Archive for May, 2014

Blog Housekeeping

We returned from a 2-week trip to Israel last night.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write about our adventures.  I realize that people who want to hear about our life in Maine may not be so interested in information and impressions about Israel.  Therefore I have decided to slightly change the way people can navigate my blog.  If you want to hear about our life in the Maine woods, you should click the “Maine” category header; if you want to read about Israel, you click on the “Israel” category header, both found at the top of my blog page along with “about” and “books I’ve read in Maine.”

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First Fish 2014

Brook trout from Kewaydin Lake, Stoneham, Maine

Brook trout from Kewaydin Lake, Stoneham, Maine

I’ve tried fishing for the past 3 days without success.  There has been wind with whitecaps on the water, and the  water temperature is still VERY cold despite the unseasonably warm days of the past week (in the 70’s and 80’s).  As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been reluctant for safety’s sake to go out in my kayak, because I’d be alone and there are no other people around.  With the water this cold, capsizing would result in hypothermia and it’s just not worth the risk.  I thought some Maine-uhs would think I am wimpy for my over-cautious attitude but I was quite surprised by their responses.  They agreed that it would be foolish to take a chance.  There is no room for “machismo” because people in my area of Maine have too often seen the tragic results of reckless behavior  from ill-prepared and irresponsible hikers, boaters, snowmobilers, and mountain climbers.  Many local folks volunteer on Search & Rescue teams and nearly every time they are called for a rescue operation, the rescuers’ lives are put in danger to assist someone whose foolish  behavior got them into trouble.

So for now, instead of using my kayak, I’ve been fishing from land, on the water’s edge – – not my favorite style because when you’re standing still you might as well wear a sign for the blackflies that says “Bite Me!”

Tomorrow we’re leaving for 2 weeks on a trip to Israel!  But how could I not catch at least one Maine fish before we go?  So today I decided to try one last time.  The wind had abated, the day was really warm, and as bad as the blackflies were (they stick around from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day), when the blackflies are biting, the fish are usually biting, too.

As I stood at the edge of pristine Kewaydin Lake in Stoneham Maine, the water was so clear that I could peer at least 10′ down into the water.   I got lucky – – a school of brook trout were swimming back and forth in front of me, even jumping occasionally up out of the water and back in again, so I knew where to aim my rod and reel.  I find that trout are much harder to catch than perch or bass, because they are very finicky about bait, and they are very sneaky – they are great at nibbling the worms right off the hook without getting caught.  Indeed, today was no different – I lost several worms without getting a fish – – but finally I caught two brook trout just in time for dinner.  I was thrilled – it was the first time I had ever successfully fished for trout!

Trout are much easier to handle  than perch or bass because their scales are not hard and sharp, and they are much easier to clean.  After gutting them and cutting off the head and tail, I dipped them in egg, dusted them in seasoned flour, and pan-fried them in a cast iron pan.  Only 30 minutes had passed since they had been caught – – talk about fresh!  They were delicious!  We made a small campfire  in our fire pit and ate alongside it.

After dinner I checked the Maine Fish Stocking Report.  They noted that the Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had stocked Kewaydin with 90 brook trout on April 30 – – two weeks ago.  I guess my timing couldn’t have been better, although it almost felt like I was “cheating”  because it was as if the trout were swimming around waiting for me.

It was a great last day to be in Maine before our big trip.

Stay tuned to hear about our adventures in Israel!

Checklist

This past Thursday was an absolutely gorgeous day.  The sky was clear; the sun was shining brightly; the air was warm; the wind died down to a subtle breeze.  I was outside for much of the day and even as dusk approached, I was reluctant to come indoors.  Sitting on our screen porch, the only sound was spring peepers (loud little frogs) chirping at Little Pond at the bottom of our driveway.

Suddenly from the distance I heard a sound that I couldn’t quite place.

Sound carries very far here; I can hear an approaching car 1/2 mile away, and human conversation can be heard at 1/4 mile away. The noise sounded like a dog’s tail thumping on the floor.  The sound grew louder and closer.  Now it sounded alternately like a hammering, then a grinding, almost like a saw against wood, and it was coming from my closest neighbor.  Ordinarily it would not be unusual to hear such sounds because anyone who has a cabin is always consumed with all kinds of projects and repairs.  But my neighbor only gets to his cabin for a weekend every few months, and I knew he wasn’t there on this night.

