Posts Tagged ‘fishing’

Don’t Look a Gift Worm in the Mouth

“Gus” is a typically taciturn Mainuh.  He is in charge of our town’s transfer station, otherwise known as the dump.  He looks quite serious and intimidating when he checks one’s garbage to ensure the recyclables aren’t mixed with regular trash.  He is a man of few words.  Mostly he just scowls.  But three years ago when I decided to take up fishing and had absolutely no idea how to begin, I screwed up my courage to ask him for help.

This was not my first attempt at getting help.  But every other Mainer, when I asked “how can I learn how to fish?” just laughed.  Not because they were mean-spirited; they just couldn’t believe I was serious.  How hard is it to bait a hook and put it in the water?  For rural Mainers, I might as well have asked, “How does one breathe?”

But Gus didn’t laugh.  Once I asked his advice, his entire gruff demeanor changed.  It was as if a dam had opened.  Advice, suggestions, help, and the usual exaggerated fish tales – – Gus could go on for hours.  I had never seen him look so happy or be so talkative.  From then on he treated me like a bestie every time I dumped my trash.

Last year I did something really stupid.  I broke my fishing rod, not once, not twice, but three times.  The first time, I stood the rod upright next to my front door.  Unfortunately, when I opened the door, the rod fell, and the door shut – right on the rod, snapping off the top.  Another time I laid the rod next to the window and forgot about it.  When I closed the window, the top of the rod got wedged in the window and snapped off.  The third time the rod snapped when I slammed the car’s trunk on it and this time it was beyond repair.  Due to my carelessness, this was getting to be an expensive hobby!  When I confessed my klutziness to Gus, he didn’t laugh.  Instead, he told me his own stupid fish story about how he lost his brand new rod and reel  from his boat.  He had been fishing with two poles simultaneously, and while he was using one, he forgot to secure the other and down to the bottom of the lake it went when a fish snagged the baited hook.  “That’s fishing fuh ya,” he said, slowly shaking his head.

I had been carefully monitoring the sales in search of a new rod and a better reel.  Prices start at $15 and can go to several hundreds of dollars.  I am of the school that says “it’s the Indian, not the arrow” so I wasn’t looking for anything fancy.  I had used this principle when I went trap shooting.  Many men had gorgeous double barrel shotguns that cost well over $1000.  I was using an inexpensive pump shotgun that I bought used at a gun show.  And guess what?  My trap shooting score was only a point or two behind theirs, and that was mostly due to my inability to practice regularly.  I’m not bragging here, just making a point.  A better tool can make a difference, but if the person using the took is inept, even the world’s most expensive tool/fishing rod/shotgun is just not going to help.

Gus recommended that I get an Ugly Stik, which is a brand of fishing rod that is practically indestructible, and is covered by warranty if it breaks.  I saw one at half price in my home town at a store that sells overstocks for $20.  Then I went to Cabela’s in Scarborough Maine for a reel, and the sales staff were really helpful in advising me what to buy according to my needs.  The reel I decided on was normally $40 but was on sale for $30.  I was about to purchase it but suddenly I had a notion to look in the “Bargain Cave” section of the store, where clearance items, returned goods, and seconds can be found.  There was the reel I had picked out in the main part of the store, for only $20, and it was brand new!  The sales person said it had been on a defective rod, so he threw away the rod and put the reel in the Bargain Cave.  Not only would I get a nice Shimano reel at an affordable price, they’d even string the line for me for free.  While I managed to do this on my own in the past, threadingg fishing line on a reel is an annoying chore that doesn’t come easy to me, so I was happy that they offered this service.

But the bargains didn’t stop there.  When I went to pay, the clerk asked me if I had a Cabela’s credit card.  I told her no, I had no interest in adding yet another credit card to my collection.  But when she explained that by opening a Cabela’s credit line, I’d get $20 worth of merchandise free, I took the bait, as it were.  Nothing like getting a free reel!

