Almost Busted

Even though I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be catching fish today – – it was the hottest part of the day when I set out, and fish bite mostly during the coolness of early morning or at dusk  – – I took my kayak along with my dog Truman for a paddle around Kewaydin Lake.  I did bring my fishing pole because my kayak has a holder, so it’s not too difficult to fish while paddling.  Basically, one puts the worm on the hook, releases some fishing line from the pole, sticks the pole in the holder and then proceeds to slowly paddle around the lake (this is called “trolling”).

Truman, our Standard Poodle puppy, is now 9 months old, and he has really grown!  I should have gotten the dog before the boat and not the other way around, because it’s a very small kayak with barely room for one, much less a giant of a dog.  It leaves me completely squished and slowly but surely my legs lose all feeling as he blocks my circulation while he fights for space. He loves the ride but it takes him a while to find a comfortable position, and as he shifts from side to side I can barely keep from capsizing.

We did manage to paddle the circumferance of the entire lake, and I was on my way back to our point of origin, when 100 feet from shore a motorboat sidled up next to me, seemingly appearing out of nowhere.

“Is your fishing line in , or out?”

It was a Game Warden, the equivalent of Law Enforcement rangers, and he wanted to make sure I had a valid Maine fishing license.  His question was rhetorical, because he could see that my line was in the water.  But he asked this for two reasons: to see if I’m truthful, and to establish guilt or innocence.  The definition of fishing in Maine is not catching  a fish, it’s putting a fishing line in the water. If I didn’t have a license but had my fishing pole in its holder but the line was not in the water, I would not be considered fishing and I could not be cited for fishing without a license.

“In,” I said.

“May I see your fishing license, please?”

I’ve been fishing many times a week in many different lakes in Maine for the past five years, but this was the first time I’d been asked to show my license. Uh-oh.

“Umm, I do have a license, but it’s in my car, and I’m actually heading that way now.  Would you mind waiting until I get back to shore, so I can show it to you?”

Theoretically I am supposed to keep the license on my person while fishing, but I didn’t have a waterproof bag, so I hadn’t brought it with me.  Fortunately he was a nice guy, and since by now I was only 50 feet from shore, he followed me to the launch area. Leaving my kayak, I ran to the car, and ran back to the warden.  He looked the fishing license over very carefully and pronounced me good as my word.

Fishing licenses cost $64 for non-residents and $22 for Maine residents.  They are good for a year starting January 1, although there is a period of some weeks in the Fall and early winter where fishing is illegal, primarily so that the fish can establish and stabilize their population before the lakes freeze.  The license includes the ability to go ice fishing, something I have not yet tried (I lack an auger to cut through the ice on the lake, nor do I have the special traps).

While the chance of being stopped by a Game Warden in Maine’s quieter backwoods lakes and ponds are slim, the penalties for not having a license are severe and not worth the risk.  The base fine for fishing without a license is  $75. An amount equal to two times the cost of the required license and permit is added to the base fine. A violator also may be sentenced to pay an additional fine of $20 per fish taken illegally. And they have the right to revoke your fishing license for one full year for certain fishing-related offenses.

“I’m really sorry you had to follow me back to shore,” I said apologetically to the Game Warden.  He said he didn’t mind.  We then spent the next 15 minutes swapping fish stories and sharing favorite secret fishing holes before he returned his boat to the water, in search of other little old ladies who might flaunt the law.

 

A Haven of Mentschlichkeit*

Yesterday I had an experience that perfectly sums up why I love living in the White Mountains, and it has nothing to do with hiking, camping, or kayaking.

I traveled the 45 minutes to my “local” supermarket for my weekly shopping trip.  As I stood in line, there were four people ahead of me.  The first, an elderly person, had just received her receipt, which came with a separate tape that printed out a coupon: “Spend $75 on your order and get $5 off.”

The lady turned to the person next to her in line.  “Oh, why don’t you take this coupon and use it on your order?  I’m just a single person living alone, and there is no way I can spend $75 on my shopping.”

The man was delighted.  “Thanks!” he said.  But when the cashier totaled his order, he was many dollars short of the $75 to benefit from the coupon.  He certainly could have pocketed the coupon for use the following week.  But instead, he turned to the person next to him, and said, “Here, maybe you can use this coupon.”

The scene repeated itself.  The woman in line was delighted, but equally dismayed when her order also did not total $75 (I guess New Englanders are frugal food shoppers!).  That’s when she left the coupon for me.

Amazingly, and what was probably the first time in my life in the history of my shopping at any supermarket, my total was much less than the required $75 purchase.

I wish I could say I am a saint . . .  but frankly, under normal conditions, passing on the $5 coupon to someone else, especially a stranger, would simply not have crossed my mind.  Normally I would have stowed it in my wallet for future use.  But seeing this remarkable generosity and how good it made everyone feel about others and themselves was contagious.  One good deed truly does lead to another, or as we say in Jewish thought, “mitzvah goreret mitzvah.” That’s worth more than $5.

