Monson. ME, Monday July 28, 2014 — It’s 62F outside and rainy. Dreary is more like it, and an apt description for this threadbare and struggling little backwoods hamlet.
Monson doesn’t have much – only a few streets and a very nice lake. Unfortunately the lake doesn’t stand out. It’s one of a thousand just like it dotted all over Maine.
The slate industry that founded this once prosperous hamlet is all but defunct. The mill still makes a few counter tops and sinks but not much else. It’s a tiny shadow of the massive industry that operated here until the 50s. After that, the railroad left and pulled up its tracks. It doesn’t get much more final than that.
There’s still a Finnish community here. They came originally to quarry the stone. Names ending in NEN are the legacy of the hope and opportunity that once attracted their immigrant forefathers.
Most of the dilapidated buildings along Main St. are for sale as are what seems to be about one-third of the houses. Monson is just too far north to attract a ton of urban folks in search of summer cottages. So, the sellers hope and wait patiently for their escape ticket.
Life here is hard. The climate is harsh. The ground is rugged. The winters are brutal. The conditions toughen and harden the souls who survive here. Hardly anyone smiles.
A southern hiker at Shaw’s observed this morning that the people here aren’t friendly like they are in the south. In fact, he described them as rude. That’s not the whole story when life is as unforgiving as the stone upon which this town is built.
I’m having lunch at Pete’s. It’s a new business that radiates optimism through the gloom that seems to hang around here like the stale smell of garlic in a turn of the century New York tenement. I hope Pete’s prospers. Hikers will love the homemade baked goods.
Monson seems like a metaphor for dozens of dying towns in rural America. I’ve hiked through too many of them not to see the pain of their slow spiraling demise.
I’m reminded of the dying farm towns and whistle stops in the mid and far west. Change can be Darwinian in it’s callus destruction of lives, culture and place. As Americans and humans, we should remember that these are people, not statistics.
2018 Update: This story has a happy ending!