Now I was truly excited.  I bought a Maine fishing license online and printed it out, putting it in a ziplock bag so it would be waterproof.  Fishing 2015, here I come!

With a stretch of amazing weather in the 80s F, and the bugs still not so bad, I bought two packages of live worms in anticipation of a week of great fishing.

Alas.  Every time I tried to cast with my new, improved rod and reel, the line tangled miserably.  I didn’t know if it was the rod, the reel, or the new braided line.  There was only one thing to do:  ask Gus.  So the next time I took my garbage to the dump, I showed him my new rig and asked if he could figure out why I was having trouble.

“Simple,” he said.  “You have too much line on your reel.  Unwind it and cut the excess line so it’s only 3/4 full on the reel, and you’ll be fine.”

Sure enough, many reduced feet of fishing line later, I was casting like the best of them.  And within 20 minutes I had caught two beautiful brook trout.

This past weekend, a female friend “from away” (the terms used by Mainers to describe anyone not from Maine) was looking forward to coming for a visit.  She expressed a desire to go fishing, her very first attempt at doing so.  I felt her chances of catching a fish were pretty good, since I had caught the two trout only 3 days before at Kewaydin Lake (recently stocked by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife).  I had also seen 21″ bass in the same area of the lake, but at the time they weren’t biting.

(Guests who come for a visit are in for a surprise when they forage in my fridge.  Just when they think they’ve found the package of cream cheese, when they open the similar-looking container they are surprised by a dozen squirming, slimy worms. This has resulted in many hilarious moments.)

Just before my friend and I got to the lake, I realized I had forgotten my two packages of worms!  I didn’t really want to go all the way back home, since we were right near a convenience store that sold a dozen worms for four dollars.  (My city friend noted that the worms were sold in the refrigerated section, sitting right next to the milk.  She chuckled when I could not find anything unusual about this.)

When we got to the lake there were two locals fishing for trout and bass.  They managed to catch a small trout – – too small to keep, and they returned it to the water unharmed.  Watching their adept casting skills was a bit intimidating, but they were more than helpful in answering our questions and suggesting ways we could improve our luck.  Alas, my friend did not experience the thrill of catching her first fish, despite our best efforts.

That’s fishing, of course.  They either bite, or they don’t.  Some days are great, other days not.  It’s something you just can’t control.  But you can’t beat the views or the fresh air.  And while you’re waiting for a bite, you have plenty of time to think about solving the world’s problems – – or not thinking at all and enjoying the quiet and peace of mind, which can be a blessed relief.

The next few days the weather turned much colder, and the winds were howling.  The water was very rough and the current strong.  Kewaydin was churned up enough that I could not see any fish in the usually pristine, clear lake, and despite a few tries it was clear that fishing would be better another time.  Due to the change of weather and high winds, what was supposed to be a week of marathon fishing was instead replaced by chores and errands.

This coming weekend I’m returning to my hometown for an entire month, so dreams of fishing will have to wait until my return to Maine mid-June.  But what to do with those three containers of worms?  The worms’ lifespan is two to three weeks if kept in the refrigerator.

I could have dumped them in my garden, of course.  But the fellow who runs the garbage dump has been my fishing mentor  and I thought he might want the worms.

“Hey, Gus, I have something for you,” I said, handing him the packages of worms when I next visited the dump.  “I’m going to be gone for the next month so I won’t be able to use these.”  His entire face lit up.  “Thanks for the worms!” Gus said with heartfelt enthusiasm.  Clearly I had made his day.

That’s when I thought about how much my life has changed, and what a different person I’ve become.  Nor could I think of a single friend from my home town and previous life that would be happy to receive a gift of three containers of worms.

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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!

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.

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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

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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.)

 

To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.

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Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.

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The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860

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Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.

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(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.

“That’s Fishing!”

Every fisherman has his “the one that got away” story and now I have mine.

