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Friday, November 19, 2021

Maine is in my Blood

 

John Clark sharing why the state I live in figures in almost everything I write. I grew up on a 189 acre farm overlooking Sennebec Lake in the small town of Union. My sisters and I roamed blueberry and hay fields, lake shore, an orchard, swamplands, and forest. Union had a lime quarry, an annual fair, and a history going back to the 1700s. I hunted and fished from age nine, earned money to buy new school clothes by taking care of chickens and raking blueberries and, along with sister Kate, devoured every book I could get my hands on when our small town library was open for three hours on Friday afternoons. I spent most of my time reading, fishing in my ten foot row boat on the lake, or exploring the woods on our property.


 Sennebec Hill Farm from the west shore of the lake

I went to college in Arizona, going from a class of 38 in snow country, to a university of 29,000 in desert heat. Living for four years in a totally different environment and culture, not only expanded my awareness, it helped me look at my home state and the people who lived there in very different ways when I returned to Maine.

I began my post college career working at the Augusta State hospital, later known as AMHI, and was there for 27 years. During that time, I got sober, got married, earned masters degrees in adult education and library science. I came to know and see as friends, many people who had a mental illness learning their stories was a big part of my foundation as a writer.


 Me and my sisters in our hippie days

I worked as a public librarian in one of the wealthier seaside communities, went on to handle library software for more than 100 public and academic libraries, then when my mom died, I burned out and spent the last nine years of my work life as the entire staff in a rural library where poverty was rampant.

People, events and locations in Maine have all factored into my writing. Many of my characters have issues, directly or indirectly with substance abuse, poverty, or both. Some of my characters are composites of young people I met while working with adolescents on the teen psych ward at AMHI. We have more coastline than California, plenty of dirt roads and logging trails, more trees than people in most states, lots of remote locations (many of our unorganized territories don’t even have names, just letters and numbers like T9, R7), and more genuine characters than Hollywood could cast in a lifetime.

When I was growing up, we had Republicans with ethics, huge blizzards (my father had to ski to the store during one storm in 1952 to get milk), and Maine was considered one state. Sadly, that last item has changed drastically in the past twenty years. The ‘Two Maines’ discussion has not only grown more divisive and the demarcation line between them has crept steadily north, leaving the rich and generally liberal set in the south, the poor and more conservative folks up in my area and north to the Canadian border.


 On a road east of Lincoln, Maine, a family gave up. This house misses them

There’s no end to story ideas here. That was one of the best parts about being a small town librarian, somebody came in every week with something, be it a question, a vent, or really interesting gossip that I would file away for future use.


 My favorite spot on the Appalachian trail just East of Carrying Place

My mother, A. Carman Clark used what she saw and experienced while living on Sennebec Hill Farm to write her column From The Orange Mailbox, which later became her first book. Sister Kate Flora has set her Joe Burgess police procedurals in Portland and has worked with law enforcement as well as a Maine game warden to craft several true crime books about events in Maine. I could go on for pages about other influences, but let’s save that for another time.


Sister Kate skating on the meadow at Sennebec Hill Farm

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