So what was that persistent sound?

Suddenly I recalled my neighbor saying that he’d been trying to outwit a pesky porcupine who was chewing wood at his place, without much success.  By now the hour was late and I had no intention of venturing over there in the pitch black.  I would check it out in the morning.  The last thing I wanted was for my neighbor, who normally resides in Boston,  to arrive at his “camp” (the term used for privately owned seasonal cabins in the Maine woods) and find out that he no longer had a floor!

Before going to bed I let him know via email that I heard loud grinding at his place, and that I’d check it out in the morning. I received this reply:  “Yikes!  Let me know!” So first thing next morning, my dog Spencer and I walked over to the neighbor’s cabin.

One thing that makes it a “seasonal” cabin versus  a year-round home is the fact that it is built on cement-post “stilts” rather than a full, insulated foundation.  The underside of a seasonal house is exposed.  This leaves any pipes vulnerable to freezing, which is why all pipes must be drained of water and closed off at the end of the summer season and isn’t really usable in winter (unless you can do without indoor plumbing).

Using a flashlight, I crawled under the house but my inspection did not note any signs of gnawing.

Next I went to the shed.  Nothing.

Then I saw an ice-fishing shack, and bingo!  There were shavings, claw and tooth marks, gnawed wood, and fresh porcupine scat (poop).

Evidence of porcupine gnawing the wooden post.  Teeth and claw marks above the post on the flat slab of wood above, too.

Evidence of porcupine gnawing the wooden post. Teeth and claw marks above the post on the flat slab of wood above, too. (click to enlarge)

Fresh porcupine poop!  (Called "scat")

Fresh porcupine poop! (Called “scat”)

I turned to go back home and email him the news when I looked up at his house and saw this:  Open windows!!!!

20140509_092847_resized_1 My neighbor had visited the cabin the previous weekend.  I wasn’t sure if he purposely left the windows open – perhaps he had an issue with mold or mildew – – but hellooo – – leaving a large window ajar in the Maine woods is like giving a personal invitation for every bear, raccoon, squirrel, mouse and fisher to take up permanent residence inside!

That said, I didn’t feel comfortable closing the windows unless I cleared it first with the neighbor, so I returned home.  In Maine, there is a fine line between being a concerned neighbor and a nosy one.  I sent him another email:

Good news and bad news.  The good news is that your house is still standing.  The porcupine got to the ice shack, but your house and shed are unscathed and the ice shack is still usable.  The bad news is that you left your windows open, and it’s supposed to rain hard this week.  I assume there’s a reason you left them open but one of them doesn’t have a screen, and you may not want to invite  4-legged guests to housesit . . .

The neighbor thanked me and asked me to close his windows, explaining that he’d had a dental emergency and had to run back to the city, and forgot entirely about his windows.  This time I dragged my husband with me to the neighbor’s place – – the last thing I wanted if I had to venture inside his cabin was to run into a bear sleeping on a bunk bed.  Other than a nasty mouse problem, the house was critter-free.  Moments after we closed the windows, it started to rain.

While our neighbor’s mistake was nothing more than an oversight during a frantic time, it was an error one really can’t afford to make here in the woods.  And even in calmer times, despite extensive planning, it seems that there is always a last-minute rush to get out the door without forgetting anything when we commute between our hometown and our house in Maine.  To avoid this problem, here is part of a checklist we’ve created:

  • Close and lock all windows
  • Close valve by washing machine to prevent water flow to washer
  • Put toilet seats down (we started doing this after finding a dead drowned mouse in the toilet upon our return)
  • Remove all trash (bathrooms, office, kitchen)
  • Turn off all lights (including outside lights)
  • Lock the office door and garage door
  • Remove everything from the porch other than the hose and sofa
  • Lock glass door to porch (to prevent accidental opening due to winds)
  • Turn off the gas by the stove and unplug microwave and washing machine
  • If nothing is left in the fridge, keep door open
  • Check fridge for anything that could spoil
  • As done for the fridge, do the same for the freezer
  • Unplug the power from the Network Extender
  • Plugin the two webcams and aim them
  • Turn off printer
  • Dump dog’s water and put dog food back in container out of bowl
  • Lock the car in the garage
  • Remove USA flag from post and store
  • Remove hammock and store
  • Contact post office to not deliver mail to mailbox
  • Make sure mouse poison is set
  • Reset highs/lows in weather station
In winter:
  • Set thermostats to about 45 F (this is the minimum without pipes freezing.  Propane heat costs too much to set it warmer while we’re gone)
  • Turn off all outside water and bring hoses inside
  • Connect and test the two freeze alarms (if our furnace stops working, the freeze alarm autodials our cell phone to alert us)
  • Dump ashes, clean and set up wood stove with kindling