My husband and I took our daughter and her children to Virginia Lake for a day of swimming and kayaking.  It’s only a few miles from our house, yet the great thing about it is that it’s in a remote, not-so-easy-to-get-to location.  Few people besides locals even know of its existence, despite its presence on any map of Maine.  Much of the land around the lake was owned by the Diamond Match Company, but they relinquished their hold to the Forest Service and it was designated as conservation land.  The few cabins around the lake were similarly sold to the US Forest Service and the cabins were either physically removed from the land or allowed to decay to the point of no return.  There is one “holdout” – a wealthy family from Maryland who owns a sprawling, rustic yet luxurious lodge/family compound there — but they are the only residents amidst hundreds of acres of timber and mountains along Virginia Lake, and they are there only during the summer.  Whenever I kayak there, I  almost always have the entire lake to myself, with the exception of Common Loons.  Their haunting cry is both ethereal and mystical; there is nothing quite like the magic and privilege of hearing and experiencing their amazing sound.

That said, getting to Virginia Lake with an entire family in tow is a rather complicated affair.  There is a fairly decent dirt road to the primitive boat launch which is surrounded by brush and scrub and woods; but to get to the side of the lake where there is a small cove and sandy beach is something else altogether.  The dirt road leading there is completely washed out, and only with great difficulty can even a 4×4 manage the axle-smashing, suspension-ruining flooded, rocky ruts along the way.  Usually it’s much easier to park in the brush and walk the remaining .3 mile to the beach, but besides the mosquitoes and blackflies along the so-called path, there are towels, snacks, drinks, sunscreen, and all the required paraphernalia associated with a family gathering that must also be carried in.  There are no bathrooms and no trash cans, so any trash one generates must be carried back out to the car at the end of the day, to be disposed of at a later date.   Picture, if you will, the vast quantity of stuff required when you realize that my daughter has seven children, ages 15 months to 12 years old!

So why bother?  Well, due to laws of modesty, Orthodox Jews do not participate in sunbathing or swimming in a mixed-gender situation unless it is with their own family, and opportunities within this scenario are rare.  Virginia Lake, due to its isolation and inconvenience, provides plenty of privacy.  But even more than that, it is exceptionally pristine and beautiful and a true wilderness experience.  Also, because it is rarely visited, the fishing is terrific.

By the time we got everyone piled into two cars filled to the brim with everything we’d need, I’d lost count of all the items on my checklist and only hoped we hadn’t forgotten anything too important.  After several exhausting trips shlepping stuff from the car, I realized I had forgotten my fishing net at home.  That didn’t stop me from fishing, however!

The kids loved kayaking and even the three-year-old enjoyed paddling in the shallow waters by the shore (we stood in the water next to the kayak to ensure he wouldn’t capsize or be in danger, and of course they wore life jackets).

Two of the grandkids kayaking on Virginia Lake

Two of the grandkids kayaking on Virginia Lake

Fooling around and having fun on Virginia Lake

Fooling around and having fun on Virginia Lake.  Even the little 3-year-old blondie (3rd from the right, crouching down in the boat) got to have “solo” time paddling the kayak. (click to enlarge)

I love this picture because it so well captures the pure joy and fun of the day.

I love this picture because it so well captures the pure joy and fun of the day.

Eventually they all had enough and now it was my turn!  I paddled out to my favorite area on the lake where the fish always seem to bite.  I wasn’t sure my fishing rod would even work, since the day before I had propped it up along the wall next to the window, and someone had absent-mindedly slammed the window shut – – right on the rod, snapping off the end.  So here I was, with this crazy, shortened rod, with a sharp rough piece sticking out at the end, attempting to catch something.

Within 30 seconds of putting the worm on the hook and casting the line, I didn’t feel a nibble — I felt a CHOMP.  I had never felt anything quite like it before.  Usually the fish just nibble at the worm gently, until their noshing gets the best of them and they take a fatal bite and become hooked.  Sometimes they are crafty – they nibble carefully enough to release the worm from the hook without their getting caught and then I’m minus both worm and fish.  But immediately I knew that whatever had taken that CHOMP, it was BIG, and it wasn’t fooling around – all it took was one bite and that worm was history.

