A feather in the cap

IMG_8952I got to announce some pretty cool news on the weekend; Saturday night, to be precise.

The Maine Press Association awards were held in Portland, and my barely-10-month-old column was awarded second place in the Local Columnist – Daily/Weekend category. I’d known for a few weeks but it was embargoed until the awards ceremony.

I’m not sure who won first place, but needless to say I’m pretty elated and extremely humbled by the recognition, especially seeing as how it was judged on work produced before March 31, 2014. That means it was my earliest work for the KJ that was on show, and it was good enough for second place.

I feel like I owe some thanks to my readership here too, for encouraging me along the way as I’ve fine-tuned my “voice” since moving to Maine. Thanks, y’all!

Anyway, here’s this weekend’s column. It’s about my trip to Canada two weekends ago, but it’s not based on the blog post so it’s pretty original. Enjoy!

Making the French connection

A quick weekend trip across Maine’s northern border into Canada gave Adrian Crawford a better understanding of a certain side of the state.

As an Australian, it’s probably in my DNA to stir the pot a little bit. So after poking the hornet’s nest with a couple of touchy subjects over the last few weeks, on healthcare and the Yankees, I thought I’d try and hit another hot-button topic, and one that’s close to home: immigration.

Of course, I made this decision with tongue firmly in cheek as I drove north last weekend towards Fort Kent, where I was visiting a friend with the intentions of checking out both the fall foliage and the Canadian border city of Edmundston.

Firstly, the foliage. I knew I’d left my run just too late to be able to experience the view at its brightest, but the colors were still absolutely incredible. I certainly can’t do the descriptions justice in the way that my Backyard Naturalist colleague Dana Wilde could, but his last column was right: some of the yellow-to-orange trees quite literally looked as if they were ablaze, even in the overcast daylight that Saturday brought. The air was fresh – okay, it was damn cold – but the bland, straight shot of I-95 North gave way to winding country roads through Maine’s beautiful northern woods once I got onto Route 11, dipping through little towns like Portage and Ashland.

Growing up in Australia, I’ve never experienced fall colors like these (or any real distinct seasons, for that matter), so it was all I could do not to pull over every 50 feet to take a photo. I know the State Police are worried about texting as a driver distraction, but I hope they know Mother Nature is just as head-turning.

I managed to find Fort Kent without any real navigational worries – thankfully Google Maps will still work on GPS even when you don’t have reception – and after a late lunch my friend and I set off for the border crossing in Madawaska.

As a citizen of the Commonwealth with an Australian passport, I didn’t anticipate any troubles heading into Canada, but I was wary about being able to reenter the United States.

Even though my green card allows me to come and go as I please (within reason), a little voice in the back of my head nagged at me the whole time, telling me that I could be in for extra scrutiny.

The good news? Neither side gave me any real hassles, and of the two it was Canada’s border control that looked closest at my ID. Returning to America was quicker than a fast food drive-thru.

The bad news, of course, was that I had to come up with a new column idea. But virtually as soon as I drove into Edmundston, that was taken care of too.

You see, because of the aforementioned Commonwealth arrangement, Canada is a popular location for Aussies traveling or looking for working holiday trips. I’m only exaggerating a little bit when I say that I’m one of the only people I know from down under who had never been to America’s northern neighbor.

As we drove alongside the St. John River on Route 1, I looked out to my left and jokingly declared, “Canada looks just like Maine! What a rip-off!” You can see where this is going.

So it’s with an apology for my naïveté that I say I was a little bit broadsided by just how French Edmundston was. A river barely a quarter mile wide separates the town from Madawaska, yet it was as if we’d driven straight into the south of France. I could have thrown a baseball from one country to the other (well, probably not, but y’know), and yet in the space of five minutes I’d run from the comfort zone of English into a language barrier.

Don’t get me wrong though; I thought it was great. It felt like a real adventure that I wasn’t expecting, and wandering the aisles of grocery and liquor stores was endlessly amusing. I never thought I’d see Old El Paso taco shells with French descriptions on the packaging.

And most relevant of all, it gave me a better understanding of how Maine is the way it is. For 10 months now I’ve worked hard to get my head around the pronunciation of so many last names, from Michaud to Pelletier to Soucier and beyond, that have French Canadian ancestry. I knew that influence was there, but I certainly didn’t anticipate it to be so dominant still, just minutes from America.

While the paper industry that brought those migrant workers from up north is now dwindling in Maine, right outside my hotel room window in Edmundston was a pointer to the past: a paper mill belching smoke night and day as it churned out its product.

While the city seemed like a ghost town on Saturday afternoon, the few bars and restaurants were full of locals who – in my limited interactions with them, anyway – were as down-to-earth and willing to chat as the people I’ve met here in central Maine.

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