HOMEWARD bound to Concord in 1846 after climbing Maine's Mount Katahdin, Henry David Thoreau paused to jot, ``There stands the city of Bangor, fifty miles up the Penobscot, at the head of navigation for vessels of largest class, the principal lumber depot on this continent, with a population of twelve thousand, like a star on the edge of night, still hewing at the forests of which it is built, already overflowing with the luxuries and refinement of Europe, and sending its vessels to Spain, to England, and to the West Indies for its groceries.... Sixty miles above the country is virtually unmapped and unexplored and there still waves the virgin forest of the New World.''
It's likely, since Thoreau's time, that every acre north of Bangor, Maine's ``Queen City,'' has been logged off many times, but the rugged and often uncouth influence of the wildlands has not come down the toteroad to dim the culture or tarnish the refinement that Bangor has accumulated, and jealously retained, from its converse with the world. If more Bangor folks have been to Bombay than have been to Stillwater, it hardly shows in the daily activities. Bangor still supports the best public library in Maine, originally established by untutored timber tycoons who lived in big houses, owned big sawmills, and sailed big boats, but who didn't embrace the seven liberal arts and sciences.
Henry Beston, a New Englander who would surely be mentioned in the same breath as Thoreau had he cut his own hair, lived not far from us at Nobleboro, and it was his custom to wake the neighbors every other morning by bellowing out his bedroom window, ``There is no culture west of Framingham!'' (Mass.) Many who had been to Worcester, Mass., and escaped used to confirm this. So if the limits of North American literacy may be loosely set (so's not to hurt anybody's feelings) at Fitchburg and Passadumkeag, we have this gentle area dominated by Bangor's Mother-Hen refinement and all is well for the time being.
On a recent Sunday, with the weather enticing me to sheltered relaxation, I dusted off the television set and tuned into a Bangor station that speaks well of itself, and I found a college basketball game in progress. I put aside my ``Cap'n Billy's Whizzbang'' to give undivided attention to this inspiring sample of Bangor's scintillating erudition. I watched for maybe 20 minutes before anybody told me which two teams were in contest, but I was not told which was which. The game was between UCLA and California. This was a good thing to know, and knowing it, I shut my television off and went to the kitchen to pare a rutabaga for supper.
``Why,'' I why'd to my live-in wife, ``would a television station based in Bangor, Maine - suppose that I, or anybody else in Maine, would want to watch the University of California, Los Angeles, play basketball with a college in California?''
``It's Sunday, and football is done,'' she said.
``That's not quite an answer to my question.''
``You don't need to cut the turnip that small; I'll mash it after it's cooked.''
``I should have known better than to ask a silly question.''
``Well, how would I know?'' she asked. ``You must always allow for coincidence, and for Bangor.''
Long years ago, now, a young man I shall call Roger Danielles, scion of the Bangor timberlands heirship family, brought home a bride who was a Hoosier, and coming from west of Framingham, she needed a certain critical inspection before she could be accepted into society. But she seemed adequate, and after several months her acceptance was signalled by an invitation to become a member of the Bangor Chapter of the Society of American College Women. Delighted, she submitted her name and filled out the application. She was, with perhaps unbecoming pride, happy to state that she had a degree, with highest honors, from Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, Calif.
These things are not done in haste, and decorum called for dignity in the proceedings. Accordingly, after a proper time, a committee approached Mrs. Roger Danielles and with deepest regret told her in the gentlest words that her application was denied. This was a blow to her pride, but also a pique to her curiosity, so Mrs. Danielles asked, ``Why, for gracious sakes?''
The chairman of the delegation hemmed and hawed, but finally said, ``I'm - we're - so sorry, but you see, we can take only graduates of senior colleges!''