Back in Maine . . .
Ah, Spring: brilliant blue skies; gently warm days; redbud, crabapple, apple, lilac and weeping cherry blossoms everywhere the eye can see . . . right?
In Maine, Spring is subdivided into three parts: Winter, Mud Season, and Bug Season.
The beginning of Spring is known as . . . winter. Today (March 21, 2011) we got 9″ of snow and 50 mph gusts of wind.
When the days finally do start to get warmer, it plays havoc on the roads, since the daytime thaw and nighttime freeze results in huge cracks in asphalt roads. As the frost melts, the ground heaves, leaving maneater-sized craters and bumps that ruin a car’s suspension.In rural Maine, property taxes tend to be reasonable, but 75% of town monies collected go toward road maintenance. Unfortunately even that is rarely enough to keep up with the damage. Our rural roads are so bumpy and full of pot-holes that they rival the most jarring amusement park ride. Since our town doesn’t have the funds to re-pave the roads on an annual basis, they make do with filling the cracks with sand. So now one doesn’t only have a rough, bumpy road, one has a slippery one as well.
Spring brings a ritual known as “posting the roads.” With the roads in such bad shape and in a state of flux, day-glo orange signs go up telling logging trucks, excavation trucks, and other monster vehicles weighing more than 23,000 lbs. that it is now illegal for them to travel on rural roads. There is no start date or end date – it’s based on weather conditions – but the official season is November thru June. (Realistically roads are usually posted sometime between March and May.) What this means is that the logging and heavy construction industries are forced to shut down operations for about 6 – 8 weeks. It also means that if you are in the middle of a construction project, as we were last year, and they post the roads, your construction project cannot progress any further for another two months, because heavy equipment cannot deliver supplies or excavate a foundation, lay a driveway, or pour cement. In anticipation of posting the roads, construction therefore reaches a frenzied pace in January (weather permitting, which it usually doesn’t!) because everyone knows that all workmen will be twiddling their thumbs after the orange signs go up. (My builder uses that time for his annual vacation. He goes somewhere warm.)
Concurrent with posting the roads, the spring melt begins. Even if it does snow a few days, there are intermittent days of rain and sleet, which means that the snow level drops. Snow on our property went from 4′ high to 2′ in a couple of days. That is a lot of melted snow! The result is flooded basements, flooded roads, soaked ground and frantic work by snow removal crews who make sure that the water goes into unclogged culverts and drains instead of pooling everywhere.
It also means that gravel and dirt driveways and roads (which make up the bulk of roads in rural Maine) are a muddy, rutted mess. It means that you put away your shoes, and your new best friends are knee-high Muck Boots (absolutely worth the money and the best survival tool out there for mud season). Everyone in rural Maine has a Mud Room at the entry to their house, which consists of tiled floors, lots of hooks for hanging up wet clothes, and a boot tray to hold muddy boots. It’s practically a ritual that the minute you enter your house, you start “unpeeling” – first taking off boots and then all remaining wet and muddy outerwear. When we built our house, we actually put an inside shower right next to the front door, so I could hose off visiting grandchildren’s muddy feet, as well as my dog’s dirty paws. The shower is also a great place to hang dripping-wet clothes. It may look strange that my mudroom shower faces the living room, but it certainly is practical!
Just when you think Spring is really, finally on the way, you take off your studded snow tires and replace them with your regular tires. As they say, man plans, G-d laughs. We took ours off and we’ve had 2 snowstorms since then.
But finally, finally when the air does warm up for good, and Mud Season is behind you, the latter part of “Spring” begins. It is called Bug Season, and lasts from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day (mid-May to mid-June). Unless you have lived through it, you can’t really begin to picture it. Swarms of blackflies invade every pore, your mouth, your nose, your eyes, your scalp, and anywhere that skin is exposed. Despite DEET, Skin-So-Soft or any other commercial repellent, those darn blackflies are not picky – they bite through clothing, too. The bites are very painful welts that drive a person mad with itching. A single bite and its effects can take 3 weeks to go away.
If you can’t fight it, you might as well celebrate it. There is an annual Blackfly Festival in Vermont, and a tongue-in-cheek group called the Maine Blackfly Breeders Association (“May the Swarm Be With You!”) that has created a theme song, limericks, blackfly-themed novelty gift items, and various outdoor events to raise money for charity.
After the blackflies come midges – otherwise called “no-see-ums” – flies that are so microscopically tiny that they go right through window screens. They also have a bite that sends one into a scratching frenzy. Deer flies follow the midges. Their bite is so painful that it’s not unusual to see moose fleeing from the mountainside in the direction of a pond, where only immersing themselves keeps them from more bites. I haven’t even gotten around to mentioning mosquitoes, who are responsible for 5 cases a year of encephalitis, or deer ticks, which is the cause of an extremely high incidence of Lyme disease in the State of Maine. So many people work and play outdoors, it’s hardly surprising.
From May to June we try to stay indoors as much as possible. Every time I go outside, I take a deep breath and open the door just enough to allow my body to pass through, quickly slam the door behind me, and run, holding my breath so I won’t inhale the flies, before leaping into the car and quickly shutting the door. In May and June, I never open the windows in my car. When there are unavoidable tasks that require me to be outside, I make sure every inch of my body is covered and I wear a head net to minimize the discomfort. Even my dog prefers to remain indoors.
After spending Pesach in my home town, there is little incentive to return to Maine until summer is well under way. I look forward to summer days, hiking and kayaking and swimming in the lake; to the magnificent colors of autumn; and yes, I even love those cold, snowy Maine winters.