New Englanders may be known for their taciturn, Yankee ways, but this reserve apparently does not extend to the printed medium of signs. Beyond the usual incomprehensible tangle of route signs (see below), there is an element of high specificity and verbosity that I find common to Maine.
I’ve been doing a lot of running while vacationing here in the Belgrade Lakes region of the state, and there’s no better way to encounter a slice of real life in a place than to travel on foot. Yesterday, on a 12 mile jog around the lake, I saw a handwritten sign leaning against someone’s mailbox post reading, “I will purchase all your unwanted metal.” There’s something intimately contractual about such a sign.
As I ran along a dirt road the other day, I came upon another hand painted sign, this one, rather unexpectedly, in French. My French being rudimentary on a good day, I was able to get only a rough sense of its meaning. Not responsible beyond this…point? Bridge? There was no bridge in sight, just a dirt road winding off through the woods. Uncertain who this not-responsible party was, or what the consequences of passing beyond this bridge/point might be, I decided it was safer to plunge off the road onto a trace of a trail through the woods, and into a warren of intersecting fire roads, creepy driveways to ramshackle cabins, and deer trails.
But my favorite sign here in central Maine so far was this professionally made one hanging between two trees by the side of the road: Dripping with bitterness and bile, this sign touched me with its irony. After all, we live in this great country where you can put up any sign you like, whether it’s weird, offensive, or creepy, and no secret government agency will hunt you down and disappear you. It’s our great good fortune not to have any real experience with tyranny, so that we imagine it in every action of the local town government. Even granting a measure of hyperbole, “tyranny?” But, nonetheless, I’m a civil libertarian, so I support every sign maker and sign poster’s right to speech. And it’s true, tyranny lives. I just don’t think it owns lakefront property on McGrath Pond.