Take a look at the Maine state flag. What do you see?

Unless you get very close, you won’t see much. But if you can get right next to one that’s not blowing in the wind, you’ll see a farmer and a sailor, each leaning on what looks like an ornately framed picture of a pine tree and a resting moose. The two men are standing on a banner on which the name of the state is spelled out (in case the other images didn’t tell you where you were) and under a star and more scrollwork with the state’s motto, “Dirigo,” also spelled out.

In other words, you are seeing way too much — much more than you could ever take in unless you had the time to really study it.

ALTERNATIVE DESIGN

Fortunately, we don’t have to take it. State Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, has introduced a bill to replace the too-busy state standard with the original state flag that was replaced 110 years ago.

The original design, a green pine tree and a blue North Star on a buff-colored field, is simple, clean and can be recognized from a long distance. The elements are as confident and rough-hewn as the state it represented, and it’s abstract enough to connect with every Mainer, not just the ones depicted on the banner.

“Flags have an emotional resonance far beyond their design qualities. … A truly great flag needs both meaning and good design to be an inspiration to people,” Cooper wrote in a column published Feb. 17. “The American flag is a good design. Why? It is simple. It only has three colors, its shapes hold specific meaning known to all citizens and it is simple enough that a child can draw it.”

The state’s original flag meets all three criteria. The current flag does not.

GOOD TIMING

Cooper has come forward with this idea at just the right time. Maine is preparing for its 200th birthday next year, and the state’s image and history will be on display. It would be the perfect occasion to dust off a strong symbol from our past to represent the state’s past, present and future.

And unlike most of the controversial bills before the Legislature this year, this one would not cost the state a dime. The law would identify the pine tree design as the official flag, and the state would use it for replacements of the existing flags when they come to the end of their normal life cycle.

Doing something about Maine’s too-busy, cluttered flag is hardly our most pressing need, but lawmakers don’t need to drop everything to jump on this well-timed good idea.

All they need to do is look at both flags and vote in favor of the one that sends a strong, memorable message and reject the confusing hodgepodge of symbols designed to please so many groups it pleases none. If they do that, they will realize that it’s time for Maine to move into the future with its original flag.

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