Posts Tagged ‘rural Maine’

Shmoozing Strangers

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.

 

 

 

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Welcome!

 

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Several months ago my husband hung a batik banner next to the mailbox at the bottom of the driveway with the words “bruchim haba’im” – welcome – written in an artsy, flowing Hebrew script.

We live on a rural country road that doesn’t get much traffic, and let’s face it, not too many people in Maine can read Hebrew.  But what the heck.

About an hour before the end of Shabbat, we heard cars coming up our driveway, which is unusual by itself.  Out clambered 6 young people from Boston, who were vacationing in the area for the Fourth of July weekend.  They’d seen the sign, were able to read it, and their curiosity got the best of them.  So they decided to check us out.

We invited them inside and they were floored to see my husband and I, along with a friend from our hometown, gathered around the Shabbat table.  They joined us for a l’chaim and asked us all sorts of questions about the hows, wheres and whys of what we’re doing in a remote corner of Maine.  One was a female rabbinical student; one was a software engineer; one was in social media marketing; one was a grad student majoring in economics; and two were involved in non-profit organizations for social justice for the underprivileged.

Our guest from our hometown couldn’t believe the unfolding scene.  Oh, we had regaled her with entertaining stories of all the bizarre situations we’ve found ourselves in, and the many unusual people we’ve met over the years living here in Maine, despite our isolated location, but now she was getting a taste of that delightful Maine mojo first-hand.  (Many of these tales can be found in the archives of this blog.)

Really my friend’s visit was somewhat serendipitous to begin with.  When I was in my hometown last week to celebrate the birth of a new grandchild, I happened to see her in the street and mentioned that I’d be returning to Maine in a few days, and that if she’d like a ride up with us she’d be welcome to join us.

She had visited us once before during that time of year known as “stick season” in November, when the gorgeous fall colors are long gone but the snow hasn’t yet fallen, so the landscape is quite bare and grey.  I happen to like stick season, but my friend wasn’t particularly impressed, especially after hearing my accolades about the beauty of Maine.  The bleakness of the landscape appeared foreboding and desolate to her then.  Now that we’re at the peak of summer and everywhere it’s a lush green, she feels differently.  It’s been fun to expose her to her first-time-ever kayaking and swimming in a lake, and hiking to hidden cascades and moutaintops.  But nothing prepared her for the one-in-a-million chance of meeting up with total strangers and inviting them in for a taste of Shabbat.

Shabbat came to an end and we all made havdala (the special blessings chanted over wine, braided candle, and spices to say goodbye to Shabbat and welcome the new week). Contacts were exchanged along with warm wishes and my suggestions and directions for exploring some of the hidden gems in the area.

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I don’t know if we’ll ever see them again, but you never know to what or where something as simple as a “welcome” sign might lead.  And now my hometown friend has her own Maine stories to tell.

 

Wicked Cold

20160213_225428_resized.jpgIn the six years we’ve been in Maine, the coldest it’s ever gotten with wind chill factored in is -45F.  Right now it’s -12 outside, but the wind is blowing with several major gusts.  I recorded -55F.  Then I decided to press the “recall” button on our anemometer to see what I might have missed.  At 10:33 p.m. it was -67F with windchill!  That’s our newest record.  It will be fun to see what tomorrow brings, as the coldest part of a day is usually right before sunrise.

Our woodstove is serving us well, and currently is our only source of heat (we have radiant hydronic PEX heat under the concrete floor that can be used as a backup or boost, but it just hasn’t been necessary) .  Inside it’s a cozy 70F.  The fantastic closed-cell spray-foam insulation we used at the time of construction is proving that it was worth every penny.  Our house is airtight with no leaky drafts, and nice and cozy, easily retaining the heat from the woodstove and in the daytime, from passive solar.  I don’t expect to use more than  1 ½ – 2 cords of wood over the course of the entire winter (1 cord = 4′ x 4′ x 8′ of split and stacked wood). Considering the wood comes from our own land, it’s not a bad deal.

In The Blood

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Anything to do with wood – – forestry, conservation, lumber, carpentry, building – – figures prominently in the daily life of many locals here in the White Mountains of Maine.  So when I saw the ad this past summer for “In The Blood,” a documentary about the history of Maine’s lumber industry and the iconic lumberjacks who defined it, I knew I had to go see it at the Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, Maine.

Deertrees Theatre is a story in and of itself.  It was originally built as an opera house in 1936 by Harrison Wiseman (d. 1945), a Jewish architect from Ohio that designed the Yiddish Art Theater and other prominent buildings in New York City.  Even though it resembles a huge country barn, in fact it is technically and acoustically perfect, and its acoustics have been rated the highest of any New England stage by multiple newspapers’ classical music critics.  The list of stars who’ve appeared there over the last 80 years is indeed impressive, as is the drama of the Deertrees Theatre, now designated a historical building, and its fight for survival.  You can read more about the Deertrees Theatre’s fascinating history by clicking here.  (The town of Harrison was incorporated in 1805 and its name is unrelated to Harrison Wiseman.)

