Daily Archives: November 17, 2009

New England is good for your health

A nonprofit health agency says that all six New England states are among the top 10 healthiest states in the country, Forbes.com reported today.

But New Englanders probably knew that.

Vermont took the No. 1 spot in the latest annual ranking by United Health Foundation, which Forbes.com pointed out is funded by insurer UnitedHealth Group. The rankings are based on 22 health indicators, including vaccinations, obesity, smoking, and cancer deaths. And details about each state can be found on the foundation’s website, but the website is not for the patient and some of the links in this entry may be sluggish.

“Vermont ranked first this year thanks in part to its low rate of obesity, high number of doctors and a low rate of child poverty,” wrote Forbes.com’s Rebecca Ruiz. “New England in general sets a benchmark for the country, the report found: All six New England states are in the top 10. These states have favorable demographics and an excellent public health infrastructure, including a large number of doctors per capita.”

Massachusetts was at No. 3; New Hampshire at No. 5; Connecticut at No. 7; Maine at No. 9; and Rhode Island at No. 10. (Maine moved up from No. 12 a year ago.)

By comparison, my current home state of California ranked No. 23, and neighboring states Oregon ranked No. 13; Arizona ranked No. 27; and Nevada ranked No. 45.

Connecting dots from Fryeburg to the northern boundary

It is amazing sometimes how things just sort of fit together in a weird cosmic sort of way. Today, I am able to connect the dots between Maine’s first-ever school, a leading pre-Civil War politician, and some wily northern Mainers who wanted to avoid British rule.

I am a Facebook fan of DownEast magazine, the Maine-base monthly publication that carries stories, commentary, Maine humor and more. The magazine today posted a trivia question about Fryeburg Academy, the first school built in Maine and the school where my sister and brother-in-law intend to send my niece and nephew. The history is rich. John Hancock – yeah, the “place your John Hancock on the dotted line” John Hancock – signed the charter for the school in Fryeburg, Maine, in 1792. Yeah, 1792. There are some pretty old things in Maine and the rest of New England.

Anyway, the trivia question was about the academy’s most famous headmaster. Turns out it was Daniel Webster, a leading American politician before the Civil War.

OK, I know that might not impress anyone other than people into pre-Civil War U.S. history, but I found it interesting. The answer that DownEast gave was: “Daniel Webster, politician, pundit, and hard-drinking diplomat who settled the northern border of Maine over a bottle of brandy with a British negotiator.”

The last part of the answer caught my eye, too, since I was born on that northern border and lived my entire childhood about an hour’s drive south of it. It also reminded me of a story my Ashland Community High School history teacher, Ron Stevens, told class one day. If I recall correctly, surveyors were sent to establish the boundary after the agreement between Daniel Webster and the British negotiators. The surveyors reached the confluence of two rivers and the locals – my Mother has relatives there – invited the surveyors to partake in “adult beverages.” The locals then sent the surveyors on a northern tributary of a river rather than the southern route agreed upon by Webster and the British negotiator over that bottle of brandy.

Anyway, once the surveyors sobered up and realized they had been sent down the wrong river, instead of backtracking, they simply put down two straight surveyors lines to reconnect with the route set in the agreement. If you look at the northwest portion of the state of Maine on a map you can pretty much see where the surveyors were steered down the wrong river and where they decided it was best to make it back to the established route. It also means several thousands of acres of land more for Maine.

See, weird cosmic sort of way to connect some dots between the oldest school in Maine, a leading politician and the state’s northern most boundary.

Columns on Maine visit revisited

A friend not long ago suggested I go to Maine for a visit and write a few “Letters From Maine,” rather than “Letters From Away.”

I had done that years ago as a newspaper columnist and promised her I would try to post a couple of the columns here.

For several years I was the opinion page editor at The Reporter, the daily newspaper in Vacaville, Calif. I was responsible for the daily comment and opinion pages and the Sunday Forum section. Besides editing local and wire commentary and shepherding the page production, I also wrote a weekly column.

Because of the size of the operation, there was no option for columnists but to write commentary in advance or to e-mail columns when on vacation.

That is what I did in 2005 when I returned to Maine for a visit. I had done the same a few years earlier.

Here are the 2005 columns. It is not my best writing. I blame that on the stress of preparing for a cross-country trip and then the relaxing effects of having arrived. Enjoy!

