House for sale sign in Aroostook County
Homes for sale in Aroostook County always look more attractive during the short-lived summer. (Portland Phoenix/Jan Grieco)
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There’s always one day in late August when we wake up and know that summer is over and fall and winter are not far off.  The air is cooler and the smothering humidity has given way to a pleasant breeze. 

That came a week ago and sent us scurrying to complete the chores: harvesting the garden, picking berries, and finishing up projects we abandoned during the recent heatwave.

Winter is on the way even though it’s the first of September.  

We live on the edge of the North Woods, 11 miles west of Caribou, and on the drive to town, new piles of firewood have grown beside houses, fields have been mown for hay, and potato fields show the telltale browning that indicates it’s only a matter of time before the harvesters are out gathering this year’s crop. 

While potatoes, broccoli, wheat, and barley have long been the staple crops of The County, this year it seems like real estate – the land and houses of Aroostook – is outstripping those harvests. And most of the people buying are from away, just like we were when we moved here from southern Maine 15 years ago.  

Both in town and out in the country, older homes, some long neglected, are being bought and renovated by people from all over the country, and the prices have risen.  

Several things attract people to The County. The wildness of the woods, the quiet of the evenings without traffic sounds or sirens, and of course, the prices for real estate. But loving all that and knowing how to deal with it is a different story.  

Old-timers remember a similar influx of people back in the 1960s when hippies inspired by Mother Earth News magazine moved north. Some stayed, but more were here for a while and then abandoned their dreams of living off the land when they discovered how hard that could be. You’ve got to have grit to live year-round up here. 

Reliable internet is spotty outside of the towns and cities, and that can be frustrating. Schools are good; I know because I taught for 11 years at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle, about 20 miles south of where we live. And I can’t say enough about the people we’ve met and the friends we have made since we moved here.  

It gets very cold in winter – often below zero most mornings – and it is wild, including all the creatures. Shopping is limited, and many of us make the three-hour drive to Bangor a couple times a year. There’s good medical care at one of the four hospitals in The County, although you may have to go to Bangor or even Portland for specialty care.  

However, there’s little traffic on our road, and we are surrounded by woods. In the evenings, we often hear coyotes howling. We’ve had a bear knock down the hummingbird feeders less than 20 feet from our back door, and another that came right to the front windows and looked in at us (two barking dogs scared that fellow away). And two does, each with a fawn, browsed our back field.

So, if you’re thinking of moving to The County, be sure to visit first, and don’t just come in the summer when it all looks bucolic or in the fall when the woods are ablaze with color. Come this winter, when the snow is heavy on the ground, or in the spring when roads have taken a beating from all that snow and cold – and when black flies make it nearly impossible to get anything done outdoors without wearing netting to avoid being bitten. 

But no matter when you come, you’ll be welcomed.

Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former newspaper reporter. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.