I passed it on.

*Mentschlichkeit: a good, honorable and noble person who exudes integrity, decency and kindness

 

 

 

Maine: The Way Life Should Be

Recently I hosted a friend from my hometown who was in need of a break from the stresses of daily urban life.  I invited her to join us up in Maine.  Thankfully, she had a great time!  The restorative powers of the White Mountains never cease to amaze me.  Here is an excerpt from her note to me:

Since I have gotten back, everyone I meet says I look so relaxed.  I am trying to hold on to the feeling.  You don’t know what you did for me in inviting me back.  I wish I could figure out how to include such experiences in my life.  Maybe we can fit in one more visit before you leave.  I wouldn’t even mind coming in stick season now that I love it so much!!!

This fills my soul.

Welcome!

 

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Several months ago my husband hung a batik banner next to the mailbox at the bottom of the driveway with the words “bruchim haba’im” – welcome – written in an artsy, flowing Hebrew script.

We live on a rural country road that doesn’t get much traffic, and let’s face it, not too many people in Maine can read Hebrew.  But what the heck.

About an hour before the end of Shabbat, we heard cars coming up our driveway, which is unusual by itself.  Out clambered 6 young people from Boston, who were vacationing in the area for the Fourth of July weekend.  They’d seen the sign, were able to read it, and their curiosity got the best of them.  So they decided to check us out.

We invited them inside and they were floored to see my husband and I, along with a friend from our hometown, gathered around the Shabbat table.  They joined us for a l’chaim and asked us all sorts of questions about the hows, wheres and whys of what we’re doing in a remote corner of Maine.  One was a female rabbinical student; one was a software engineer; one was in social media marketing; one was a grad student majoring in economics; and two were involved in non-profit organizations for social justice for the underprivileged.

Our guest from our hometown couldn’t believe the unfolding scene.  Oh, we had regaled her with entertaining stories of all the bizarre situations we’ve found ourselves in, and the many unusual people we’ve met over the years living here in Maine, despite our isolated location, but now she was getting a taste of that delightful Maine mojo first-hand.  (Many of these tales can be found in the archives of this blog.)

Really my friend’s visit was somewhat serendipitous to begin with.  When I was in my hometown last week to celebrate the birth of a new grandchild, I happened to see her in the street and mentioned that I’d be returning to Maine in a few days, and that if she’d like a ride up with us she’d be welcome to join us.

She had visited us once before during that time of year known as “stick season” in November, when the gorgeous fall colors are long gone but the snow hasn’t yet fallen, so the landscape is quite bare and grey.  I happen to like stick season, but my friend wasn’t particularly impressed, especially after hearing my accolades about the beauty of Maine.  The bleakness of the landscape appeared foreboding and desolate to her then.  Now that we’re at the peak of summer and everywhere it’s a lush green, she feels differently.  It’s been fun to expose her to her first-time-ever kayaking and swimming in a lake, and hiking to hidden cascades and moutaintops.  But nothing prepared her for the one-in-a-million chance of meeting up with total strangers and inviting them in for a taste of Shabbat.

Shabbat came to an end and we all made havdala (the special blessings chanted over wine, braided candle, and spices to say goodbye to Shabbat and welcome the new week). Contacts were exchanged along with warm wishes and my suggestions and directions for exploring some of the hidden gems in the area.

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I don’t know if we’ll ever see them again, but you never know to what or where something as simple as a “welcome” sign might lead.  And now my hometown friend has her own Maine stories to tell.

 

Hiking Guidelines

This hiking checklist was compiled after Mark and Ellen Newman lost their only child to Exertional Heat Stroke during a hike in the desert.  The precautions are valuable for anyone hiking in hot weather, not only in the desert.  I urge everyone who enjoys hiking in the summer to click on the link below.  Stay safe, everyone!

http://ksi.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1222/2015/06/Ariels-Checklist.pdf

The Table

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Right now, I’m not in Maine.

This Sunday, we hosted an Open House as part of our effort to sell our house in our hometown in the mid-Atlantic US.  Simultaneously, we are selling the entire house contents, a process that has been ongoing for the past year.  This includes pieces of antique furniture, beds, sofas, and our dining room table.

What an amazing table it is!  It is a solid maple table that we’ve had for at least 35 years, bought second hand in Los Angeles.  It came with us when we went to to live in Israel in the 1980s; it returned with us to the US when we moved to the Mid Atlantic.  It is a gate leg table, so it folds down to a mere 24″ width to seat 2, but when fully expanded , it’s 97″ long and can seat 12 – 14.  Its 2 extra leaves are butterflied (hinged in the middle) so they fold and store right in the table – – a clever, space-saving design.

While the table is very sturdy, it is nowhere near in perfect condition.  One side has a long gouge-like scratch from a careless grandchild, and the finish had discolored unevenly due to sunlight exposure from a nearby window.  Hence I was impressed when a young Jewish couple, due to be married in 2 weeks’ time, were not put off by its imperfections, and bought it with the great excitement that comes with the first blush of love, hopes, dreams, and establishing a new home.