If it all goes as it should

By Keith Michaud

If all goes as it should, I fully expect to be awakened this morning by a tousle-haired 5-year-old and his precocious 3-year-old sister.

If all goes as it should, I should wake to the smell of coffee, pancakes, fresh paint, and air freshened by pine, fir, spruce and the White Mountains.

If all goes as it should, I will be towed to the kitchen table by those toddler-alarm clocks, and I will drink that coffee, eat those pancakes, tour again the new home in which I will be a guest. And then be guided by the tousle-haired 5-year-old and his precocious 3-year-old sister on a tour of the grounds where they will point out the various features of their new home.

You see, if all goes as it should, I landed at the Portland International Jetport Tuesday evening and was greeted by my mother. And from the Portland, Maine, airport, we should have traveled to my sister’s new home in the quintessential New England community of Fryeburg, just on the border with New Hampshire.

This is where my sister, her husband and their two children call home. It is where they hope the children will attend some of the finest schools in New England, including Fryeburg Academy founded in 1792. Yeah, 1792. New England has a lot of old in it, too.

After a day or two in Fryeburg, my mother and I will travel the seven hours north to the Deep Dark North Woods of Maine to the tiny town where I grew up, Portage, situated on the southeast corner of Portage Lake. I am guessing that not a lot will have changed since the last time I visited three years ago. The ribbon of state Route 11 will come over a rise and into a clearing, and after an easy curve and descent down the other side of the hill, Portage will come into view.

If the weather holds – it is New England, after all, and it rains nearly every week and the humidity is always suffocating – the sky will be a hazy blue, the lake will be dark and spotted with white caps, and the surrounding hills will be emerald green and lush. It will be lovely. Homes are sometimes separated from neighboring homes by hundreds of feet, not mere inches as they are in California.

If all goes as it should, I will settle into a natural, comfortable routine that will involve mostly reading from a perch on the deck of my mother’s cottage, chatting with my mother, cooking for her, and playfully taunting her two Pomeranians I dubbed Fat Boy and Devil Dog. I will golf on the course where I learned to play the game many years ago.

If all goes as it should, I will be reminded of my youth. I will recall friends and events. For two short weeks, I will be in one of the most peaceful places I know. If all goes as it should. And it should.

(The author was the opinion page editor at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., when this column was first printed on June 29, 2005.)

Sharing a place of peace

By Keith Michaud

There is no arguing about the grandeur and spectacular beauty throughout California and the West, from the coastline to the Sacramento Valley to the Sierra.

That beauty has been recorded in words and images for all to enjoy.

But it is impossible with mere words to describe the haunting beauty of Maine sunset over a glassy flat lake – the blinding orange of citrus fruit afire, the red of pomegranate, the muddy purples of the coming night, the pastel greens of the tropics grown into the Northern sky, and the deep blue of childhood dreams.

I am vacationing in my childhood home – Portage, Maine. My apologies, but I must subject those who have never been to New England to a travel column on perhaps the most peaceful place on earth.

This peaceful place puts most people’s definition of “casual” in the same category as frantic, where the pace of life is, as they say here, the way it should be.

On an evening just days ago, there was the most spectacular sunset and the pace of life here dictated that a moment be taken to appreciate it. There is no gauge for measuring the beauty of a sunset, but this one ranked among the best. And the beauty of it, the grandeur of it, was made so as much by the people with whom it was shared as the influences of nature and God.

I have lived in California longer than I lived in Maine and I have not been back to visit here in a few years. But this place, this soil, these trees, this air, these people, these sunsets, make up what I am. In many ways, they are me. They are my blood.

I love this place. I wish with all my soul that I could visit more often, but I cannot. My life is across the nation in Vacaville for now.

It is perhaps that distance and that separation that makes me think of this place nearly every day. It is those things that make me wish I could somehow transport it to where I am, or that I could transport all that is important to me in California to this spot in the Deep Dark North Woods of Maine so the best of the two worlds could collide here with me in the middle.

There are good people wherever you travel. Trust me on this. And if you have lived a half-decent life, finding those people will never be a problem. They will find you.

It will not be long before I will have to return to Vacaville and the routine and obligations that are my life. But for a few moments, the tranquility of this boyhood home provides the comfort of a lifetime.

(The author was the opinion page editor at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., when this column was first printed on July 6, 2005.)