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning in rural Maine is quite different from my hometown.  Besides the usual closet changeover from winter clothes to summer clothes, and washing windows and screens, we have to remove the acrylic panels from our sun porch, wash them before storing, and then wash and install screens panels in their place.  There is also a sense of panic that I have to accomplish any outdoor tasks RIGHT NOW before bug season reaches its peak and stepping outdoors becomes temporararily unbearable. We also needed to rebuild our fire pit.  Unfortunately when the snowplow pushes the snow to the side of the driveway, it moves the rocks from the fire pit in the process.  So we have to level the gravel with a rake, put the benches back in place, and gather and rearrange the large, heavy strewn rocks in a circle to create a new campfire zone each Spring.

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First campfire of 2014!

This year I had a new challenge:  getting the sand off my driveway.

I still have several layers of sand to remove from the bottom part of our ridiculously steep driveway

I still have several layers of sand to remove from the bottom part of steep driveway

Last summer after seeming non-stop torrential rains washed out the bottom part of our driveway, and with every excavating company overwhelmed with work, we couldn’t find anyone to lay another 4″ layer of gravel to rebuild the damaged driveway.  We finally relented and had several dozen feet at the steepest part of the bottom of the driveway paved with asphalt.  The good news is that we no longer need a 4×4 to make it up our driveway in inclement weather – a bonus for guests who visit us from the city who don’t have AWD vehicles.

The downside is that when our Plow Guy had to sand the driveway during this long, snowy and icy winter (you plow for snow, and spread sand on the ice to provide improved traction), there was nowhere for the sand to go on the asphalt part of the driveway once that ice melted.  Due to repeated treatments, the sand was 4″ deep in places.   Now that the snow is long gone, the sand was creating the opposite problem in Spring:  it was making our driveway precariously slippery in dry weather, and muddy after a rain.  That sand had to go, but how to remove it was a problem to be solved.

Along Maine’s main roads, and in commercial parking lots, huge “sweepers” clean and sweep away the sand.  But there is no such service in my area for private driveways.  I’m in a hurry to get this job over with for three reasons:  1) The sand-coated driveway is slippery when I walk it and I’m afraid of taking a nasty fall; 2) Bug season will get worse, and make it intolerable to labor outside for more than a few minutes at a time; and 3) my driveway needs to be cleaned before the Town’s road maintenance sweeper comes by to clean the street, because when it rains the sand runs down the steep driveway onto the road, and if it does that AFTER the road crew comes, the street will once again be sandy and they won’t come back a second time.

At first I tried sweeping with an outdoor broom, but the sand was just too thick, and the area to be swept is simply too expansive.  Next I tried shoveling the sand with a dustpan into a wheelbarrow, but the wheelbarrow was not only too heavy to push when full of sand, there was no way to evenly distribute that sand when dumped without judicious and tiring use of a rake.  I have to be careful not to dump the sand on the other side of the road next to the pond, lest the Department of Environmental Protection accuse me of destroying the integrity of the soil next to the pond (worst case scenario, subject to fines!).

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Unfortunately the only technique that seemed to work was to take a dust pan and bend down to the ground and scoop up the sand.  As mentioned, I couldn’t effectively use a broom to push the sand into the dust pan, it had to be done by hand.  Bend, scrape, fill, dump – – it took me two hours and more than 100 dust pan loads of sand removed – – and by the end of that time not only had I not finished (I hope to finish it this Sunday), I was utterly exhausted. I did as much as I could until I could do no more.  Calling it quits for now, I trudged up the driveway, peeled off my dusty, sandy clothes, and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours!

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Amazingly, I do not hurt nor do I have any sore muscles anywhere.  Ditto for when I dragged the sixteen, 40 lb bags of compost from my car into the yard for the raised beds for my new vegetable garden a few days earlier.  In my old (and weaker) life these chores would have been overwhelming, unpleasant tasks and undoubtedly I would have paid someone else to do them for me.

