My 2006 Honda CRV’s passenger-side front airbag was recalled, so I drove through Evans Notch to the border of the towns of Gorham/Berlin NH to the dealership to have it replaced. It’s the closest dealership to my home one hour away, although when they close the mountain pass to vehicular traffic in the winter, the roundabout detour ride is at least 30 minutes longer. Therefore I always avoid scheduling service from Winter through the end of Spring whenever possible.
Seated alongside and across from me in the car repair waiting room were 9 other people. At the end of the room was a huge flat-screen TV, and turned to very high volume was a show called The View. I had never watched this before. Actress Whoopi Goldberg was talking about all black people being victims of racism and targets by police. The white co-hosts apologized on behalf of all white people. But Whoopi went on and on and on, and it turned into an anti-white hate fest. It was ugly and her language was crude.
Finally one of the people waiting for their car spoke up. “Would anyone mind if we turned the volume down?”
That was all I needed. “Would anyone mind if we shut off the TV altogether?” I piped in.
Immediately there was a tangible release of tension; everyone had been afraid that they were the only one who didn’t want to watch the show. Everyone was happy for the silence – – only there wasn’t silence. People began to chat with one another, and everyone participated.
What I loved was that no one mentioned current events. No one said “Hillary” or “Trump.” So what do people in rural NH talk about? Where I live, in a district that has many lakes and ponds, people tend to swap fish stories. But Berlin/Gorham is moose country… so people swapped moose tales. We all concurred that no matter how long we’ve lived in the White Mountains, and no matter how many times we’ve seen moose, it doesn’t get old, and that each time we are thrilled anew.
There was a young man in his twenties, who was a policeman. He told of some of his encounters with wildlife, which he said were his favorite part of his job. He confessed that when things are quiet, and he sees a moose nearby, he often parks his patrol car off the road and turns his speed trap radar on, so he can convince himself that he is doing something productive, but in reality he’s just enjoying watching the moose, whom he called “goofy creatures” much to the agreement of the crowd.
Once he came upon a moose who looked sickly and dazed, who was walking around and around in circles. He realized immediately that the moose suffered from the end stages of a terrible tick-borne disease which eventually affects the moose’s brain. After conferring with headquarters and Fish and Game, he took his rifle from the trunk and shot it, putting it out of its misery.
“It was delicious,” he added. (He said that the Fish and Game told him the disease does not taint the meat for human consumption.)
When he was a brand-new rookie, during his first month on the job he was not allowed to go out on calls solo, and was accompanied by his sergeant. One night, they got a call from a resident in town, complaining of a neighbor’s barking dog. When they arrived at the house, the dog was indeed barking, and would not stop. When they knocked on the owner’s door, he apologized profusely.
“I don’t know why he won’t stop barking,” the man said. “I swear he’s never done this before. I tried putting him in the house but he just kept barking. This has been going on for hours. I looked around outside but couldn’t find anything out there. I’m at my wit’s end.”
The rookie and his sergeant decided to investigate. They walked around the property with their flashlights, but couldn’t see or smell a thing. All the while, the dog was barking incessantly. As they stood in the driveway talking about what to do, they suddenly felt a whoosh and heard a huge thud. A sleeping bear had fallen out of the tree above them, and missed the sergeant by only a couple of inches! The bear scampered away; the dog stopped barking; and everyone was happy.
Another time, he got a call about a skunk whose head was stuck in a peanut butter jar. The rookie cop figured this might not end well and that he would be the laughingstock of the guys back at the station. He decided to video the encounter from the dash-mounted camera of the police car. If it didn’t go well, he would be subject to a lot of ribbing, but if he was able to free the skunk without getting sprayed, it would make him look good.
He slowly approached the skunk, whose head was indeed stuck. The cop gingerly put his boot on the jar at an angle, holding it steady. The skunk was able to free himself and scampered off without incident, and the rookie cop breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It was only later, when he reviewed the video, that he noticed that the skunk had lifted his tail! To this day he doesn’t know why he wasn’t sprayed but he’s not complaining.
His last story involved seeing a white (albino) deer. His only wish was that it would not fall victim to hunting season. He passed around his cell phone so we could all see pictures of this beautiful creature.
