Wearing It Well

Published by Bree Candland ’01

Maine's bicentennial flag is the first flag I’ve ever flown. With a large green pine tree against two blue stripes—one for the sky and the other for the water—and Maine’s motto, “Dirigo,” or “I lead,” emblazoned at the top, it represents Maine’s natural beauty perfectly.

After my first day back at school this year, it waved outside, and our mailman stopped to chat with me about it because he didn’t recognize the flag and told me it was the first like it he’d seen on his route. My face lit up with pride.

My partner, Dan, and I spent Christmas on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Lana’i with two Bowdoin friends, Jon and Rachel, I’ve known for more than twenty years.

Over the week we spent there, I realized I’d packed no fewer than five articles of clothing with either a Maine or Bowdoin College logo. We were only gone for eight days.

I love to wear Maine and Bowdoin gear when I travel so strangers will approach me and tell me their connection to Maine or to Bowdoin. The last time I visited Jon and Rachel, we spent part of our first day together on Maui. On a short hike to a waterfall, we ran into someone wearing Bowdoin gear and stopped to chat and exchange class years.

In April 2018, I noticed a teenager sporting a Bowdoin T-shirt at the gate for a plane bound for New York. She ended up sitting in the seat directly behind me. It took just a few minutes at cruising altitude for us to strike up a conversation—to exchange names and information (she was Bridget, Bowdoin Class of 2022), discuss our mutual excitement about Bowdoin, and for me (I’m a teacher and just can’t help it) to offer her some advice about classes and extracurriculars on campus.

During that same trip, my best friend and I drove from Davis, California, to Los Angeles. My friend had to take a work call, so we pulled over and I had a chance to briefly explore the adorable town of Solvang. A car pulled into a parking space right next to where I was walking on the sidewalk, and my Upward Bound colleague and fellow Bowdoin alumna Ellie Brennan got out! She was visiting her sister in Los Angeles, and they were road-tripping north. We ran into each other on a small side street in a small town in California on a random Thursday.

I’ve heard a saying that “Maine is the world’s biggest small town.” It’s true. It’s true about Bowdoin, too. Both bring people together. Both connect us to one another. It’s just beautiful.

Dan and I were in New York City in the fall to see my friend Geno in Come From Away on Broadway. We had breakfast with Dan’s friend, John Cariani, who grew up in Presque Isle, Maine, and wrote the play Almost, Maine. After breakfast, we went in search of a particular scone that John likes in the Theater District, where we ran into his friend, Lewis, who stars in The Book of Mormon. It took barely a minute of chatting to share that we’d all grown up in Maine—in Orono, Bangor, Presque Isle, and Houlton. There’s something special about that Maine connection that bonds strangers. There’s a feeling of kinship and belonging that comes from growing up in this state that I don’t think people elsewhere necessarily feel.

Mainers not only seem to make time for one another, but they are also at the ready to help one another. Maybe it’s because we live in a state with blistering cold and beautiful pine trees that sometimes get blown down in wind storms. We lost power in Brunswick a few Octobers ago for several days because of high winds. My power came back early, and I hosted many friends to charge devices, shower, and get warmed up.

A couple of weeks ago, a bus driver in my school district noticed an elderly man stuck in freezing water, pinned under his tractor when he was out clearing snow from his driveway. She and a student jumped off the bus and saved his life. Mainers show up for one another.

I think of Maine as being fiercely independent, too. Why was an elderly man out clearing his own driveway in the first place? Because he’s from Maine, and Mainers roll up their sleeves and get to work. There’s an adage that “as Maine goes, so goes the nation.” We’ve elected independent candidates to the US Senate and to the Blaine House—in fact, we’ve elected two independent governors in the past forty years and are now led by Maine’s first female governor. We’re also one of only two states that can split our electoral votes. We were one of three states among the first to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2012. Mainers and their no-nonsense, independent, “you do you” approach have on many occasions put us on the cutting edge of reform.

Maine was also home to notable Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who rose in the Senate in 1950 to assert the right of independent thought in her famous Declaration of Conscience speech. Mainers are generally practical people, and they voted their support for her for more than twenty years in the Senate. Smith was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress and to actively seek the presidential nomination of a major political party. I grew up in Bangor and drove by the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on my way to school every day in high school. In Maine, speaking up for independent thought and committed service to fellow Mainers can lead to a federal building built in your honor.

No matter where I have the privilege to travel in the world, there’s no greater feeling than seeing the Maine state line sign on the Piscataqua River Bridge or the “Welcome Home” sign in the Portland Jetport. My heart swells every time I see the new Welcome Home sign along the Maine Turnpike in Kittery, too—I think that says it all about what it feels like to call Maine home.

Bree Candland ’01 is a traveler, music lover, animal enthusiast, and social studies teacher at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Maine.

Pat Corrigan is an artist based in Portland, Maine, who makes paintings, drawings, illustrations, murals, and comics. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune, among others.

This story first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Bowdoin MagazineManage your subscription and see other stories from the magazine on the Bowdoin Magazine website.