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Written, produced, directed and performed by native Mainer Sumner McKane, and using historical footage and interviews with the courageous men whose resilience, feisty independence, strength, skill and drive seem sadly a thing of the past, “In The Blood” explores the typical working day and many hierarchical tasks performed by lumbermen from clearing logging roads, cutting down trees, bringing the trees to the river, controlling the water’s flow, running the logs down the river, clearing the log jams that ensued, fighting the unremitting cold, subsisting on beans, beans and more beans for months at a time, and living in crude camps where 30 men slept under the same enormous quilt and wore the same clothes for 6 months without benefit of laundering nor practicing meaningful personal hygiene.

These days, at the annual country Fryeburg Fair, there are lots of lumberjack contests, and one of them involves balancing on and rolling logs while the logs are floating on an enclosed pool of water.  Usually the contest comes to an end in mere seconds.  By comparison, historical footage from “In The Blood” puts modern lumberjacks to shame.  Perhaps most amazing was the old footage of lumberjacks balancing and walking precariously on logs, hurling together downstream in very rough, freezing water.  They lacked the technical outerwear like neoprene that we have today.  Losing their balance wasn’t just dangerous – it was usually fatal, for if hypothermia or drowning didn’t kill them (and surprisingly, many didn’t even know how to swim), getting crushed by oncoming logs would.    These men of yesteryear were truly Maine’s version of Wild West cowboys, with all their stamina, courage, ability to live in austere conditions and isolation in severe weather, and their addiction to death-defying adrenalin rushes.  The only difference is that instead of herding cattle, Maine lumberjacks herded logs – –  under the most challenging conditions possible.

Sumner McKane, who is behind the film and many other Maine historical movies, is a man on a mission.  He now tours New England with his music and films and especially enjoys getting New England youth excited about their history, appearing at schools throughout the region.

 

Close Call

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham Maine

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham Maine

Yesterday about 11 a.m. I walked down the road and noticed that there were beautiful wildflowers by the abandoned golf course in Evergreen Valley.  I didn’t have my camera with me and planned to come back later in the afternoon so I could take some pictures.  When I returned around 4 pm, the wildflowers petals had closed up completely and the light was all wrong.  So I made sure to return around the same time today and try yet again.

Monarch Butterfly, Stoneham Maine

What a beautiful day!  After suffering from the high heat and humidity of my home town in the month I was away, it is great to be back in Maine with day temperatures in the 70s, nights in the 50s, and low humidity.  The bugs are not too bad.  The conditions were perfect for taking pictures, so I snapped away for about 30 minutes.

As I was packing up my gear, I heard a noise in the distance approaching me.  It was the caretaker of Evergreen Valley on his riding mower!  Within minutes the entire field of wildflowers was gone, and sadly they will not appear again until Spring 2016.

Overdue Books

Although my little Maine hamlet (population 234 on a good day) is too small to support its own library, we do have an arrangement (and are taxed accordingly as part of our property taxes) with the town of Lovell to utilize their libraries.  They have two:  one at the north end, which was formerly a one-room schoolhouse (I wrote about it in my blog post entitled “How Rural is My Maine Town?“), and the other, a renovated beauty that, with its limited selection of inventory, serves as a true community and cultural center with a variety of activities.  There is a book club, kids’ arts and crafts and storytelling, a gardening club, yoga, nature lectures, weekly cribbage games, monthly lectures on organic farming, and occasional lectures by the Maine Humanities Council on everything from history, foreign policy, to current events.  If you want a specific book, chances are you won’t find it on the library’s shelves, but the librarians are happy to order it for you as an inter-library loan from other larger libraries in Maine.

Because the collection is so limited, I make an effort to return books I’ve read within a day or two of finishing them to ensure their active circulation amongst residents desperate for a good read.  Once, I forgot to return a book and received a friendly reminder by email.  When I returned the book, I asked how much I owed in late fines.

“Oh, we don’t charge; we go by the honesty policy,” the librarian told me.  While there were a few books that were forever lost this way, most people were good about returning borrowed books on time, she said.  Wow, I thought, that would never be the case in my home town.

But then I read today’s Conway Daily Sun, a small paper published just over the Maine-New Hampshire border.  It turns out that most towns around here don’t charge library patrons late fees:  instead, they call the police!

In an article reported by Damon Steer, he writes:

Astute readers of the Conway police logs — which are published on Conwaypd.com — may have noticed the May 16 entry saying that officer Richard Gaudreau was investigating overdue library books.

When patrons don’t bring back their books, magazines, CDs and DVDs on time, the library sends them notices, followed by telephone calls.

After that, tardy patrons are referred to the police.

. . . “We investigate them as theft,” said Lt. Chris Mattei,  “. . . It doesn’t usually end up in prosecution. but sometimes it does.”

