Down East 2013 ©
For a while, I had the Christmas-shopping thing figured out. I bought all the kids on my list puppies. That outraged their parents, but I took care of the problem by buying all the adults whisky.
This process cost me a few friends. After they sobered up. But, on the positive side, each yuletide season, my shopping list got a little shorter. After a few years, I just had to buy a bottle of whisky for myself, and I was done.
Then my wife arrived on the scene with lots of ingrained opinions about the nature of appropriate gift giving. According to her, everyone had to get something that was not only different from what we gave everyone else, but also had to be an item they’d actually like. This precipitated trips to stores with names like Bed, Broth & Beyoncé or Linens & Crap, where, starting in August (“If we start early, we’ll finish early”), I was forced to stagger around while my wife examined – but did not actually purchase (“First, I have to see what’s available”) – roughly one million items designed for uses well past my meager ability to comprehend. By late November, she had narrowed the possible selections to perhaps 100,000, and by Christmas Eve, she had bought at least five possible gifts for each person on her list. Christmas morning she badgered me into helping her decide which ones went to whom (“No, I think you’re wrong about that choice”), and the four weeks after Christmas were spent returning all the stuff we didn’t give to anybody.
That left just six months before the whole process had to begin again.
But not this year.
Thanks to a change in state regulations, I can skip the trips to big-box hell holes filled with bizarre household accessories, because I already know what I’m getting everyone on my list:
Poisonous tree frogs.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (motto: Santa’s Little Helper), at the urging of the Maine Herpetological Society (motto: No We Aren’t A Support Group For Herpes Sufferers) has revised its rules as to what species of reptiles and amphibians are allowed as pets .
Fifty previously banned snakes, lizards, turtles, and frogs are now legal, including dart frogs, close cousins of the colorful critters Amazonian natives use to coat their arrows whenever surveyors show up to plot the site of a new Starbucks. The ones that are legal to sell in Maine don’t actually generate any venom, but why spoil the surprise by telling anyone.
I realize my wife won’t let me give everyone the same thing, so I’m also planning to buy a few blood pythons, mandarin ratsnakes, frilled dragons, panther chameleons, gargoule geckos, and white-lipped tree frogs (great kissers, I’m told), all newly legalized.
And if there’s anyone who isn’t happy with those selections, I’ll pick up a few bottles of whisky next time I’m in New Hampshire.
One strange footnote to this round of reptile regulatory reform is that a single species is getting the boot from Maine. For reasons unexplained, and perhaps unexplainable, the red-eared slider turtle will be banned effective next New Year’s Day.
When I was a kid, evil relatives used to give me little red-eared sliders as Christmas presents. (I can’t remember if they gave my parents whisky, too.) It usually took a month or so of alternating bouts of annoying and neglecting the little critters before they succumbed and were flushed down the toilet. Maybe they’re being made illegal because their corpses are clogging up the sewer system.
Maine may not like those turtles, but it’s finding a good use for wasps. State scientists and volunteers are using a species of the insect called (no snickering, please, this is serious business) cerceris fumipennis to help (snort) in the fight against (chortle) an invasive beetle that kills pine trees. The bothersome bug is called the emerald ash borer .
Cerceris fumipennis? Who names these things? College fraternities?
Anyway, the wasps, which don’t sting, capture all kinds of beetles out of trees, with the intent of taking them home to make beetleburgers. The scientists and volunteers net the wasps and check their victims to see if any of them are ash borers. If they aren’t – and so far, they haven’t been – the humans return the beetles to the wasps, apologize, shake one of their little fumipennis legs and send them on their way as if the whole affair hadn’t been an enormous inconvenience. The wasps then call their relative, the Giant Sumatran Death-Dealing Stingie Hornet, and ask it to visit Maine, where some human pests need to be taught a lesson in insect etiquette.
I’m afraid that once the wasps learn that dart frogs are legal in the state, their attitude is likely to become even more testy. Somebody should be planning to buy those bugs some whisky for Christmas.
One item that won’t make it on my holiday shopping list is gift certificates to the Grandview Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro. In the wake of the June fire that destroyed the nude-from-the-waist-up noshing spot, owner Donald Crabtree has decided to sell off the property,  rather than follow through on previously announced plans to rebuild and expand into night-club-related activities. No one has been charged with setting the blaze that leveled the place.
Wait. Suddenly that red-eared slider ban makes some sense. Everyone knows turtles native to the American south are both highly moralistic and prone to arson. (They strike the matches on their shells.) I’ll bet they’re being kicked out of Maine before they attack Platinum Plus in Portland.
In an utterly unrelated matter, a Bangor man claims he’s discovered a rock formation off Valley Avenue that looks just like the Old Man of the Mountain , which used to be in New Hampshire, but is now in rubble.
The mini-monument is all of four feet high and, based on a newspaper photo, looks less like an old man than the love child of E.T. and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Speaking of the unpleasant side effects of unrestrained breeding, the state Department of Environmental Protection is planning to stop Eurasian milfoil  from having plant sex in Kozy Cove on Salmon Lake in Belgrade by …
Wait. This can’t be right.
The DEP is planning to dump poison in the water?
Isn’t the DEP the agency that’s supposed to stop people from doing that sort of thing?
Well, this makes less sense than a ban on red-eared sliders, but our environmental guardians say they want to use a chemical called 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid to kill the milfoil before it spreads and chokes off all other life in the lake. Trouble is, 2,4 Dichloro (sounds like a Lawrence Welk dance step) kills other things, too. Such as people and animals.
DEP staffers say they’ll be careful, and the application will have no long-term consequences.
Doesn’t this seem like the sort of thing you’d hear somebody say at the beginning of a Saturday-night movie on SyFy? I can see it now. Just as the poison starts to work on the milfoil, out of the muck emerges the Giant Sumatran Death-Dealing Stingie Hornet. Followed by an angry hoard of mutated red-eared sliders.
Quick, coat your arrows with poison from these dart frogs.
What do you mean the ones we legalized don’t make poison?
(I’m giving everyone on my list a copy of the DVD for Christmas.)
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .