Home is where (the heart is) I-95N ends.


Of all the places I’d choose to live, why on earth would I choose to stay in Aroostook County?  I’m often asked this question by people who’ve never lived here, by people who’ve lived here and have since moved away or by people who continue to live here and haven’t yet discovered their reason for staying.  And to be honest, I could be plopped down anywhere in the state of Maine and be perfectly happy.  It’s Maine.  Wherever you might travel within this beautiful state, the feeling of home never really leaves your heart.  We’re a hearty bunch of resourceful, sensible folk and how we’ve cultivated and shaped this northern New England land into today’s Maine is something we should always be proud of.


But regarding Aroostook County, because we’re so geographically isolated from much of the standard metropolitan lifestyle, it’s easy to get caught up in “what we’re not” as opposed to embracing “what we are” in its entirety.  I’m often asked how I’m able to enjoy living in Aroostook when it lacks culture.  And instead of subscribing to that notion, I ask you, what is culture?  Culture, according to Merriam-Webster is a “collective manifestation of human intellectual achievement.”  Culture, according to me, is the sharing of ideas and philosophies that result in living a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life with those you love.  Culture, according to me, is possessing the ability and desire to navigate within a sparsely populated area and carve out a good life despite it not being “easy.”  Culture, according to me, is not only inspiring others but also finding inspiration from other Aroostook County people on how to live a better life.  Living in this small corner of New England does not necessarily equate a lack of intellectual achievements; it only means everything is on a smaller scale.  As with everywhere, we have our fine educational institutions, our small businesses, our larger corporations that meet and exceed their commitment to the community and we have our volunteers who are the heart of any thriving community.  I’ve heard time and again how the spirit of volunteerism in Aroostook County can’t be found anywhere else with such abundant enthusiasm.  It’s true.  We know how to get things done right and on time.  We don’t “git r done” with any of the stereotypical backwoods platitudes and countrified clichés either.  We get it done with passion, world class and with a familiar subtlety that causes people to come as visitors and leave as family.


We are victim to all levels of poverty as is the rest of the state.  We are just as affected by hunger, fuel prices and a slowed economy as the rest of the state.  Our teachers are going into the classrooms every day and doing their best to educate our children despite shrinking budgets, as is the rest of the state. Despite all the challenges we are faced with, we do more than simply survive; we thrive and flourish.  Aroostook County is a micro economy far removed from so much of the state’s other commerce that it almost feels like we’re isolated and left to “get it done” by ourselves.  And we do.


We may not have all the bright, attractive appeal of the larger, more urban parts of New England and we might have to dig a little deeper and get our nails a little dirtier to provide our children with all the essential fun of being a kid (or perhaps not, depending on your definition of essential).  We may not have Chuck E Cheese or large indoor bouncy houses, but we do have 20 miles of single track hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing trails.  We may not have indoor skate parks or large arcade centers, but we do have phenomenal youth Nordic skiing programs, year-round Dutch Soccer Academy and Aroostook Youth Basketball League.


We’re strong, veteran.  We’ve lived through enough Northern Maine winters to know how far and wide the wood pile needs to be to last through April’s final snowstorm.  And instead of contesting our frigid temperatures and ten-foot snow banks, we simply plug in our vehicles at night and stud our tires until May 1st.  We know how to plant, grow and harvest a garden in twelve weeks, and despite being in a low temperature plant hardiness zone, our flower gardens burst with color and fragrance for those few brilliantly hot weeks of summer.  We grow some delicious root vegetables in this climate and I’d be willing to bet money that Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon would be putty in my hands after one bite of my locally-grown bacon mashed potatoes.  He can consider this an open invitation into my home for a potato-based supper.


We might have a few less weeks of summer and a few weeks more winter than the southern parts of the state, but we’re patient and accept this climate as a fair bargain for a safe, clean, peaceful home in which to raise our children.  We might know every one of our neighbors and what color socks they wear on Wednesdays, but we rather like it that way. We might not have all the strip malls and outlet stores for shopping convenience, but I heard of this fancy new invention called the internet will be coming to Aroostook County soon.  I’m really looking forward to it.  Besides, us County girls shop at the Polaris store anyway; we know how to wear our snowmobile pants so tight it’ll make your helmet fog up.


So come for a visit; I recommend bringing a pair of gloves because not only will we make you feel at home, we’ll even put you to work splitting the wood or picking potatoes.

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.