After two weeks of cloudy skies, we woke up to bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies. Although the forecast said it would be 45 F over Shabbos, we were surprised with 61 degrees!
I set up a chair outside to soak up the day’s warmth and when not reading, I enjoyed listening to the quiet and looking out into the woods. My dog sat about a foot away from my chair, when suddenly a little black field mouse scampered between us. My dog lifted his head in surprise, but looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, “Nah, not worth it.” And so the mouse lived to see another day.
The warmth meant that cluster flies’ larvae hatched. Cluster flies look exactly like common houseflies, and as far as I can tell they do not bite. What makes them odd is how slowly they fly around, almost clumsy in slo-mo and masochistically easy to swat when they come into the house to annoy us.
In the midst of my lazing around I suddenly heard very loud buzzing. I thought it was the cluster flies, but upon closer investigation I realized that the strong sunshine had warmed up the beehives and for the first time all winter, the bees had exited their hives and were foraging. Unfortunately for them, there is simply nothing for them to forage – – there is no pollen nor flowers as yet, and they were angry, tired and weak. One that flew near me plopped to the ground, wobbled a bit like a disoriented, drunken clown, and after a few tries managed to get airborne again. There is still honey and some supplementary sugar paste in the hives which served to nourish them over the winter, so for those strong enough to find their way back to the hives, they would survive their premature exit. I cannot help but wonder about all those who were not so lucky.
I walked quite a bit this Shabbos, trying to make the most of the glorious day. The snow is thin, especially along the well-used snowmobile trails, and I suspect tomorrow will be the snowmobilers’ last day till next winter. While out and about a fellow on a snowmobile stopped to talk to me. I couldn’t really see who I was talking to, since he was wearing dark goggles and had on a full helmet.
“Was there enough snow on the trails?” I asked.
The man answered me and I really had to strain to understand his thick Maine accent, but I still missed much of whatever he had to say. Suddenly I realized he wasn’t talking about snowmobiling at all, but maple syrup. And then he said, “By the way, my name is Buck.” He pulled off his helmet and I realized it was the fellow I met at the local library this past Tuesday. In a conversation I’d eavesdropped upon, he mentioned that his “trees were running well” which means that the syrup was flowing from his tapped sugar maple trees. I stepped forward and asked him if he had any maple syrup to sell and he said I was welcome to come by later in the week when the syrup-making was further along, He’d tapped 72 trees so there should be plenty of sap this year, he said, and the warmer days and cold nights of the past week were ideal for a high yield.
Now here is a funny thing about rural Mainers: they are suspicious of people “from away.” Mainers are very friendly (you cannot walk anywhere down a country road without a passing car’s driver raising his hand to say hello), and some are downright chatty. Ask advice about any topic and they are happy to give it, but never to take it. Anyone worth his salt has been living here for generations, and they’re perfectly happy with life as it is and they don’t want to hear about how people “from away” do things or how things could be better. To them, a person “from away” represents change, and perhaps altering the culture and values they cherish. So when you meet a rural Mainer, they will be perfectly polite, and may talk your arm off for 30 minutes – – but they will never introduce themselves, and never tell you their name. They might tell you their name if you ask (and then it would be only a first name), but it is considered rather uncouth to ask. When I met Buck for the first time at the library and asked about his syrup, he told me on which rural road he was located, but no street number (even though there are 5 houses on that road), and he certainly didn’t offer his name. Had I gone looking for him, I would have had to look for a small shed with a chimney (a sugar shack), or knock on doors asking for “the guy who makes syrup.”
So when he said, “my name is Buck,” it wasn’t just an introduction. He was not saying “you are one of us now” – – that will never be – – but he was saying, “I guess you’re here to stay, so . . . welcome.”
And that was no small thing, here in rural Maine.