MAINE DECIDING TO BE BEAUTIFUL
When Jean Shepherd vacations locally rather than traveling to far-away places, he goes to Maine. In earlier trips, he goes there with his third wife, Lois Nettleton, who remembers that he would fish and she would enjoy cooking his catch. In subsequent years he travels there with his fourth wife, Leigh Brown. They buy a house on Snow Pond, north of Augusta, off the main roads. They keep the location secret so they will not be bothered by his overly-enthusiastic fans.
Maine is his favorite state. Maine is one the few American places he does special programs about, so it’s not surprising that he once referred to Maine as “my favorite foreign country.”
Consciously giddy in one broadcast, in a paean to the natural glories of Maine, Shepherd permits his emotions to slip beyond passion into awed stupefaction. (Or so it would seem if, in the audio of this homage, we fail to note his ironic tone of voice delivered over a buoyant, carefree rendition of the instantly recognizable opening bars of “Humoresque,” a Dvorak dainty ditty that long ago achieved some notoriety as the perky tune for various comic verses regarding passenger train toilets.) Shepherd does mean what he says and he is truly overwhelmed—but he wants us to know that he knows it. After all, publicly revealed unrestrained commitment on any issue might lead to a negative judgment regarding his intellectual capacity and stability.
This segment about Maine says little about anything except the landscape, and is thus rather different from most of his other travel narratives. Although he discusses Maine on other shows, he does not do so within the context of a “travel story,” so those comments don’t fit this present grouping. However, this appreciation of a location’s ambiance is kin to Shepherd’s affectionate commentary about the many-sided beauties of Ireland found in a subsequent chapter.
I am in the State of Maine. I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than the State of Maine when it’s deciding to be beautiful. It is a majestic state.
Ever since I was a kid I have been reading about the North Woods in Maine. They don’t have North Woods in Indiana, you know. They don’t have any Maine at all in northern Indiana. I would see pictures in the outdoor magazines like Hunting and Fishing and Field and Stream and all these great magazines. I would see pictures of these magnificent Maine lakes that were nestled like veritable jewels out of nature’s fantastic diadem of creativity. Veritable jewels in this great, vast, rich, verdant green forest. Glistening under that bright northern sun. With just the slightest edge of a breeze. Just the slightest edge rippling that crystalline water. Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh!
And below the surface of that crystal water, great, ravishing, smallmouth bass lay waiting—just for the slightest suggestion of a Royal Coachman fly laid upon that glassy surface with the expert, magnificent technique of a born artist of the fly rod. Me.
A Royal Coachman fishing fly–
not necessarily the exact type Shep used
Well, finally, at long last, this young pilgrim on the great road of life achieved enough of the necessary scratch to get himself up to Maine. And in a rented rowboat made out of the purest lead—finally—at long last—he found himself on a magnificent, beautiful—encased with the great pine forests—a lovely, lovely, remote lake. Ain’t that great? Isn’t that beautiful now? I’m telling you the truth!
I’ll tell you this—I don’t know quite how to approach this adventure because it may cause embarrassment to the guilty, who are still out there. But I got this boat and this is the first time I have ever been in Maine. It was about my second or third day there and on the back of this rowboat I had rented myself one of these tiny outboard motors that had about, roughly, about the horsepower of a Waring Blender. It took me about forty minutes to go twenty feet, with the current, and downhill. A lot of those lakes are downhill and uphill in Maine, you know. This little motor would go catut catut catut catut catut catut. It’s very embarrassing—a guy rode right past me, saying, “You want a hitch?” You know how those Maine guys are—got a certain type of humor, “Like a hitch?” I’d say no. Catut catut catut catut, I’m driving my little motor there. It’s about the size of a football with a little tin propeller at the bottom, and I am heading out in this beautiful lake.
Snow Pond Lake
(aka Messalonskee Lake)
on which Shepherd will one day buy a summer house.
[Addition=a photo of Shep’s house on Snow Pond.
The new owners did a major renovation instead of tearing it down.]
Stay tuned for more evocations of Maine