To my surprise, I am finding that I actually enjoy physical labor.  With so many of my friends unwell, I feel so blessed to be healthy enough to be able to do this by myself and know I am getting physically stronger and more capable every day that I live and thrive in Maine – –  even if I ain’t no “yungstah.”

Spring Has Sprung

Unlike my home town, in which magnificent blossoming cherry trees, crabtrees and redbuds herald the onset of Spring, here in the Maine mountains it’s not so much about a show of color, since most of the trees are pine, birch, maple and beech.  Rather, it’s a time when our little world seems to wake up after a long, hibernating winter.

Yesterday we saw our first moose tracks along the bottom of the driveway.  Usually the moose begin to surreptitiously visit the pond at night around this time of year.  As it warms up and the blackflies become unbearable the last two weeks of May, the moose start visiting the pond during the daytime to get relief from the incessant biting of the blackflies as well as ticks, mosquitoes and deerflies, and it makes for some exciting encounters and great photo ops (from a safe distance).

The North Conway Daily Sun (North Conway is just over the border from us, in New Hampshire) reports that the bears are already up to an unusual amount of mischief  in populated areas.  It seems they’ve figured out how to open car and truck doors and they’ve been vandalizing vehicles in the middle of the night (no one around here locks their cars or trucks when parked at home, since there is almost never any theft).  How do police and NH Fish & Game officials know it’s bears and not people doing the vandalizing?  One bear left behind scat (yep, stinky bear poop) on the front and back seats. Sticky, sandy paw prints were left inside the car as well as on the doors.  (No, detectives did not fingerprint – – I mean paw print – – the vehicles).   Imagine being the person stuck with detailing that vehicle!

One bear let himself in to someone’s car – – and then managed to become trapped when the door shut behind him.  After ripping the lining on the doors, visor, and dashboard, it broke the front side passenger window and finally managed to escape.  There have been more than a dozen bear break-ins reported since the end of April.

The bears’ only objective is food.  They are hungry after a long winter of hibernation.  In most cases, vehicle owners had left snack food in their cars.

One 400-lb  bear – – after being trapped and moved to a different location many miles into the forest – –  returned, so it was again trapped and – – sadly – – euthanized.  But the bear break-ins have continued so clearly that bear did not act alone.

Lt. Chris Perley of the Conway Police Department urged residents to safeguard their food and garbage. He said drivers should lock their vehicles at night to protect against four-legged invaders.

“These bears can open a door, but as far as we know, no one has ever reported any bears that can pick a lock,” he said.

Not yet.

Meanwhile, because the days have been cool and windy, I’ve been dashing like a madwoman to get my garden planted before the blackflies become intolerable.  The breeze keeps the bugs away.

Everywhere you look Maine-uhs are tilling soil in preparation for the short growing season.  No one has really started planting yet except Yours Truly.  That’s because the “frost date” in my part of Maine is until May 15, which means one risks losing whatever one has planted to frost if planted before May 15.  But I will be travelling at the peak planting dates, and I wanted to avoid those pesky bugs, so I decided to take a chance and plant a little early this year.

I planted rainbow Swiss chard and red bell peppers; lots of stevia (a plant whose leaves have 3x the sweetness of sugar; you dry the leaves and crumble them into whatever needs sweetening and it’s unprocessed and calorie-free); and lemon verbena (the dried leaves make wonderful tea that completely relaxes me without making me feel drowsy; it seems to relieve my insomnia),

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Yes, our landscape is rugged. So rugged, and full of tree stumps from old logging, rocks and roots, that I simply cannot till the soil. We got estimates in the thousands of dollars to have it excavated but that was not exactly cost-effective for a vegetable garden. Hence the raised beds.

 

Good overview of the solar panels, composter (to left of solar panels), pots and raised bed garden.

Good overview of the solar panels, black plastic composter (to left of solar panels in bottom corner), pots of herbs,  and raised bed garden.  We’ve never planted grass because we don’t want to have to mow more than necessary, and we want to keep the rugged look of our land.

 

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Stevia and Lemon Verbena, red bell peppers, and tomato cages awaiting tomatoes, along with marigolds, geraniums, and petunias. Our woodshed is in the backtround on the left; our house is in the background to the right.