Encouraged, I put another worm on the hook and waited.  Within a minute, I hooked a fish and began to reel it in.  It was pretty powerful, and my already-broken rod was nearly doubled in half as I struggled to pull it in.  Suddenly, there it was:  the largest trout I had ever seen!  Twenty-one inches and enough to feed five people.  (I knew its length because I have a tape measure glued on to the side of the kayak, to ensure I don’t take a fish too small for the legal minimum.)  Despite my attempts to grab it, I was unsuccessful, and that’s when I realized that without the forgotten net, I was helpless.

“Help me!” I shouted to my husband on the distant shore.  “Please!  Paddle out and help me nab this fish!”  Alas, amidst the gleeful sounds of the children playing in the sand and the water,  they couldn’t hear my cries.  I was afraid the squirming trout, fighting for its life, would unhook itself, but it did something even more surprising:  it snapped the ten-pound line, and with the hook still in its mouth, it plopped back into Virginia Lake and swam far, far away.

How I mourned!  I felt terrible:  not only did I lose what will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime catch, I was now guilty of a terrible cruelty:  a fish was destined to live – – and probably soon die – – with a hook imbedded in its mouth.

One of my children once asked me, “Doesn’t it gross you out to eat something you have had to kill?  Wouldn’t you just rather buy a fish in the market?”

It’s a surprisingly deep question.  Most people I’ve spoken with love fishing for the sake of fishing.  Most of the time, they don’t even keep what they catch – – they throw it back into the water. 

But the only fish I throw back into the water are those that are too small to eat.  I regard the entire fishing process as somewhat cruel, from the worm’s impalement and subsequent squirms on the hook; to the fish being caught by its mouth by a hook, struggling to free itself and then to breathe its last breaths out of water – – no, I don’t really see this as “fun” or as “sport.”  The only justification I can find in it is if it serves a purpose:  food to nourish me.  It is a profound and grave experience to truly realize first hand the process of where your food comes from.  I think if most people had to kill their own chickens or cows rather than buy a piece of meat wrapped unrecognizably in plastic packaging at the supermarket, that most would become vegetarians.  In order to live, one has to destroy.  It’s important, I think, to experience that (unpleasant!) connection, to not take it for granted or become desensitized:  ulitmately, to make it holy.  (That’s another reason Orthodox Jews make blessings over every item of food we eat.  We are not only thanking G-d for providing us sustenance, we are attempting a paradigm shift:  eating to live instead of living to eat.)

Disheartened, I could not stop thinking about that fish.

The next day I went to the town dump to dispose of our trash.  The fellow who runs the dump is a typical rural “Mainuh:”  very taciturn; a man of few words; wary of people who are “from away.”  In the four years I’ve lived here, he has only grunted in acknowledgement of my hellos.  Even when I bake him cookies every year during holiday season, he purses his lips and only nods his head once in appreciation.  But in my experience, Mainers love to give advice if asked.  And so I gathered my courage and said,

“Excuse me . . . can I ask you a question?”

He grunted.

” . . . About fishing?” I continued.

He stopped.

“You see, I’m new to fishing.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.  But I  want to learn more.  I was wondering if you could tell me what I did wrong.”

I proceeded to tell him my story of the one that got away.  He was all ears, and his eyes lit up as my story unfolded.  He seemed a bit impressed that the trout had snapped a ten-pound line.  When I got to the end he said two words:

“That’s fishing!”

At first I didn’t get it.  So he proceeded to tell me his own “the one that got away” story, and it was rather embarrassing:

He was out fishing on a local lake with his buddy, the owner of a nearby convenience store.  They were trolling for fish (gliding slowly in the boat) with four rods dangling from the boat.  The boat had three rod-holders; the fourth rod was simply propped up against the side of the boat.