According to one librarian, police are “very helpful” and tend to get “different results” than the library’s notice.

At one rural New Hampshire library, there is a “Guilt Alleviation Box” near the front desk,”People do occasionally drop donations into it.”  added that getting money that way “has a nicer feel” than assessing a fine.

Imagine having a police record that says “overdue library materials!”  That’s enough to put the fear of G-d into any bookworm.

Click here for the link to the original Conway Daily Sun article.

A Discomforting Noise

On Sunday my husband left for a two-week trip to our home town, while I remain in Maine. People often ask me if I’m afraid to be alone in such a rural spot.  Fortunately the area in which I live is pretty much crime-free.  There are people I can call for assistance for other emergencies if necessary.   But of course there is always the possibility of an accident.

The only time this became a reality was when I fell  – – hard! – – on some ice and just quietly lay on my back on the snowy ground looking up at the sky, waiting for the pain to pass and thinking, “This. Is. Not. Good.”  I knew I wasn’t badly hurt, but the drama queen in me did force me to consider the possibility that I could die here and no one would know about it!  (My husband and I do communicate with one another several times a day, so help would arrive before the vultures start circling.)  Fortunately after a few minutes’ rest I was able to get up and go about my business.  I do try to avoid unnecessary risks when possible.  I always let someone know where I’m going and when I expect to be back when I walk, hike, or kayak alone.  My dog usually accompanies me.  I wear bright neon colors even when it’s not hunting season so I’m easily visible while walking on the road or kayaking on the lake.  And I am well versed in self-defense.  I guess I just have the spirit of a free-range kid.

But for Monday, with my husband away, I was planning on sleeping in late.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  I was awakened abruptly at 6:30 a.m. by a horrible, loud vibrating noise.  It sounded like a pipe that might be connected to our furnace.  The noise came and went, then started up again intermittently.  I dragged myself out of bed, praying that the furnace would not blow.

It’s times like these that being alone can be challenging.  Unlike in my home town, I don’t ever feel unsafe here in rural Maine, but it’s a hard realization that you can’t rely on someone else to solve your problems for you.  You need to stay calm, and think things through, which is sometimes easier said than done.  Mainers are great diagnosticians and good repairmen, but I didn’t want to call my heating person only to find out it wasn’t the furnace – – I didn’t want the story of that “dumb lady from away” to make the rounds of the local diner that would make me a laughingstock and recipient of quiet smirks the next time I went into town.  So I was determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious noise.  Even if I couldn’t fix it, I could at least identify it.

But when I got to the basement, the noise faded, and I realized the source of the noise was elsewhere.  But where?

There was no regular pattern to the noise.  I kept walking around the house looking for clues.  Then I went to the porch.  It could be the noise was coming from outside.

When I ventured outside, the noise stopped.  To be safe, I carefully checked under the porch, and around all four exterior corners.  Nothing.  But the second I stepped inside, the noise started up again.  Now I determined the sound was indeed coming from outside.  But it was like a game:  when I would go outside, the noise would stop.  I’d go inside, and the noise would start up again. Back and forth, in and out, and I wasn’t any closer to solving the mystery.

Finally I went outside and stayed outside.  Making myself small, I stood silent like a statue, not moving an inch.  I waited for the noise to start up again, whenever that might be.  And sure enough I wasn’t disappointed:  a yellow-bellied sapsucker, which is a type of woodpecker, flew to my roof and promptly began attacking my metal chimney cap!

Why a woodpecker would prefer metal to all the juicy, bug-saturated trees surrounding my house remains a mystery. Perhaps it saw the chimney as an alluring location for a future nest.  And this bird was no dummy.  The minute it would see me, it would fly away, but as soon as I retreated to the shadows it was back, pounding away.  The vibration in my house was actually the entire length of the metal chimney reacting to the woodpecker’s pounding outside.  Besides the genuine annoyance from the noise, I was concerned about damage to the chimney, which would be an expensive repair.  And because I am away for weeks at a time when I visit my family in my home town, I was not going to be able to be on constant woodpecker patrol.

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker woodpecker

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker woodpecker

But I was here now and I just wanted my peace and quiet.

Even though it wasn’t particularly cold outside, I decided to build an early morning fire in the wood stove.  I figured the combination of hot metal and spewing smoke from the chimney top would discourage the bird.  Fortunately I was right!  The woodpecker stayed away the remainder of the day.

Alas, the very next morning at 6:30 a.m. the yellow-bellied sapsucker was back, pounding away.  Now the outside temperature was even warmer, but once again I lit a fire and I was undisturbed the rest of the day.

This morning the bird must have decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and left my chimney – – and me! – – blessedly alone.  Considering that outside temperatures are supposed to reach a beautiful 70 degrees next week, I hope I won’t be lighting any more fires in the wood stove to keep the woodpecker away, anytime soon.  And tomorrow, I’m sleeping in.