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Stevia and Lemon Verbena

 

In this box I've planted some chard and will add kale next week.  I had to be careful to choose vegetables that would not grow too tall, lest they throw a shadow on our solar panels, which powers the house.

In this box I’ve planted some chard and will add kale next week. I had to be careful to choose vegetables that would not grow too tall, lest they throw a shadow on our solar panels, which powers the house.

 

I also planted geraniums and marigolds alongside; they act as a repellent against bugs and will hopefully reduce pests without the use of insecticide.   I still have to buy some kale and tomato seedlings in the coming week.  The garlic that I planted in the Fall is doing really well.

I had covered the planting box with straw mulch to help the garlic overwinter.

I had covered the planting box with straw mulch to help the garlic overwinter.

I managed to prune the apple trees, too.  The first buds are slowly appearing.

Tiny leaves are forming on the apple trees

Tiny leaves are forming on the apple trees

 

As a final touch my husband drilled some pots onto the entry stair posts, and I planted some purple petunias to make the front door a little more welcoming and less austere.

(I photoshopped an artistic filter onto the picture, but this is really how it looks)

(I photoshopped an artistic filter onto the picture, but this is really how it looks)

I am leaving much to chance, since I will be traveling to Israel for a couple of weeks starting next week and I won’t be around to water, so hopefully there will be adequate rainfall while I’m gone.

The bright sun has the bees buzzing around their hives.  It was warm enough today to make some yogurt (it cultures only in warm conditions; I have it in my car that is parked in the sun).

We can see the pond at the bottom of the driveway quite well in winter.  Probably by next week when the foliage returns, the pond will no longer be visible.

We can see the Little Pond across from the bottom of the driveway quite well in winter from the house (you can see very blue water peeking out from behind the trees if you look carefully in this photo). The pond will no longer be visible as soon as the foliage returns, probably by next week.

 

 

The only thing I haven’t been able to do yet is go fishing.   With the stiff breeze, the water on the lake gets very choppy and I’m always over-cautious when it comes to kayaking this time of year.  The local lake and pond ice melted only a week ago (this is known as “ice out” and contests are held in every town throughout Maine for residents to guess when “ice out” will take place each year) and the water is still freezing cold.  If I were to capsize the kayak, G-d forbid,  it would be difficult to make it to even a close-by shore before hypothermia set in.  So until the wind dies down, I am not going to venture out in the kayak to try my luck with fishing, even though I of course wear a life-vest whenever I am on the water.  Just this week someone was rescued from a lake when their canoe tipped, and the person needed to be rescued because hypothermia set in so quickly due to the very cold water temperature.  In his case, though, the lake was populated with other boaters.  Around where I live, things are very quiet, and it’s more than likely that no one would be around  to rescue me if an accident ensued.  Better safe than sorry.

The Road Less Traveled . . .

FS9 (Forest Service Rd. 9), aka Deer Hill Rd. or to the locals, "Government Rd."  It leads from Evergreen Valley to Evans Notch.  It's only open to motorized vehicles in summertime.  In winter it's used by dog-sledders and snowmobiles.  But hikers can use it year-round.

FS9 (Forest Service Rd. 9), aka Deer Hill Rd. or to the locals, “Government Rd.” It leads from Evergreen Valley to Evans Notch. It’s only open to motorized vehicles in summertime. In winter it’s used by dog-sledders and snowmobiles. But hikers can use it year-round.

Roads in Maine take a lot of punishment.

The unpaved, rural dirt roads bring up a lot of dust when a car passes by.  It’s almost pointless to wash one’s car because every time you traverse a dirt road, it will be coated with a new layer of shmutz.

In winter, snows and ice pile up, and snow plows get busy, but the constant scraping of the plow blade and the corrosive effect of salt and sand (to remove ice and improve traction) wear the asphalt prematurely where the roads are paved, and remove a crucial layer of gravel on those roads that are unpaved, making them vulnerable to deep erosion.

When it finally warms up in Spring, relief is still not in sight.  The difference in temperature creates frost heaves and pot holes and smooth asphalt roads become humpy, bumpy and broken, and one is in real danger of ruining the suspension on one’s car.

When rural towns collect property taxes, the money goes for a few things:  maintenance of  (usually) ancient fire engines and ambulances run by volunteer fire and rescue departments;  small stipends for local libraries; and funding bus service taking children to local public schools (rural kids may have to travel an hour each way on a daily basis).  But by far the majority of the Town budget goes to road maintenance:  plowing, sanding, salting, clearing, repairing, and filling potholes.   Because the tax base is not large, road repair on less traveled streets is often not done in a timely manner (understatement!) due to budgetary concerns.

Today while walking on a seasonal road that has not yet been re-opened to motorized vehicles,  we came across this sight:  someone had removed a tree that had fallen across the road and was blocking it, by propping it up and balancing it with a fallen 12′ tree limb, thereby forming a sort of dramatic framed entranceway.

Road maintenance, Maine-style.  Wicked elegant . . . while it lasts.

A close-up of the precariously propped-up tree framing the road.

A close-up of the precariously propped-up tree framing the road.

Welcome Back

We just got back to Maine, after being away for 5 weeks.  We spent the Jewish holidays of Purim and Passover in our home town with some of our children and grandchildren.  While there, two of my granddaughters were being treated for minor orthopedic issues and I spent time babysitting and shlepping to Physical Therapy appointments.

At one PT visit, the younger granddaughter happened to be the only pediatric patient; the rest were all patients in their 50s and 60s undergoing post-op rehab for knee replacement surgery.  Now that I am in my fifties my own knees are not what they used to be; but after seeing how hard these patients worked to regain post-op mobility, I see that knee replacement surgery is not something one wants to do except as a last resort.   (I found out that post-op rehab, rural New England style, is conducted somewhat differently . . . but more about that later.)

The older granddaughter got a cast on each leg as part of a 6-week treatment protocol.  As a precaution she stayed home from school the first day following the procedure, but really it turned out to be unnecessary — she was managing fine and certainly could have gone back to school.  But for selfish reasons, because I was doing the babysitting that day, I kept her home, so we could have some one-on-one quality time.  And what a day it was!

I spent about an hour decorating her cast and the little “walking shoes” that could be strapped on.

My granddaughter chose navy blue casts to match her school uniform.

My granddaughter chose navy blue casts to match her school uniform. (click to enlarge for more detail)

Then we baked homemade pretzels from a little kit I had picked up at a discount store in New Hampshire.

pretzelkit

AFter the yeast dough rises, my granddaughter rolls it out and shapes the pretzels

After the yeast dough rises, my granddaughter rolls it out and shapes the pretzels

pretzeldone

Proud of her accomplishment and distracted from any discomfort!

 

After that we watched Mary Poppins.  This was extremely sentimental for me.  When I was seven years old, the Mary Poppins movie came out and I loved it so much I saw it seven times in one year.  Now, here I was, a HALF CENTURY later (!) watching it with my seven-year-old granddaughter!  Am I really that old?

I love Mary Poppins still.  I realized how few movies are made today in which people segue from normal conversation into elaborate song and dance.  There was no cursing and no nudity.  Also, kids back in my day were not overstimulated and distracted by so many external forces, including media;  life moved at a slower pace, so it was not the challenge it is today for a seven-year-old to sit and watch a full-length movie for 2+ hours without getting antsy.  While my granddaughter enjoyed the movie, there were parts that she found boring and requested that I “fast forward,” not having the patience to sit through the parts that didn’t hold her attention.

Afterwards my husband played Monopoly with her.   We hadn’t played Monopoly in at least 30 years.  Alas, art imitates life:  my husband got creamed by a seven-year-old because he was over-mortgaged, in debt, and broke.

monopoly

Assured of her recovery, we left the next day for Maine.  Even though it took an extra 50 miles and 45 minutes of driving time, we went via the Poconos to avoid NJ and NY tolls, which are outrageous.  We arrived at 3:30 a.m. and dragged our tired bodies straight to bed.

Although I love my kids and grandkids and truly enjoy spending time with them, I really don’t like my hometown city’s culture, crime or weather.  But the 11-hour commute and paying two mortgages really is starting to wear thin.  I know that when my husband retires, we won’t have the income to keep both places, and a decision will need to be made.  A house in a city I don’t like, but with family nearby?  Or the remote rural lifestyle I prefer, devoid of loving family?  Slowly I’ve been trying to convince myself that living in Maine is not a long-term option.  But then I return to Maine, and experience not only the physical beauty of my surroundings, the purity of air and water, the sighting of wildlife, and the slower pace of life, but also the helpful, friendly nature of storekeepers and townspeople, and I don’t know how I can possibly leave.  (The only other place I’d consider living away from family would be Israel.)

