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As big as the other five New England states combined, MAINE
barely has the population of tiny Rhode Island. In theory, therefore,
there's plenty of room for its massive summer influx of visitors;
in reality, the majority of these make for the southern stretches
of the extravagantly corrugated coast . You only really begin
to appreciate the size and space of the state further north,
or inland , where vast tracts of mountainous forest are dotted
with lakes, and barely pierced by roads - more like the Alaskan
interior than the RV-cluttered roads of the Vermont and New
Hampshire mountains, and ideal territory for hiking and canoeing
(and moose spotting).
Although Maine is in many ways inhospitable - the Algonquin
called it "Land of the Frozen Ground" - it has been
in contact with Europe ever since the arrival of the Vikings
, around 1000 AD. For the navigator Verrazano, in 1524, the
"crudity and evil manners" of the Indians made this
the "Land of Bad People," but before long European
fishermen were setting up camps each summer to dry their catch.
Francis Bacon in turn said that the English were "worse
than the very Savages, impudently lying with their Women, teaching
their men to drink drunke, and ? to fall together by the eares."
North America's first agricultural colonies were in Maine:
de Champlain's French Protestants near Mount Desert Island in
1604, and an English group that survived one winter at the mouth
of the Kennebec three years later. In the face of the unwillingness
of subsequent English settlers to let them farm in peace, the
local Indians formed a long-term alliance with the French, and
until as late as 1700 regularly drove out streams of impoverished
English refugees. By 1764, however, the official census could
claim that even Maine's black popu lation was more numerous
than its Native Americans.
Originally part of Massachusetts, Maine became a separate entity
only in 1820, when the Missouri Compromise made Maine a free,
and Missouri a slave, state. In the nineteenth century, its
people had a reputation for conservatism and resistance to immigration,
manifested in anti-Irish riots. The state's economy has always
been heavily based on the sea, although many of those who fish
also farm, and long expeditions are now rare. Recently they
have been selling their catch direct to Russian factory ships
anchored just offshore. Lobster fishing in particular has defied
gloomy predictions and has boomed again as evidenced by the
many thriving lobster pounds.
Maine's climate is famously harsh. In winter, most of Maine
is under ice; summer is short and usually heralded in early
June by an infestation of tiny black flies. Fall colors begin
to spread from the north in late September - when, unlike elsewhere
in New England, off-season prices apply - but temperatures drop
sharply, becoming quite frosty by mid-October.
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