I left Maine because I had the nerve to think I could do it better someplace else, and on paper I had everything I needed to do so.
I was on the West Coast in a pristine location, where endless rolling hills meet sandy beaches without a man-made structure in sight. The coldest it got in the winter was in the low 50s, you could grow food year round, there was no such thing as traffic and the wildlife, both in the sea and in the forests, was abundant. I’d just been offered the perfect job for me: managing a lemon and kiwi farm nestled in a secluded valley a few miles from the ocean.
So why did I come home to Maine? Simple. You can’t replace what you need with what you want.
California had a lot of what I wanted, but Maine has everything I need. Having left on foot, with nothing but youthful idealism and a stubborn New England work ethic, I was determined to prove that if a person was honest and hard-working they could accomplish anything. Even a car was beneath my lofty standards. I sold my old Chevy Suburban, loaded my pack with camping gear and dog food, and headed south along the Maine coast with my black Lab, Job, in the fall of 2003.
The night before, the farm which we had come to call home had its annual dance in the barn. I had a great time, as always, and part of me wondered why in the world I wanted to leave. The life I had was just about perfect, but that wasn’t good enough for me. What I hadn’t learned, yet, was the difference between almost perfect and perfect isn’t what’s on the outside. It’s what it means to you on the inside.
Almost perfect is as good as it will ever get and more than most could ever hope for. It took me a few years and a lot of miles walked to learn this, and I hadn’t until I crossed the Maine state line and came back.
Things on the farm are different now. Though they offered me work the very same day I arrived, there’s a lot of new faces and changes, and I secretly hoped it’s still a place were hard work is valued. In the years we were gone, it hadn’t taken me long to realize that the name of the game in the “real” world wasn’t based on the values I had set out with. It seemed far too many people were looking for a “sweet deal,” one that consisted of working as little as possible while getting paid as much as possible. I was looking for a fair deal.
I wasn’t looking to avoid hard work. In fact, I like it. Though I was a college grad, the white-collar world hadn’t suited me. Many may think being educated, quick or clever will make them lots of money (and maybe it can), but you can’t outsmart life, only one another. I don’t think being intelligent has ever been the cause of anyone’s happiness.
To me, having heart is more important than being smart. And if home is where the heart is, then I now know exactly where I belong. Hard work, a love for the land and a life that’s connected to it in so many ways is what Maine represents to me. I know that there are other places that mean the same thing to the people that live there, and I’m glad for them. Maine’s deep forests, old mountains, wild rivers and a coastline of inlets and islands unmatched by any other, maybe in the world, is more than I could ever need.
Whether you live in the country or the city, dignity isn’t how much you have. It’s how well you take care of what you do. Camped with Job in a tent on the edge of a hay field, happy to be working and patiently waiting to see whether this was the place I left to find years ago, I know that if it isn’t, it is someplace in Maine.
It’s good to be home.
Chris John Clemens was born in Boston, moved to Maine in 1994, and has worked as a carpenter, farmhand, and commercial fisherman throughout the United States and Europe. He lives and works on a farm in Freeport.