OLD TOWN, Maine — During the deepest part of last winter, a van pulled off the highway and followed the two-lane road that skims along the Penobscot River, coming to rest beside the hulk of a shuttered pulp mill. The van’s door slid open and passengers climbed out: seven Buddhist monks from China.
Andrew Edwards, a mill superintendent from the nearby town of Lincoln, led them to a room where he had stockpiled the things they had requested for the ceremony: oranges, limes, apples and seven shovels, one for each monk.
Snow lay deep on the ground, two feet of gritty, frozen crust, and he remembers worrying a little about the visitors. “They were in their, I don’t know what they’re called, their Tibetan outfit,” he said. “With the sandals and whatnot.”
He stepped back and watched as the monks wandered from the boiler houses to the limekiln to the pulp mill, chanting, burning candles and gently tapping a gong.
Mr. Edwards had grown up beside a now-defunct mill, and seen the human chaos that resulted from failures and bankruptcies — the foreclosures, the layoffs, the departures of young families.
So he had every reason to be curious about the new boss. Zhang Yin, known in China as the “Queen of Trash,” had built an empire, Nine Dragons Paper, by producing corrugated board out of recycling scrap. She was different from the American owners who preceded her, and not only because she could afford to spend lavishly on feng shui.
The most startling thing about Ms. Zhang was her promise that Nine Dragons would operate the mill for 100 years, long enough to employ Mr. Edwards’s children and grandchildren.
“People don’t go back and redo these mills, they just don’t,” Mr. Edwards said. “Mills get torn down or scrapped out. And here’s Old Town in the middle of it, coming back to life.”