Signs and portents
Letter from Away — June 9, 2022
I have been trying to stay out of local politics since restarting Letter from Away, a couple of years ago.
For one thing, I’ve been moving from one municipality to another and, not liking to meddle to much in my neighbors business, and also waiting until I’ve lived in the new place long enough to know something about whatever it is I have an opinion about, and also having all those big issues to write about … anyway, those days are over, at least for this week.
Part I — The Prison Yard
There may be some people reading this who do not know that, between 1824 and 2002, Thomaston was home to the Maine State Prison. The first building burned, was rebuilt and then expanded in 1854; a second fire prompted a total rebuild, a monolithic fortress designed not to repel assault from outside but to keep people in. All that is left now of that edifice is a tastefully sterile corner of the building that was torn down only 20 years ago.
I love the prison yard for many of the same reasons I love unpaved cemeteries. There is soft grass to walk on. It is quiet. There is a strong presence of invisible humans and their unknown stories in these places. Beauty is grounded by history.
When discussion about the future of the site began, I liked the idea of a mixed-use area although I did not like the idea brought before Thomaston voters two years ago. That proposal called for an eventual 96 dwelling units that would fill the space between the Saint George River and Main Street, or as it is known to people whose lives and business are elsewhere, Route 1.
Route 1 in Thomaston, especially at this time of year provides a steady background hum — an all-but-constant reminder that, even at home, you are living in an industrialized world. If we are going to have safe, comfortable housing that people can afford, I think it would be nicer off the road. It might be nice to have a dozen small and affordable cottages along the paved roads that are already there. Maybe a few unpaved but level and well-maintained paths, to bring visitors to the river shore.
There could even be some garden plots for those who cannot afford land of their own. I think there might be lovely and thoughtful ways to use that space that was once a prison.
Last week, The Courier-Gazette published a guest column by Amy Williams-Beers, one of my new neighbors that I haven’t yet met.
Responding to an as-yet-to-be-presented proposal to build a new fire station on the land, and self-describing as “part of the Friends of the Thomaston Green,” Ms. Williams-Beers wrote, “ … the design ‘The Friends’ came up with included a fire station …” She said the group didn’t want to come up with a specific design.
“It was too complicated to ask the town to vote on a particular vision, nor did we have an interest in telling the citizens exactly what their park should look like,” she wrote.
I’ll give the Friends credit for trying. Unfortunately, their proposal does exactly what Ms. Williams-Beers said they did not want to do. It asks us to decide, this coming week, the exact future of that land, at least as long as there is a Town of Thomaston.
As many of you know, I am pro-choice, In this situation, that means I want to continue to have the right to be part of a thoughtful plan for this land. I expect some turnout at the Thomaston Municipal Building, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., to vote by secret ballot on this issue. Those who want to wait a bit longer before finalizing plans for the prison yard should vote Yes on Question 3 and No in Question 4. Those who want a permanent green should vote No on 3 and Yes on 4. Clear as mud.
There are other questions on this ballot, and an in-person Town Meeting scheduled to begin at 6:0 p.m. the following day, Wednesday, to act on another 31 warrant items.
Part II — Plastics, again?
No matter where your opinion falls in the debate over a place that I will always think of as the Prison Yard, there is a related matter to consider. On the internet, two websites call themselves thomastongreen, with one using a .us domain and the other going with .com.
Almost identical in web address, both sponsorship groups also share a willingness to save the earth by purchasing a bunch more heavy-duty, single-use plastic lawn signs. All equipped with metal wickets that, if today’s political operatives are anything like those in my more activist days, will lean against the barn wall until they disintegrate and spread their chemical components to the hidden corners of this planet.
It’s a lot easier to put up a cheap sign than to show up at a specific time and place to meet with your neighbors and honestly discuss important issues, or even just to cast a ballot while the polls are open. How we say a thing is often more important than what words we use.
See you at Town Meeting.
Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.