

One of the first times I became so aware of the darkness was driving home late at night from a trip to Bangor along the Aroostook Scenic Highway, Route 11. In my side window, I watched the tiny points of light from the small town of Sherman fade further and further away.

As the car plummeted down a steep hill, the mirror sharply turned a foreboding noir. There was simply nothing to see; the blackness was everywhere around the car, and save for the faint glow from my headlights, the land was blanketed in pure, impermeable darkness.

Of course, it’s only when the darkness moves that you realize the shadows aren’t a velveteen blanket and are actually very much alive. On that same trip, I remember rounding each corner and watching off to the side of the road. As the beams swept along the overgrown forest near Masardis, dozens of eyes stared back.

Some belonged to small cats and raccoons nestled among the roadside brush; others were clearly set in the skulls of much larger, taller beasts, hulks lurking through the night air in search of post-twilight sustenance. Each glimmer lasted only a fraction of a second; still, the feeling of being watched was unsettling and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.

But not all things that go bump in the night are so unpleasant.

Many residents of Aroostook County have spectacular lore about the night sky. Thanks to the darkness of the land, the aerial displays are positively vivid. Quiet evenings bring vast swaths of stars, galaxies and satellites visible to the naked eye to the skies, a panoramic tableau best indulged in from a dark potato field miles outside of town. Many residents have also taken note of the swirling phenomena of the aurora borealis, better known as the northern lights, from vantage points near Presque Isle.

The Sun Sets over Madawaska, Maine

And every once in a while, when the moon is just right, the entire countryside becomes illuminated with a majestic pale blue glow that’s nearly as intense as twilight.

A much more common spectacle are the vivid sunsets. Due in part to the vast stretches captured by the naked eye and in part to the particulates kicked up by mills and off-road logging and recreation, plus a little help from naturally occurring weather patterns, these transition times between day and night are incredibly remarkable.

Even after spending well over a dozen summers in southern Maine, I can testify that nothing compares to an Aroostook sunset. The colors vary; some are filled with rich yellows and creams, much like a real-life Albert Bierstadt piece, while others transform the sky into a blood-red masterpiece dripping with oranges and pinks. As the clouds and sunlight orchestrate a final high note, the day quietly slips away beyond the horizon. After a few minutes, only the spectacular sunset gateway remains; before long, it, too, fades to black.

The Eyes of a Cow Moose, Connor, Maine

And yet, as enchanting as the sunsets are, Northern Mainers seem to have an unwavering penchant for the pitch black nights that follow. During the summer, fireworks light up the skies on many occasions. Festivals also have significant after-dark components ranging from dance parties and street bazaars to concerts and performances by local bands by lamplight.

Many homes have a space for a chiminea or outdoor fire pit, beckoning guests to the light of a crackling inferno long after the sun has retreated. And year-round, outdoor lights illuminate nearly every porch, driveway and path with many lights staying on long past the witching hour.

The darkness that constantly surrounds Aroostook County is a trait that doesn’t appear to be fading. Even as cities elsewhere boom, the towns of Northern Maine silently sigh as populations slowly dwindle over time. With each departure, another light or two switches off in the night, deepening the darkness bit by bit.

And for those who don’t mind the occasional glimpse of peering wild eyes or the faint rustle of creatures in the brush, the region is a dark, fascinating paradise.

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