The lost Valley
I’m baffled by the apparent disconnect that appears here in the St. John River Valley, or rather the disconnect that exists between here and the rest of the state and the rest of the country. Allow me to explain.
I titled this item ‘The Lost Valley’ because, as one historian acquaintance said, I live in The Great Unknown. The St. John Valley seems to be an irrelevant appendage to the state of Maine: an afterthought tagging along behind the remainder of the state, dragged like a tin can on a string. It might make some noise now and then, clanking as it follows the state’s left leg, though nobody really cares about it, leastways like I do.
I like to say, paraphrasing Julius Caesar, that “all of Maine is divided into three parts.” They are; The Coast, the Other Maine, and the Lost Valley. Similar to the Coast along the Gulf of Maine, the Lost Valley occupies a thin strip along the Canadian border and has a coastline of its own beside the St. John River. Unlike the Coast of Maine, it is not inhabited by the well-heeled, the well-to-do, the Cottagers, the seasonal wealthy vacationers. Mind you, I’m not complaining about that part, except for the fact that little if any of their filthy lucre makes its way up here.
I’m the current president of the Madawaska Historical Society. We are a tiny, impoverished, seldom visited and almost completely unknown entity occupying an eentsy coastal sliver of the Lost Valley. I’m floored by the richness of the history we have here in the Lost Valley; from the Maliseet with their 12,000 years of occupying this land, the Acadians with their distinctive French culture and romance, to the Allagash with its wildly heroic and supersized legendry.
I’m completely captivated by the Lost Valley’s landscape, its hills and forests, its bucolic settings, the distinctive flora and fauna of the region. Most of all, I am taken almost to the point of madness by the St. John River. You can have your Amazon, your broad Mississippi, and your tranquil Rhine. I’ll take this river any day with its mostly unsung history, its movements and the many views of the Lost Valley I’ve seen floating down its upper course over the years.
And yet, we are a largely ignored section of the world, too far away to travel to by car or bus, a small bit of the United States jutting like a finger into the soft underbelly of Canada.
I should be glad of the isolation, for at least it is quiet here and I’ve learned to appreciate quiet in a noisy confused tangle of the world. I was born here, so the noise of the rest of the world has little appeal to me anyway.
What I can’t fathom is how come the world “down there” has little if any knowledge of this place. A while back, I said we should start sending emissaries, messengers, runners to other parts of the state to tell them about this place, if only to make them aware of it. I was saying this in the context of our languishing historical societies subsisting on periodic eyedropper-full injections of cash from the National Park Service; welcome, but insufficient to tell the Lost Valley’s story completely. We had a World Acadian Congress (CMA) in 2014 which turned out to be all flash and no bang, like a musket’s misfire or as I once termed it; “here today, gone today.”
There are a myriad of reasons why the 2014 CMA popped like a dud bottle rocket, and there’s little point in going over old ground except to say it did next to nothing about showcasing the historic, cultural and physical richness of this place. True, the Canadian side of the venture profited somewhat from the CMA, but that’s a matter of where the money went.
In my darker moments, I think sometimes secession is an option, but as the Scots say, “there’s nae money in it.”
Really, it’s not about the money. It’s about awareness. There’s a jewel of a place in northernmost Maine that doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. That alone has all sorts of consequences, particularly when it comes to keeping up our own sense of awareness of who and what we are.
If that’s the case, then we’d really become the Lost Valley.
Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Born in 1953 in Canada, he admits not having found what he wants to be when he grows up. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.