Going West

I’ll be headed west again today, driving into Maine’s western mountains. It’s a beautiful drive, and the snow-capped mountains of the region always seem to be beckoning me toward them.

The drive, usually up Route 4, is a long one and I like to stop off in Farmington because that’s about half way for me. Farmington is the big town in Franklin County and as such, has the most of almost everything related to commerce.

The downtown area in Farmington is probably still similar to what it was 70 years ago, although old-timers might tell me different. There are still stores and shops. The town even has a locally-owned bookstore. There are several places to get a decent lunch and after-hours, there are even two or three places to get a beer.

It’s odd that downtown is still operational and vibrant because out on the edge of town, on Wilton Road (Route 4) specifically, sits the enemy of all things local—a China Mart. I won’t comment much more about this because I have many other times on this blog and others—I will say that places like China Mart are dangerous if not deadly to any hope of developing a vibrant local economy.

China Mart--The enemy of all things local.

China Mart–The enemy of all things local.

Things are not right in most places in Maine, save maybe Portland, Bangor, and some might argue one or two others. If you’ve crossed Maine east and west with any regularity like I have, you know that something is off-kilter, almost akin to a television set or movie screen being out of focus; the problem is that no one knows where to find the adjustment and bring it back to clarity.

On Saturday, I had a freelance assignment at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. The event I covered was put on by a terrific organization, Veterans Adaptive Sports & Training (VAST) and allowed a group of wounded veterans four days of outdoor recreation, camaraderie, and a respite from the challenges inherent in putting together broken lives post-combat.

All of the men (and women) I spoke with referenced the difficulties they’ve had returning with injuries incurred during combat. The director for VAST, Kristina Sabasteanski, indicated that their injuries—one she referred to as “invisible” because they aren’t obvious to most—makes it really hard for these veterans to adapt and many struggle with depression and isolation, as well as other issues.

Meanwhile, last week, the Senate voted down a comprehensive veterans’ health package that would have provided a variety of supports for 22 million members of our military back from Iraq, Afghanistan, and previous combat. Regardless about your stance on war, returning veterans should be taken care of—that would be the kind of support we should be providing our troops beyond mere yellow ribbons and bumper slogans.

The rationale for the bill being voted down was related to concerns about the budget; the very same budget bloated with military spending geared towards waging more wars, and sacrificing additional young men and young women in the prime of their lives.

Btw, keep your eyes on Ukraine and Russia, which will require you to turn to the east.

I don’t have time this morning for a longer, comprehensive post. However, I find it troubling that we know there’s a problem, and yet, few seem to have any solutions or sense of what the next steps might be in fixing the mess we’re in. Politicians don’t have the answer, business booster groups are clueless, and economic development in most places in our state is a choice between a new prison, or a corrugated steel structure triple in size of what used to be the norm for a local supermarket, with its red, white, and blue China Mart facade on the front.

My sister has a blog. You may read it. You should. She’s been writing about some of her own travels.

This weekend, she was headed west, to Rumford and Mexico. It was another one of her Lady Alone Traveler series that are some of my favorite blog posts of hers. She emailed me on Sunday about the trip. She wanted to know what had happened to Rumford and Mexico. I shared some of my thoughts.

It’s the same thing that happened to places I’ll pass today heading west; towns called Wilton, Strong, Phillips, Avon, Madrid, and others.

When you abdicate responsibility for the commons, bad things occur. Our way back begins at the most local level. The commons certainly won’t be repaired by building another China Mart, or prisoner lock-up.

3 thoughts on “Going West

  1. Happy trails to you today. It’s possible Farmington still has a downtown because of the college, although I wouldn’t suggest that the educational industrial complex is the solution for all of our problems. Nor is the medical industrial complex, or the military industrial complex. It’s just this sort of “complex” thinking that has created unlivable and isolated rural enclaves of poverty. Without a car, none of these rural towns are sustainable. Without a car, you can’t even get to the China Mart.

    I don’t have any answers today. Thanks for mentioning my blog.

  2. Thanks for the post.

    The Orlov piece is hilarious, I never thought to look to him for explanation. TheAutomaticEarth has a similarly wise piece on Ukraine today. The West has f*cked this one up, royally and foolishly. Sheer hubris.

    Please put your thoughts on Mexico and Rumford up on the Lady Alone Traveler’s post, I’d like to see them, too.

  3. JAB and LP, I appreciate the comments, as always.

    I did consider the college as a possible explanation for Farmington’s downtown vitality. Even with a China Mart, I think Farmington is the one community in Franklin County that has enough density and options that it lures people in from the far-flung parts of the county. Of course, one must drive there (except the college kids).

    You are correct, LP–the west and in particular, the US, has really f*cked this up.

    I’ll try to gather my wits tomorrow and post something on Julie-Ann’s excellent Lady Alone Traveler piece on Rumford/Mexico.

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