Late Frost in Lincolnville
At dawn on Saturday, the last morning of winter, my old Saab glistened under a thin rime of frost. The rising sun would have made quick work of it. But I gave it a half-hearted swipe with a garden glove and puttered off inland with my year-old kitty, Jennifer.
I can't tell if the kitty enjoys these little trips as much as I do. She mostly hunkers down on my lap consenting to be stroked while gazing upward at the overarching trees in the state park that lies between us and the village center. The landscape is quietly dramatic in a way that you come to take for granted in coastal Maine: open fields and patches of woodland that give way suddenly to a brusque little mountain or a plunging gorge. Then a stretch of modest ranch houses on two-acre lots and old farmsteads and a failed tourist attraction, a Western Auto store, an old tree hung with maybe two hundred lobster buoys, the local character who likes to stir the pot with signs blaring, like, "Watch Fox News and LEARN," and the old auto-repair shop and the modular home of the nice old lady whose mailbox I destroyed a couple of years ago while essaying an ill-considered U-turn.
"To travel hopefully," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, "is a better thing than to arrive." Apart from being a go-to quote for English teachers like me — demonstrating as it does the correct use of hopefully in formal discourse — this thought captures aptly, I think, the spirit of an early-morning drive in Maine on the cusp of spring. We don't really know what lies ahead, but for the moment it's nice not to worry. Be here now. That's a quote, too. English teachers' heads are full of such things.
Is winter truly about to end? That would be nice. This winter hasn't been especially hard in Maine — a surprising number of things fall more gently in Maine than elsewhere — but for our nation at large, it has been horrendous. I'm not talking about the weather. Last week in Columbus, Ohio, a 60-year-old man with Parkinson's disease sat down outside the office of his Congresswoman, Mary Jo Kilroy, where an anti-health-reform rally was in progress. He carried a sign reading, "Got Parkinson's? I Do and You Might. Thanks for helping! That's community!"
For his trouble, Bob Letcher, a disabled ex-science prof at Ohio State, was screamed at, ridiculed and berated by protestors. One gentleman, captured on tape by the Columbus Dispatch, threw a dollar bill at him. "I'll decide when to give you money!" the man shouted. You can see the tape here.
Letcher told a reporter the following day that the man in the white shirt seemed "practiced at being cold." He elaborated, in language that any English teacher must admire: "It was cultivatedly angry."
But our national winter wasn't quite ready to loosen its grip. On Saturday, one day before a highly-anticipated health-care vote, a small mob of "tea party" activists on Capitol Hill shouted what the New York Times termed "racial slurs" — I'm not sure why we're afraid to just say the word out loud — at black Democratic lawmakers including John Lewis, the elderly civil-rights hero from Georgia. One rep, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, was spat upon, the Times reports.
To dismiss these self-proclaimed Real Americans as a bunch of racists, however, fails to do them full justice. They also hate gay people! (Are we surprised?) Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts was "wading through a huge crowd of tea partiers and other health care protestors" when, according to a reporter at the scene, "an elderly white man screamed 'Barney, you faggot' — a line that caused dozens of his confederates to erupt in laughter."
As I drove back home with my kitty, it was still too early for the Saturday morning news on NPR. Later I would hear that my Congressman, Mike Michaud, is still on the fence about health-care reform. That apparently remains the case even as I type, on Sunday afternoon, while final debate has begun in the House of Representatives.
I find this really hard to stomach. I can't remember a single issue issue in my lifetime — except for the landmark civil rights bills in the 1960s, when I was a kid in segregated Virginia, and John Lewis was ducking billy-clubs wielded by redneck policemen — when the lines were drawn so starkly.
Come spring — if spring really comes — we'll know how it all turned out.