Despite so few hours of sleep, I knew I had to get to the post office before the 9:30 a.m.closing time.  Due to Federal budgetary cutbacks, the post office is only open from 7:30 – 9:30 a.m. and then again from 2 – 4 p.m.  Our mail had been held for 5 weeks and I was anxious to conquer what would be a huge pile of letters, bills and magazines.

When I came to collect the mail, Deb the postmistress said, “Oh!  Welcome back!  I’m so glad to see you.  And it’s lucky you came just now, because Betty is here!”  Betty is the mail lady who actually does the deliveries.  Deb and Betty exchanged side glances and then looked at me, uncomfortably, like they were holding something back.

“Anything wrong?” I asked.

“Well . . . ” Betty began.  “I was just wondering . . . is everything okay at your house?”

“Yep,” I replied, “at least, as far as I can tell.  Why do you ask?”

“Last week I was out delivering mail, ” she said, “and I noticed a green truck parked on your driveway.  And then again, the next day.  I was concerned so I took down the license plate, in case anything was wrong.  You know, sometimes people who have summer homes around here get vandalized while they’re gone, and I didn’t want that to happen to you.”

I was so touched that Betty was looking out for us!  I couldn’t imagine that would ever happen with the postal workers in my home town.

Effusively thanking Betty and Deb for their concern, I explained that the green truck belonged to Pete,  our heating guy who had made some repairs while we were away.  When we built our house he had suggested that we buy a “freeze alarm.”  This is a little plastic box with a thermostatic sensor.  We set the parameters, and if the thermostat in the house falls below a certain temperature, it automatically dials our cellphone. That’s how we knew we had a potentially major problem: our furnace had stopped working and the interior of the house was only 40 degrees.   The danger is that if temps continued to fall, our pipes would freeze and burst and cause lots of very expensive damage.   Fortunately our freeze alarm saved us from this scenario.  Pete knows the code to get into our house and was thus able to complete the repairs.

From the post office I went to the Town Office where I caught up on the latest local news and bought this year’s fishing license; I went to the small general store to buy worms (bait).  Then I made my way into North Conway NH where I went to the supermarket, so I could buy stuff to cook for Shabbat dinner later that night.  I also stopped into Wal-Mart to buy some fish hooks.

While in the fishing pole aisle an elderly gentleman struck up a conversation with me.  He is a retired army veteran, having served our country for 30 years, where he worked as a sapper (explosives).  “I was born and raised on a New Hampshuh fahm (farm), and that’s what I came back to.  I guess I’ll die on a New Hampshire fahm some day.”  Like so many rural New England men, he was single and very lonely.  Once he started talking, he just kept spilling the beans.  I heard about his truck, his tractor, fishing, hunting, his border collie which he rescued from an abusive situation, his time in the military, the weather, and every ache and pain, all in a span of 20 minutes in the fishing pole aisle in Wal-Mart.  Even though New Englanders are said to be dour and  extremely taciturn with outsiders, for some reason many of them seem to open up to my listening ear. (This was a trait of my mother, as well.  She seemed to know everyone’s life story – – young or old, male or female – –  within minutes of meeting them.  After her death, I found postcards from people around the world who had met her only briefly in casual conversation while she traveled, yet they felt such a connection with her that they wrote to her from afar.)

I asked him how long he was in rehab following his knee replacement surgery.

“Oh, I didn’t do re-hab!” he said.  “I’m a fahmuh (farmer) and that’s all I know.  Got no time for re-hab!  Just got on my horse, and kept that foot out of the stirrup so it could dangle.   When the horse moved fah-wahd (forward), my knee and leg went back-and-fawth, back-and-fawth – – which is all they do in re-hab anyhow!  After a month I’m good as new!”

(Incidentally, I think the only place outside of rural New England that has a greater single male-to-female ratio  is Alaska.  I guess many women don’t care for the hard living and isolation that comes with rural living; it’s hard for mountain men to find a mate.  And despite their tremendous physical strength, many of these men look far older than their years, worn out and bent by time and troubles.  They rarely have someone to talk to and even their recreational pursuits – – hunting and fishing – – are done solo.)