“Why would you want to live in Aroostook County?”

They ask me, their faces creased in varied expressions of doubt and disapproval.

“There’s nothing to do up there.”  They continue on, as though telling me will make me believe it.

“The County’s dead and I’m glad I left.”  They say often with a sense of slight satisfaction and disdain.

“It’s too cold up there for me!”  They exclaim, pulling their arms in around their bodies as the mere thought of a long cold Northern Maine winter comes to life and makes them shiver.

And to that I will concede: it’s cold up here.  It’s really cold. It’s the only type of cold where Celsius and Fahrenheit can agree to meet up on the thermometer at -40.  It’s a dark cold too, morning arriving so late and evening arriving too soon.  And it’s so quiet, a quiet cold where living things don’t move.  It’s so quiet you can stand outside at night and hear nothing but the air cracking in time to the low rhythmic hum of the block heater you plugged your car into.  It.is.cold.  And it would be almost unimaginable to find a Northern Mainer who has something nice to say about the weather during the last two weeks of January and first two weeks of February.

Winter is long in Northern Maine, longer than the rest of New England.  But that doesn’t make it bad.  That doesn’t make it less enjoyable than other seasons.  It just makes it cold.  But it can’t be that cold because half of Massachusetts spends winter in The County to ride our 2,300 miles of snowmobile trails.  And by the way, you might get away with that kind of driving in cars but snowmobiles handle differently and also moose are stupid; drive safe.  A Northern Maine winter is cold, but our kids still learn to dress warmly, have fun outside, to Nordic and Alpine ski at over 20 ski centers and on thousands of miles of groomed trails and tracks.  And I’m not saying our kids are tougher than yours, but a County kid will be the last one to ask to come inside.  (Mostly because he knows his mother will say no, change out his mittens and send him back outside anyway.)  Of course when he does come in, the ployes and chicken stew will be hot and ready.

We play basketball during the long cold winters, host world-class Can Am dog sled races, International Biathlon Union world cup events, we run 5K races on snowshoes, and we also build snowmen.  And sometimes?  We stay inside by the fire and tunnel under blankets like hibernating bears and watch football, because sometimes there is too much long cold winter and we are tired of it.

But that doesn’t mean we move away or hate living here.

Oh, but the spring.

The arrival of spring is always worth the long wait.  Spring in The County is almost magical in its mud-covered grand entrance.  Flaunting its above-freezing temperatures by melting little patches of brown grass, where we check daily, sometimes twice, to see the patch getting bigger.   Where mud has a season all to itself and we wallow in it, once again welcoming water, sunshine and the excitement of the frozen rivers “letting go.”  Where the shoes are all muddy and the boots are all muddy and the floors of your house, car and office are all muddy, where playing in the mud is fun and getting your vehicle stuck in mud is fun and all the mud is everywhere.  And then we get tired of washing the mud off everything and we look forward to the sun, wind and warmth of May.

Except it mostly rains so there’s more mud.

But that doesn’t mean we move away or hate living here.

Because summer in The County is coming and it’s the reason we’re willing to wait so long.  It’s the reason we trust the snow will melt and the mud will dry.  Summer in Northern Maine is glorious, hot and fleeting, like your first summer crush on that curly-haired boy you met at camp.  How deeply in love you both fell, it all happening so fast and with such intense teenage passion.  You’d never felt this way before and you knew with every cell in your body you’d never feel this way again.  Every moment with him made your heart beat with anticipation and your armpits sweat with anxiety, unable to think about anybody else or any other season, summer in The County is a passionately sweltering summer fling.  If only you could remember his name…

But sometimes summer in Maine is too hot for us, the humidity forcing us to retreat under shade, anywhere we can find relief.  Our hearty, Northern bodies unaccustomed to oppressive temperatures and most homes not equipped with air conditioning, we quickly forget about the piles of snow that melted just weeks before and we start complaining about the heat.  And as we break our backs weeding our abundantly overflowing vegetable gardens, the high temperatures turn our smitten hearts to stone and our love affair with summer fades.

But that doesn’t mean we move away or hate living here.

And just as we inevitably fell in teenage love again, we soon start talking about pumpkin flavored coffees and sweaters, because autumn in The County might possibly be the most perfect of all four seasons.  The vibrant colors for miles, as far as the eye can see, rolling hills carpeting the horizon in contrasting shades of reds, oranges, yellows and deep evergreens.  The sun is high and warm during the day and the quickly cooling nights smell of harvest, dirt and farm truck exhaust as the backbone of Aroostook County removes another season of potatoes from the ground.  They work hard as many hours in the day and as many days as it takes to finish bringing in the harvest and it always gets done.  Always.

That’s because there’s a work ethic in The County, a work ethic to do good, whatever that work looks like.  There’s an ethic to shop locally, grow locally, stay locally.  There’s an ethic to be involved in your child’s education, every child’s education.  There’s an unspoken ethic that the entire County will show up and cheer at a school game or production, even if, especially if, it’s at the Bangor Auditorium Cross Insurance Center. There’s an ethic to volunteer your time in the community and give your opinion because it matters, because it’s the right thing to do.  There’s an ethic of fellowship and goodwill, to be a good person seven days a week, not just on Sundays.

The County is not dead, dying or less than any other corner of Maine; it is Maine.  It is home to intelligent, genuine people looking to start small businesses, create jobs, progress and stay, even when others won’t.

We stay not because we can’t leave, but because we choose not to.  And we’d love for you to visit!  You’ll find the only difference with people in The County is we can handle the cold and we don’t cry over not having a Starbucks on every corner.

Renée Chalou

About Renée Chalou

Renée Chalou lives and raises her family in Presque Isle, where she owns a fitness center, LiveWell United. Her oldest son is in his second year at UMO, her daughter plans to attend UMPI in the spring and her youngest son is an active, happy 11 year old in 6th grade. From her life experiences as a homeschooling parent, blending a family, and transforming herself from an overweight, side-line mother to a competitive athlete mother and fitness leader in her community, she writes about what she knows: living life well even when it's not perfect. She writes about finding and clinging to the good even when it would be easy to focus on the bad, no matter what challenges life brings. Life in Northern Maine is wonderful, full of adventures and sub-zero temperatures. It's not for everybody and nobody claims it's easy. But it's a good life, it's hers and she'd like to share some of it with you.