The small town of Buxton is in many ways typical of rural Maine.

Its narrow streets are lined with the hemlock forests that cover much of the state. Its residents are neither poor nor rich, and if it once had the raw and rustic aesthetic that Andrew Wyeth depicted in his famous paintings of the Maine countryside, it has since transitioned to the convenience of vinyl siding and blacktop driveways. In almost every way, Buxton is rural America. So it comes as quite a surprise that one of its many gable-roofed homes houses Watt Samaki, Maine’s one and only Cambodian Buddhist temple.

On a visit to the temple, I found Bak Him, an aging monk, digging a giant hole in the wooded area of the temple’s backyard. Never breaking from his work, Bak greeted me with a smile, then explained, in broken English, what he was doing. Move rock stones, dig pond, and parking were a few of the words I was able to make out. Saying little more, Bak continued to work using only his hands, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow to lift and pile stones that weighed several hundred pounds. After several hours, Bak’s pace began to slow. As sweat began to drip from his nose on a frosty October evening, he grinned at me and glanced towards my car. It was time for me to go.

Photos courtesy of The Salt Institute For Documentary Studies