Southern-like hospitality is discovered in Maine

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2004

Commentary by Bill Brown

The usual suspects, I am confident, would have had a great time no matter where we met for our biennial reunion. Even so, Mount Desert Island in Maine was an idyllic setting for the gathering of four couples who had been close friends in early adulthood in Florida before scattering across the country.

Surely there are some soreheads in Maine, as there are everywhere, but we did not encounter them. The hospitality was, in fact, downright Southern. Even the stereotypical crusty Maine fisherman, who beached his dinghy and climbed the stairs to where we awaited the ferry, struck up a conversation and shared some local lore.

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As we walked the streets of the villages on the island, stuffed on lobster at a dockside caf/ and surveyed the rocky coast from Cadillac Mountain. Our senses were sharpened. We noticed and remarked on the change in the color of the leaves during the time we were there.

We sat on the deck of our rented cabin, gazing out over Western Bay and watching the sun set over in the direction of Blue Hill, taking it all in.

Here we were, couples from Alabama, Florida, Colorado and California, captured by the beauty of these unfamiliar surroundings.

And it was beautiful.

We took it in because we were seeing our surroundings with fresh eyes. I wondered if the locals noticed the same things we did. I suspected that they did not.

Back at home, we did what most of us do when we return from a vacation or business trip. We busied ourselves catching up on chores that had accumulated while we were gone. Our to-do list was lengthened by the fact that we’d been without electricity for the two days before we left, courtesy of Ivan, and the house was, well, less than neat.

It did not take long to get back into our routines.

But as I sat with my coffee on a recent morning, looking out over the lake, I watched a blue heron ghost silently by, low over the water. The resident kingfisher passed on his morning rounds, chattering as he flew.

When I went for my morning walk, the temperature was hinting of autumn. Some of the trees were taking on the color of an often-washed quilt, but the leaves of a gum tree were a luminous green with the morning sun shining through them. The kudzu showed no sign of beginning its winter rest.

Wildflowers of almost every color were putting on their final show of the season, and an occasional butterfly flitted among them.

I thought about poet Robert Burns’ line about seeing ourselves as others see us. What I was seeing were the kinds of scenes most of us would drink in if we were away from home.

We miss them when we look through the lenses of familiarity; what we see is what we always see, what we expect to see.

Really seeing our surroundings through fresh eyes is a two-edged proposition, of course.

If we see our surroundings as others see them, we risk seeing things that aren’t so attractive: the litter by the roadside, crumbled sidewalks and missing road signs, grass growing over the curbs and into the street, decaying houses and buildings, garish signs. If we care about our communities, we ought to recognize those things that detract from them.

It’s worth the risk.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at