Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Counts in the County

My husband and I visited Aroostook County last weekend and felt like we were in another country.

The landscape was incredibly beautiful in its summer height, and unlike the seaside beauty we witness every day, we saw acres and acres of rolling hills, green farms, pastures, old trees, vegetable gardens, modest yet substantial houses, and blossoming potatoes, all as far as the eye could see.

The rural towns were also unlike the cityscape we experience every day. There were fewer storefronts and restaurants, friendly, conversant folk, minimal car traffic and the occasional horse-drawn buggy or gigantic farming vehicle tooling down the street.

We arrived in Fort Fairfield on Friday about five hours from our home. Banners on lamp posts announced a welcome from "Friendly Fort Fairfield". Everybody seemed to know everybody else, and there was a lot of energy surrounding the ongoing, week-long Fort Fairfield Potato Blossom Festival.

Our trip was multi-purpose: a visit with friends, a work-related appointment, and to participate in the Potato Blossom 5-Mile footrace the following day.

There were literally no available places to stay in the county on account of the festival or the Maine Land Speed Races at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, but we lucked out with a Friday night cancellation. PJ and Rene picked us up at our Caribou hotel room and treated us to dinner at a favorite haunt. We were joined by Susan, Thomas, Marie and Dillon. Good food and good times followed, including a preview of the race course. And before we parted ways, Susan offered us a place to stay the following night. Awesome.

The road race course was tough - uphill for a couple miles, then a mile across a potato field before a nice, mostly downhill finish. There would be no shade and high temps, as the race went off at 9:00 am.

We were ready to go on race day having done an early (beautiful!) warm-up and arriving in Fort Fairfield with plenty of time. We toed the line and ran our races. I thought it was a fun, albeit challenging run, with pregnant Rene cheering from the sideline, a frolic through a rocky potato field, and two young Amish fellows spectating from their wagon.

PJ, Susan, Paul and I all received recognition for our efforts. The awards were made out of wood and shaped like guess what? Potatoes! I will cherish my trophy and tee-shirt from the county since this was my first visit.

We had a fun night grilling at the aforementioned free (thank you Susan and Chad) cabin in Stockholm (did you know that there is a distinction between cabin and camp in Maine?) and visiting at the local bar, before rising to the occasion of a Sunday morning group run in and around Caribou, followed by a hearty breakfast at Reno's.

If I can capture the essence of our visit to Aroostook County in one word, it's hospitality. We were welcomed, taken care of, and reminded of what it important. Friendship, camaraderie, running and keeping things simple. Thank you to our friends up north.

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