Other than a woman’s Sabbath candlesticks, there is perhaps no more important object in a Jewish home than the dining room table and the challah (Sabbath bread) that rests upon it.  It is an object that totally transcends its physicality as it becomes a sanctified gathering place for family Sabbath meals; Jewish and American holidays; guests holy and plain; happy events and sad; heated arguments and intellectual and religious discussion; celebration and mourning.  The source for this is from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem:

One of the central Temple vessels is the golden Table for the Showbread, which stands within the Sanctuary itself, on the north side. This table is constructed of wood overlain with gold, and the specific instructions for its design are described in Exodus Chapter 25.

The priests are commanded to see to it that 12 loaves of bread are constantly displayed on this table before the presence of G-d, hence the name showbread: “And you shall place showbread on the table before Me at all times” (Ex. 25:30).

“These 12 loaves were baked in pans which gave them a specific form, and when done they rested on golden shelves upon this table. The loaves were replaced every Sabbath with new ones.

It is said that bread is the staff of life, and represents man’s physical sustenance. This is certainly so, and it is important that G-d’s blessing for goodness and bounty be found in the bread which we partake of… for without His munificent blessing, all of man’s efforts would neither satisfy nor satiate. Thus we endeavor to fulfill His will throughout every aspect of our endeavors, and in so doing, we earn His favor and blessing… for each area wherein man fulfills the Holy One’s will becomes a channel receiving Heavenly blessing.

(from The Temple Institute website:  https://www.templeinstitute.org/table_showbread.htm)

As the bride and groom drove away happily with the table in their borrowed 12-seater van, I suddenly imagined a rather unpleasant scenario.  Perhaps their well-meaning family or friends would take the wind out of the couple’s sails and chide them for buying a used table with its imperfections, when they might have bought something new!  And so I texted them this message:

Over the years, we had many important people eat at that table, including HaRav Simcha Wasserman ztz’l, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, Rav Meir Chodosh, and Rav Akiva Tatz, plus many more.  I’m not saying this to be a name-dropper but rather, my blessing to you is that as you gather around your table, that you may continue the holiness from its past as you host guests in the spirit of  Avraham Avinu and Sara Imeinu!

To which he replied,

Wow! That’s amazing! Thank you for telling me!

And to which I wish to add:

Yes, we were privileged to have many “celebrities” from the Jewish world sit, eat, talk, and expound words of Torah at our table. But we also hosted dear friends and neighbors; people who were lonely, abused, sick and bereft; mentally ill or substance abusers; travelers; strangers who became friends and some who didn’t; righteous gentiles; cult members; grandparents and parents and friends no longer in this world; and children and grandchildren, who are our future.

We ate meals there that consisted of little more than a bowl of cold cereal, and multi-course meals that were fit for a king.  We celebrated the pidyon haben (redemption of the first-born) of a grandson at that table on the night before 9/11, along with the sheva brochos (festive post-wedding meal) of our children and friends’ children, including for a newlywed ba’alat tshuva couple I met in a supermarket line only the day before.  We conducted our Passover seder from that table, year after year after year; we kvelled (felt happiness and pride) as the numbers of family members increased and required the table’s full extension, and then the addition of a folding table to accommodate everyone.

Unlike the  table of gold from the Temple, our table was made only of wood.  It carried its imperfections with dignity, like all the people of every stripe who completed it and made it the holy vessel that it is.

For us, our table was golden.

 

A Bittersweet Find

Today I went to the local transfer station to dump our trash and recyclables, and as I always do, I looked around at the freecycle area for new “treasures.”  Someone had left a box of 20 books, almost all of them published memoirs of American soldiers fresh from the WWII battlefields.  All of these are out of print today, so for anyone interested in WWII military history, it was a real find.  These books were not recollections written 60 or 70 years after they happened; most were published within a year or two of the war’s end and so they provide an intimate look at soldiers’ experiences.  Many of the books were moldy with age due to poor storage, but I did take home three clean but worn copies that sounded interesting:  one about a field surgeon; one written about the European front; and one from the South Pacific front, where my father fought.  For many years now, I have been struggling with publishing my own father’s memoirs of that time.  (You can see an abridged version by clicking here.)

Seeing those discarded books swept me with sadness:  surely they belonged to a veteran who was probably now dead and gone; the mildewed, dusty collection thrown out by well-meaning relatives.  I like to think that by reading these books, I am honoring those who wrote and fought so that we could live in freedom and giving meaning to their battles.  Indeed, without their bravery, heroism, sacrifices, and victory, I, a Jew, would not have been born, because had the “other side” won, my parents and grandparents would not have been deemed worthy of existing at all.  We only need to look at the world today to realize how precious our freedom is, and how much we take for granted.

Memorial Day is upon us.  I plan to call a vet and thank him or her for their service.  Sadly, there are too many soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice that cannot receive my call.

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