“. . . And wouldn’t you know it!  The one worm the fish goes for is attached to the rod that’s not in the rod-holder!  It took us by complete surprise!  And suddenly, I’m just sitting there like a dummy watching it;  the entire rod and reel flips over my head, off the boat, and is carried into the lake lock, stock and barrel by that fish!  I was just so surprised, and it happened so quickly, I couldn’t move fast enough.  And that was the end of that!  The rod, the reel – the whole thing – gone!  And that’s fishing!”

And then I got it.

We think we’re in control.  That’s the beauty of fishing:  its us humans, supposedly of superior intelligence, versus the fish.  And we should win, every time.  Sometimes we do  – – and sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes it’s because of skill, sometimes it’s because of luck – –  or lack thereof.  But ultimately, the joke is on us.  Fishing is humbling, because a small creature with no brainpower mostly outwits us.  We like to think we are in control:  in control of the fish, in control of our lives – – but we’re not. 

“That’s fishing.”

That’s life.

What powerful mussar the trash dump guy gave me, right before Rosh HaShana.

Impromptu Tour Guide

Due to cutbacks by the United States Postal Service, our local post office has dramatically reduced its hours.  Now it’s open for transactions only M-F from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m, and 2:15 pm  – 4:15 p.m. in the afternoons.  The post office delivery truck drops off the mail around 8:30 a.m., and it’s placed in PO boxes around 9 a.m., so the window to get one’s daily mail in the morning is very narrow indeed.  The lobby without counter service is open during the middle part of the day if you have a post office box, but if you get a notice in your box that a package has arrived and you aren’t there during counter service times – – too bad.  You must return during one of the two-hour windows to claim your package.  It gets worse:  the routes of both FedEx and UPS work out so that they arrive at the post office between 12:30 – 1:30 pm, when the post office is closed, so packages headed to the post office cannot be delivered or redeemed if they are being delivered to your post office box as an address.  A solution to this problem would be for UPS and FedEx to place a delivery box outside, so the postmaster could access it during open hours, but UPS and FedEx have so far been uninterested in doing so.  It is very likely that in the next 2 years, our local post office branch will cease operating altogether.

I try to coordinate a visit to the post office with our transfer station – – also known as the garbage dump — which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 4.  We have no trash pickup here – all self-generated refuse must be taken to the dump in our car. The post office is 6 miles away and the dump is another 2.5 miles further up the road, and what with the cost of gas nowadays, I try to limit my visits.  Also on Tuesdays, our tiny library is open from 5 pm – 7 pm (the other day is Shabbat, so I can’t visit then).  It’s a 3-mile trip one way from home to the library but it’s on the way to the post office and dump, so I try to stop by the library on the way home.  Still, I do have time to kill from the post office closure at 4:15 to the library’s opening time of 5 p.m.

So yesterday I stopped by the lake.  I couldn’t go swimming or kayaking due to it being the Nine Days (leading up to Tisha B’Av), but I was content to sit there and watch a 5-year-old boy fishing with his father.  The look of joy on the little boy’s face when he caught a fish (as well as the proud dad’s) was priceless, and I never tire of the serene view of the lake, clouds, and surrounding mountains, and the quiet.

Suddenly a minivan with Illinois license plates turned into the parking area, and a married couple with 2 preteen daughters stepped out and started taking pictures of the beautiful view.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Chicago – – one of my daughters lives there and I will be going there to visit next week.

“No, we rented this car from New York,” the man replied.  “We are from Denmark.  We are doing a driving tour of the eastern United States.”  He explained that one of his daughters had hurt her ankle, and as a result they had to cancel many of their planned activities for the day.   They were limiting themselves to sightseeing from the car on this day, and had driven about 90 miles from western New Hampshire, extemporaneously wandering the scenic mountain roads.  He had many questions about what there was to see in this part of Maine, as well as questions about Maine culture, the people, the lifestyle, etc.

