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The Lowdown On All Those Confounding Directions

In Maine, we have many a place you can't get to from here, but if you try you will find the journey is either up or down. Take your choice. Should you start from the Boston States, your way should be properly "down" to Maine, even though any dolt can look at a map and see that north is up.

But from Boston to Maine is down, and the custom derives from the days of sail. The prevailing, and obliging, wind in the Gulf of Maine flows from the west'ard, so it's always downwind to down east. When you go back, you beat up- wind to Boston. It was remarked, generations ago, that a down-Maine boy would go up to Boston looking for work, and if he didn't find work he'd keep right on going to Massachusetts.

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William Hutchinson Rowe, our maritime historian, told us that "Down East" is a never-never land. At Boston, Maine is Down East. At Portland, Castine is Down East. At Castine, Eastport is Down East. But at Eastport, St. John, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, are away Down East.

This was, all the same, a coastal distinction and remains so, because inland Mainers, who paid less attention to on-shore and off-shore, have gone by their highlander maps rather than lifting a wet finger, and up in the timberlands of Piscataquis County you will hear a man say he's planning to go down to Boston.

Just as in dry weather all signs fail, so in Aroostook County we have four endemic directions: down county, over east (to the Maritime Provinces), up to the valley (the boundary area along the St. John River), and outside Aroostook. It would include either down or up to Boston.

IT may be of small interest to somebody that while Down East goes trippingly on down-Maine tongues, the true (Orient) East was always "out." After the California and Australia gold days, when the "downeaster" replaced the clipper and we began to talk of windjammers, the Orient, or the Far East, attracted our merchant marine. Although Yokohama would be geographically the full opposite of Down East, the Maine coastal people never went up to get there. It was always "out" East to Singapore and ports of call in that vicinity. Capt. Will Harding would speak of his Aunt Helen, who was a clerk for Wells Fargo "Out East."

Capt. Will Harding's Aunt Helen went out East in the opening days of oriental trade, which was a most adventurous move for a private-school young lady from Down East. However, Maine folks of her day were not stay-at-homes, and like the door button "had been around." She had, as a promising child of fortune, done her stints at Miss Dudley's finishing school, and was accomplished on the cello.

Expecting never to "do" for herself, she had neglected demeaning subjects and so couldn't boil water, but her tatting was precision perfect, and she knew one charity from another.

Her daddy owned the flag of the Colby Oriental Lines. So Miss Helen went out East to be clerk of the Wells Fargo office in Yokohama. Her womanly charm and good looks went with her, and so did the training and learning provided by her doting father, so she knew a yen from a hen's egg and she knew what would sell in New York and Boston.

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Aunt Helen was astute, poised, able, beautiful, and crooked as a ram's horn. So said Captain Will, her heir, and I believed him.

Captain Will had an oil portrait of another relative on his kitchen wall. The gentleman, in brocade vest and silken neckband, was also an ancestor of Aunt Helen. When asked by a visitor who this fancy gentleman might be, Captain Will made answer thus, "Ancestor of mine. Signed the Declaration. Pirate, you know." Aunt Helen was that much closer to the pirate than was Captain Will.

LIKE the missionaries who went to the Sandwich Islands to do good, Aunt Helen did well. Into every vessel's manifest she adroitly worked items of her own, apart from Wells Fargo, and her shills in America knew what was expected of them.

Aunt Helen, said Captain Will, was a sharp darb. In her age she returned to Maine, lived posh, and endowed a few academies and institutes for young ladies.

Her career should impress all aspiring females of these days, because Aunt Helen succeeded amazingly in a time when the business sector was not considered hospitable to that sex.

Rudyard Kipling left us a rhyme about rolling down to Rio. Weekly from Southampton, great steamers rolled down to Rio, and he would like to make that passage.

To Rio, there's but one direction. But always in Maine we've had the choice of down east and out west. Oh yes, Captain Will said that Aunt Helen always went posh.

These are good things to know, and dear Aunt Helen is a person to remember. Your reward for paying attention comes in a nugget about Estcourt. Far up the map of Maine, Estcourt is on the boundary with Quebec Province. In Canadian French, Estcourt means, about as much as anything, "shortest way east." (In Canadian baseball, a shortstop is an arrt-court.)

Well, if you leave Maine at Estcourt, down or out or otherwise, you are in a town called Pohenegamook. Don't fail to report at customs.

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