Next, an older gentleman who was an avid hunter told us his moose stories. Of the time a few years back when he saw 21 moose on his property in a single day, and how this year due to the tick scourge there are almost no moose. He also told a story that happened a few years ago when he got into his Ford Ranger pickup truck one morning to go to work. Before he could turn on the ignition, a bull moose in rut (mating season) approached his truck, apparently mistaking his vehicle for a moose cow (female). The moose began rubbing against the car, and pushing it back and forth like a toy, trying to get this weird truck-moose to respond to its amorous endeavors. At first the man was amused, but after 20 minutes of continued moose-humping against his truck he realized that not only was he going to be late for work, he was in danger of the entire truck tipping with him inside of it. He quickly turned on the engine and sounded the horn, and the disgruntled moose lumbered away.
Then a different man spoke up. He was on his father’s farm one day and he saw three deer, two moose, and a bear, all side by side, munching away in the corn field.
This man was the black sheep of his family, since he was the only one in his family who hadn’t followed the farming path of his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents.
He told about growing up on his father’s farm. His father harvested 60 acres of potatoes annually. They had one measly tractor but most of the work was done with draft horses or by hand, with the entire family involved in sowing, reaping, and harvesting from sunup to sundown for many weeks. In Aroostook County in northern Maine, children to this day have “Harvest Recess” for 3 weeks during the school year, in order to help their families bring in the potato harvest. (You can read about it here.) But things are changing. With the industrialization and mechanization of farming, school boards are evaluating the need for such a break. But traditions die hard in Maine.
The man continued, “my brother is 77 now, and he is still out there farming every day. He wouldn’t do anything else. But his farm is very very different from that of my father’s.”
His brother owns not only his father’s original 60 acres; he now owns an additional many thousands of acres, 600 of which are devoted strictly to potato farming.
“It took my father weeks to harvest his 60 acres,” he said, “but my brother harvests 60 acres in a single day. That’s 20,000 lbs. of potatoes right there! He has a shed that looks like an airplane hanger. It’s the size of a football field, with the highest point in the center being 45′ tall. And do you know what? It’s absolutely chock-full of potatoes! One of his fields is 2 miles long!”
Our conversation was interrupted by the service manager. “I’m so sorry,” she told me, “but we’re running very late today. It looks like we won’t get to your car for another hour. Would you like to come back another day?”
I explained that I lived an hour away, and that I’d be leaving town this weekend; so it was today or nothing. I was enjoying the conversations so much, I honestly didn’t mind waiting.
“How about if we give you a loaner for the next few hours – – maybe you can do some shopping in WalMart? Or we can drive you home, and then bring the car back to be fixed? Or we can pick up the car from you tomorrow, so you don’t even have to come here, and bring it back to you tomorrow at the end of the day?”
I assured the service manager that I didn’t mind waiting, but I was amazed that they were so accommodating. “This would never have happened at my Honda dealer back in my home town,” I thought to myself.
From another person waiting I learned that he was a survivor of a terrible car accident, along with his wife. “We used to love hiking just like you,” he told me, “and we hiked to the top of Mt. Washington and all the other Presidentials numerous times. Then, in an instant, our lives changed,” he said. “I was driving with my wife at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a pleasant day, when we were hit head-on by a drunk driver who had just turned 18 years old. At one o’clock in the afternoon, and he was drunk! My wife was in a coma for 76 days. And she was in the hospital for five months, and needed many surgeries. Then came months of rehab. We shouldn’t have survived, so I feel blessed. But even though it’s a miracle she can walk, she can’t bend her knees very well, and she’ll always be in pain. So our lives are very different than how they were just a year ago,” he sighed.
Due to their accident, with too much free time on their hands, they became amateur genealogists.
“I was able to trace our families back to the 1640s,” he said proudly. They came to Maine from Nova Scotia at a time when Maine was a territory fought over by the French and the British, long before the United States entered the picture. “The only other people around were Indians.”
Eventually the service manager returned with keys in hand. “We washed your car for you, and it’s ready now.”
I said goodbye to these wonderful strangers, who were serendipitously brought together out of onerous necessity, for a delightful afternoon in a car dealership waiting room. With all the strife affecting the United States, it made me realize that we have plenty of “average,” kind people in this country who don’t judge others based on how they vote even if their personal, religious, cultural and political agendas might differ from one’s own. (In fact, they believe it’s none of anyone’s business but your own as to who gets your vote.) It was also an affirmation of the life I’ve chosen to lead in the White Mountains, where people value human interaction as well as spending time with Nature, instead of running marathons with their techie devices, seated immobile indoors; alone and anonymous.