We have interesting neighbors, though here in the woods they are few and far between.

A mile up the road is an inn that opened in the 1970s to great fanfare as a ski resort.  All sorts of loans were taken by the investors (one of whom was the town itself) and they really went whole hog to finance the project.  In addition to a ski lift to the mountaintop, which besides its gorgeous views was of a rather unimpressive elevation as far as skiing goes, there was a large ski lodge with a dining room that could seat hundreds; a golf course; a swimming pool; and timeshare condos ranging from full-service studio apartments with Murphy beds to suites with two full bedrooms and spiral staircases.  Unfortunately there was no margin for error, and fate played its cruel hand when, for the first two years running, the resort experienced the mildest winters to hit western Maine in history.  No snow, no skiing, no tourists – and no money.  They quickly went bust.

There are many colorful versions about the reasons leading up to the resort’s demise.  Here is one of many:

Over the years different investors tried to make a go of it, each time buying and selling at a steal of a deal.  They even tried outdoor rock concerts a la Woodstock, but, according to a local, “the pot-smoking hippies always found a way to sneak in without paying admission so even that was a losing proposition.”  The original time share owners are now thirty to forty years older and no longer have the mobility or health to enjoy a week in the mountains, but there are no buyers, so mostly they walk away from their ownership.  That, in turns, leaves fewer people to pay a share of maintenance, so the inn has fallen into disrepair.  While the décor shouts 1970s, the rooms are clean and prices start at $65 per night.  Recently they were so desperate to sell more time shares (the maintenance fees work out to about $225 a year per week of timeshare) that they were selling them for $1.

Many of the locals blame the resort’s bad luck on a curse from the 1930s, when a wealthy German expatriate of the Bahai faith settled on the mountain and built a chalet.  Unfairly and wrongly suspected of being a Nazi spy, he was tormented by locals and run out of town.  The US Army took over the chalet during WWII to train ski patrol troops for mountain warfare in Europe.  The curse may be nonsense but the area has never since experienced success.  Today the once-magnificent chalet is merely a curiosity for hikers.

Sadly, the resort’s Olympic sized pool; the ski lift, lodge and dining room; and the golf course (though mowed regularly), are no longer operational.  Despite the perky but minimal staff of locals, the place looks and feels like a ghost town.  The inn will do their utmost to keep their few guests happy, but there is no money for advertising so few people even know of its existence.

I put in a few discreet calls to a yeshivish camp that summers in Maine, and told them about the inn – that it would make a nice venue for a Staff shabbaton at a reasonable rate.  Surprisingly they took me up on it – and this past summer there were about 60 chassidish and yeshivish families with a gazillion kids from Monsey and Lakewood.  It was an amusing blend of the staff’s thick “Maineah” accents and the guests’ Yiddish sing-song and at one point I thought the two groups would have to resort to sign language to make themselves understood!  Even though most of the locals have never seen a Jew in their lives, much less ones with peyos, knee socks and knickers, they didn’t stare.  In Maine,   people put a premium on respecting one another’s privacy. In any case,  there are lots of unusual types of individuals in the mountains, so to the locals, this was just one more “type.”

I guess if they decide to do it again next summer we’ll know it was a success.  I am dubious.  When I went to a magnificent set of waterfalls in a nearby gorge, I saw one beleaguered chassidish lady in an elegant dress trying to make her way up the trail with her eight children.  Her husband was back at the parked car, learning Talmud quietly by himself, completely uninterested and oblivious to the natural beauty surrounding them.

The inn’s golf course is a daily destination for my dog and I.  The long fairways are perfect for throwing a ball 70 feet with a Chuck-It Tosser for my dog to retrieve, which he does ceaselessly, ecstatically and determinedly.  Surrounding the various fairways and unkempt greens are mountains, hills, streams, and ponds.  Visitors include bears, deer, moose, bobcats, and, much to my dog’s regret, porcupines (luckily the quills didn’t puncture his skin, they merely got stuck in his thick fur).

The resort is still up for sale: well under $2 million for 1, 756 acres.

Another neighbor is just to our left.  Like us, he had a midlife “awakening” and decided to build his own cabin, with the help of his brother and nephew.  He is a writer and professor of journalism, and until recently was the head of the journalism department at a well-known university.  He gave that up when he decided he’d rather spend more time at his cabin than attend staff meetings.  He is currently writing a book about building his cabin and planting his apple orchard (when he’s not distracted by fly fishing or other outdoor pursuits).  But he’s only here sporadically on some weekends.

Author Stephen King also has property 2 miles down the road, but he’s here only in the summer and the locals ensure his privacy is respected.  He recently donated a huge sum to renovate the next town’s library 10 miles down the road — a great thing for us!

Our only full-time neighbor is 1/4 mile down the road.  The M’s are Maineahs born and bred; the husband has an accent so thick that he must repeat whatever he says at least 3x before I understand him.  They have three small children.  With Halloween coming, my spouse and I took bets as to whether the kids would come by.  I bought some Hershey miniatures just in case, which my spouse was very happy about because he was sure we would get no visitors and that meant he’d get the chocolate for himself.  At 8 pm the three kids and their mom stopped in, the little girl dressed as a chef and the two boys dressed in glow-in-the-dark skeleton costumes.  It was really the first time we had spoken with any of them beyond a quick hello.  The kids were thrilled to play with our dog and the dog was equally happy (he really misses the attention and affection of my grandchildren), and they loved playing with the Mr. Potato Head and blocks I keep for my grandchildren’s visits.

The following night Mr. M knocked on our door, with two of his children in tow.  The little girl, who just started 1st grade, had baked us  peanut butter cookies which were unfortunately not kosher (“and you can keep the silver tray, because it only came from the Dollar Store!” she assured me) with an attached, hand-illustrated note of our dog jumping joyfully and this poem:

Mad only  by me!

Rois are red

vilits are blow

shgar is sweet

and so are you!

“Well,” Mr. M explained bashfully, “this is the first time my kids have ever had neighbors . . . and they’re really excited.”


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