Well, I had nothing better to do until the library opened . . .

“We didn’t care for New York too much, to tell you the truth,” he confessed.  “Such a big city is not really our thing; we really prefer being in nature.”  He proceeded to tell me how surprised he was “that many of the natives we encountered there spoke English with very strong accents that we couldn’t understand.”  I had visions of him encountering chassidim who not only dress differently than the mainstream, but speak “Yinglish.”  But he said, “I’m talking about Hispanics and Chinese people.  I couldn’t believe it, but we met people who are Americans who could not even speak English!  That was very surprising to us – – I don’t understand how citizens can live in a country and not speak its language!  How is this possible?”

As we chatted,  I made several suggestions of places they could visit nearby that were off the beaten track and were known only to locals.  “You won’t find these suggestions in any tour book,” I said, “but if you love nature, you won’t want to miss them.”  Still, I realized that many of the places lacked signage and were accessed by hidden dirt or gravel roads, and he was unlikely to find them based on my directions alone.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will take you to some of these places if you’d like.  You can just follow me in your car.”

I guess I looked trustworthy, because they were game.

I had a great time taking them all over the place – – I probably used up $20 out-of-pocket in gas.  I would stop my car every so often and they’d pull up behind me.  “Look – here are some moose hoof-prints!” I’d point out.  Or, “Check carefully along the road – last year at this time I saw a bear cub foraging here for blueberries.”  And:  “This little library was a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s until 1963.  Now it’s used as a library, and the author Stephen King, who lives nearby, helps to fund it.”  And:  “This area used to be a heavily forested valley, until 1983, when a severe storm with 100-mph winds created a blow-down. The entire forest was destroyed.  Then the beavers took over, and gradually the dammed area became the desolate bog you are looking at now.  Isn’t the power of nature amazing?”  I also took them to a hidden glen with a beautiful stream and small waterfalls.  “Salmon spawn here in November!” I gushed.  They were impressed!

Again and again, they thanked me profusely at each new stop for being able to see things and learn things that would otherwise not have been possible.  Together we ended up spending about 90 minutes touring the area.  We developed quite a rapport.  I discussed everything from logging and woodsmen, to moose and bear hunting, hiking, fishing, locals’ acceptance of strangers, politics, racism (the lack thereof), local education and jobs, cuisine, odd Maine laws – – you name it.   I said that the motto of Maine should be “live and let live,” since people are quite accepting of letting people do their own thing, as long as they don’t try to stuff their personal agenda down another’s throat.

“Oh, you mean everyone in Maine is very liberal!” the man exclaimed with glee.

“Well, I guess that depends on how you’d define ‘liberal,'” I replied.  “I mean, just about everyone here owns a gun,” I said.  The poor man’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  Then I realized:  who knows what they were thinking as I led them with my car through narrow mountain passes, through pocked and pitted gravel roads, through forest lanes so laden with foliage that you needed headlights to turn the shadows back into daylight, in places where no other people or buildings were in sight?  And now that I had said that everyone in rural Maine owns a gun, they probably felt like they were in a replay of “Deliverance,” only I was the one who could have been the bad guy!

Alas, it was now 6 p.m. and I still hadn’t made it to the library.  I recommended yet another isolated mountain road that would ultimately lead them back to their point of origin in New Hampshire, and after ensuring that their GPS recognized my suggested route, we wished one another well and said our goodbyes.

I don’t know what made me offer this impromptu goodwill tour to a family of complete strangers from a distant land.  I know they loved it – – they told me so, repeatedly, and remarked many times how fortunate I was to live in such a place.  But I confess, I do not know who enjoyed it more:  I had a wonderful time sharing the beauty and lore of my surroundings, and making my experiences a part of their experience, however vicariously or fleetingly.

Amazingly, after we parted, I realized that neither of us had told one another our names!

