LOOKING AT HOULTON - FROM HONOLULU

by Harrison Roper, Houlton, Maine  2005

 

  A few months ago I received a surprising e-mail message from a Dr. Rodney Chang, in Honolulu. He had found SACAP on the internet, asked for some "humane" information on Houlton.  I wrote him a long letter, and we have  shared an extended correspondence since then.

  I seems Dr. Chang, a dentist and computer artist, has a dream - he wants to retire to an entirely different , creative life in a few years when his children have all gone to college.  He was at first thinking of an affordable brick downtown building in a place like Houlton - a site for a Gallery of Computer Art, perhaps.  Searching on the internet, he found northern Maine real estate quite attractive. 

  I wrote him of our great satisfaction with our retirement move to Houlton 22 years ago, of the truly dangerous winter climate, the moose and deer in the roads, and of the excellence of Houlton's hospital, schools, churches, and people. I also told him that our downtown, while it is indeed lovely, and made up of truly permanent old brick buildings, and on the upswing, was essentially pretty empty of casual pedestrian traffic most of the time. 

   Nevertheless Rodney made the trip to Maine this summer. He visited Belfast, and made some detailed inquiries about downtown property in Bangor, getting lots of serious and even flattering attention from city and state leadership in real estate and in the arts.  He found that the cost of rebuilding the interior of one of of those old downtown Bangor stores in order to have proper insurance is prohibitive, for now.  Though he ended up not getting any business property, but he did buy a cottage on the river in Bradley, where he plans to write, create, and dream.  His youngest son may well attend U Maine Orono, especially for engineering.

  I think wherever Rodney is, he will be creative, and make himself known to the world. He makes up and/alters websites as a form of self-expression, and he loves to do computer art.  He calls himself "Pygoya" on the internet. Look him up.

  I have some empathy with Rodney's retirement dreaming. When Marilyn and I moved to Houlton in 1982, we, too, had done some research (we subscribed to the Houlton  Pioneer Times for a year - the internet did not exist) and it seemed just right for us.  The whole town looked, to our "Philadelphia eyes", very attractive - livable, stable, and affordable, too.  There was the hospital, library, churches, nice-looking streets, and stores. We could walk downtown, and parking was never a problem.  We even thought there was a college here!      

    Opportunities for music-making in the area have been beyond my wildest dreams. I actually got to play regularly in a string quartet, teach violin, playing and conduct an orchestra, play in a band, compose a lot, and hear my music performed.  Marilyn has a harp, made locally by Jay Witcher, a world-famous instrument maker, and she plays regularly in "Houlton's Heavenly Harpers", an ensemble of 12 or so grandmothers joined frequently by at least 6 children. This may well be one of the country's larger groups of harp players.

   Living in  suburban Philadelphia, looking at Houlton with "Philadelphia eyes", the prospect of living in this area seemed to us like heaven - clean air, lots of woods and fields around, room to have a big garden, small-town conveniences and friends, and no rush-rush traffic to contend with.  Anticipating the move, I could feel my soul relax at the prospect,  and all of that has proven to be true.

  I hope the Rodney Changs, with their "Honolulu eyes",  will have an equally satisfactory experience with their "little bit of Maine".  Rodney is amazed that some Mainers do indeed hunt wild moose and mount their heads on the wall. I told him about spring black flies and floods, and assured him that summer and fall will be lovely on the river.  In the winter they can visit friends in Honolulu, or stay home and enjoy winter sports and chickadees like we do, and all the year long create, and write, and dream as they wish.