Only a week before I had read a wonderful book called “All Natural:  A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier” by Nathanael Johnson.  The concluding paragraph reads,

It wasn’t the Yosemite sunsets that had filled me with such hale energy as a child, it was watching those sunsets with my family, the four of us huddled together, windbreaker against windbreaker.  It wasn’t the close clarity of the stars, but Mom pointing out the Milky Way, that gave me the vertiginous feeling of falling into the vast heart of our galaxy. It was not only the place that mattered, but the fact that in that place the family was together and uninterrupted. I’d gone looking for Eden in the places where human fingerprints disappeared, but paradise was empty without the human touch.

Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” writes about Christopher McCandless,  the young American adventurer who (naively and tragically) planned to live alone with a minimum of supplies in the Alaskan wilderness.  His body was found dead of starvation only 4 months later, along with a meticulously kept journal.  In one of his last entries, trapped there as he lay dying in isolation, he scribbled:    “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”

A Lot Can Happen in a Month

Immediately upon completion of the 30-day mourning period for my brother-in-law (shloshim), we returned to Maine from our home town, driving 10.5 hours through the night.  We arrived at 7 a.m. on July 4th.

The first thing I noticed was the holes in the driveway.  In June, a snapping turtle had been busy sloooowly coming up the driveway each day at dusk for about a week to dig a hole, lay some eggs which resemble ping-pong balls, cover up the hole, and sloooowly make her way back to the bog at the bottom of the driveway.  Now, in July, the eggs must have hatched in the past 2 days, for the shells were still leathery.  The baby turtles had torn their eggs open under the ground, and literally clawed their way to freedom digging through the packed gravel on the driveway, making their instinctual pilgrimage to the bog below.  It’s quite a miraculous journey, as many local creatures such as raccoons, fishers, herons, hawks, crows and snakes prey upon the babies, or manage to dig their way underground to steal and eat the eggs from the nest before they hatch.  Once grown, though, the snapping turtle has only man for a predator (you’ve probably heard of Turtle Soup, a real delicacy in China).  When threatened the snapping turtle’s bite is powerful and could amputate someone’s fingers.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Another weird thing was the bees:  I saw that the Bee Man had added some new hives, a sign that the numbers of bees are increasing and honey production is in full swing.  Indeed, the scent of honey was heavy in the air (and smelled heavenly).  The morning of our arrival all looked well, but by the end of the afternoon, shortly before dusk, the bees  appeared to be resting in a swarm on the outside of the hive – – tens of thousands of them!  I looked up this phenomenon on the Internet, and found that this is called “bearding.”

Bearding is a form of hive air-conditioning; the bees depart the immediate brood nest area in order to help keep it at the desired temperature (too many busy bee bodies = too many BTUs). When you see all the bees outside the hive an hour before sundown, you’ll also notice the following morning (early a.m.), most if not all, have gone back inside the hive because the outside air temperature (and thus the hive temp) has dropped – again, just a way they regulate the brood nest temperature.

"Bearding:"  When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day.

“Bearding:” When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day. (Click to enlarge to see tens of thousands of resting bees “bearding.”)

While we were away, it had rained 10 of the last 15 days, and the first two weeks of June were scarcely drier.  Our house was practically unrecognizable upon our return, due to the heavy foliage.  The lilac bushes and blueberry shrubs I had planted with such care, along with 80 sunflower plants, had been swallowed up and overwhelmed by weeds, brush, grass, thorny raspberry and poison oak.  The trunks of the apple trees were similarly covered.  In the Maine woods, in the battle of Man vs. Nature, nature ultimately always wins.  (Or as a Mainuh once bemoaned the state’s poor economy, “The only thing Maine knows how to do right is grow trees and lobstah.”)  Weed-whacking was the order of the day (not the most ideal way to spend a holiday day off), and it was made worse by a searing heat wave that included lots of humidity.

Once the orchard was trimmed, I could see that the garlic had really grown tall.  The type of garlic I planted is not like the kind you get at the supermarket.  In order to survive the Maine winter (garlic is usually planted in the Fall), a special type of garlic, called hard-necked garlic, is used.  Although its strands cannot be braided due to the stiffness of the greens, it is very potent and delicious.  Towards the end of the growing season, each planted clove forms a curly “scape” with its own little seed bulb.  It is recommended that one cut the scapes off so the garlic bulb under the ground will not divert its nutrients towards the scape, and the bulbs will reach their maximum potential in size.  But the scape cuttings can be used to garnish a salad or sautéed or steamed, and are quite delicious in their own right.

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a "scape."

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a “scape.”

My husband was completely exhausted after doing the weed-whacking, and had lost probably 5 lbs. in sweat (eeyew).  We jumped in the car and drove to the lake, which was completely devoid of other people, and dove in the cool, clean, refreshing water.  We had a great swim!  From there we returned home, had a light dinner, and decided to go see fireworks.

Fourth of July celebrations are taken very seriously and enthusiastically in rural Maine.  In especially small towns, two or three towns will combine their celebrations and have  several events during the day, including a parade (which most of the residents participate in, so there are few spectators), a 5k charity race, a pot-luck picnic lunch or dinner, with proceeds also going to charity, and of course, fireworks.

Ebenezers Pub in Lovell, Maine is world-famous, which is something of a surprise since it’s basically in the middle of nowhere about 6 miles down the road from our house.  Ebenezer’s is  known for their impressive inventory of beers, with 1000+ beers available at any one time and at least 35 varieties on tap.  Once we took some guests there, and the claim that they are world-famous was met with rolling eyes and guffaws.  But sure enough, a couple of patrons sitting at the bar had motorcycled there all the way from Virginia on a beer pilgrimage, and another couple had come especially from Belgium!  It’s low-key and friendly and despite the many boutique beer offerings, there is not a trace of snobbery or sleaze.  Ebenezers adjoins Kezar Lake Country Club, whose golf course is open to the public, and it’s a perfect venue for watching the fireworks provided by the Lovell Volunteer Fire Department on a hot night, sitting on the grass, glass of (exotic) beer in hand.  (Check out the pub’s website, they have a great list of things to do in the area should you ever decide to come visit us!)

What made it really special, however, was the crowd of 150 people of all ages.  When the fireworks began, the entire audience spontaneously started singing a whole medley of patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and This Land is Your Land.  It was really quite touching, not to mention patriotic.  I guess the patriotism is not that surprising, since most of the residents here are direct descendants of the original patriots, colonists, and founding fathers who created the United States of America.   This is their heritage at the source and by golly, they certainly do embrace and celebrate it.

Today, Sunday, is the last day before the 9 days leading to the Tisha B’Av fast day and prayers, which commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  During these upcoming nine days there are several restrictions.  No swimming or boating.  No laundering.  No eating meat.  So naturally, in between scrambling to get all my laundry done, I made kayaking, fishing and swimming a priority, since I cannot partake of these activities after today.  I did manage to catch several fish:  2 small yellow perch (not known as good eating fish so I threw them back), a brown  trout which was too small to keep and also was returned to the water, and finally, a nice-sized white perch, which, when sauteed with the garlic scapes mentioned above and some freshly-snipped parsley that is also from my garden, made a tasty and healthy lunch.

2 o'clock:  just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

2 o’clock: just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

By being away from Maine during the crucial month of June, I missed the prime planting time for a summer or fall garden.  So my packets of many varieties of kale seeds and beets and cucumbers will sadly have to wait until next year to be planted.  Because frost appears as early as September in Maine, the growing season is very short, and if you do not seize the day to plant in a timely manner, you simply lose out until next year.

It is good to be back!  And this will be a busy summer:  awaiting the birth of a new grandchild in Chicago, and entertaining eleven of my grandchildren at the same time in mid-August here at our house in Maine.  Stay tuned!