Moonlight Madness Comes Early in Maine
My uncle Steve used to refer to Maine in December as being “ Dark as a pocket.” Maine poet Holman Day was partial to the phrase “Dark as a cellar shelf.” Feel free to insert whatever colorful local term you like. My point is that this pervasive darkness, this “Timmy’s-trapped-in-the-well” gloom we always experience here in Maine for the first three weeks in December is a daunting proposition by any name.
And as if it weren’t already dark enough here in southwestern Maine, last week my wife and I gassed up the car, pointed it roughly east by northeast and motored on up to our place in Washington County to enjoy a few days of “just us” time before the whole “ fam-damily “ arrives again for the next round of holiday revelry.
Washington County, Maine, proudly bills itself as “The Sunrise County” (you have to admit that’s a heck of a lot catchier than “ This Pharmacy No Longer Carries OxyContin”) due to the fact that it contains the easternmost hunk of real estate in the entire U.S.A. Yes, Washington County is indeed the very first place the sun’s rays make landfall at the dawn of each new morning in America. And you don’t need Peggy Noonan to tell you that “Sunrise County” has an upbeat, positive ring to it.
Of course, as with most things, there’s a dark side to being the “Sunrise County”. The price we pay for the privilege is that we’re also the first to watch that same sun vanish over the western horizon each day. That’s certainly not a problem in the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. But right about now, as we don our night vision goggles and grope our way toward the winter solstice, it can be more than a bit unnerving. At, least it felt that way to me last Tuesday as I drove east along The Airline. We were about thirty miles from the Canadian boarder. My wife was snoozing in the passenger seat, and the glare of the full moon through the windshield was brighter than the high beams of the oncoming semis headed west. Full moon? High beams? Ayuh, glancing at the dashboard clock I noted that it was pitch dark at 4:23 in the afternoon. I’m sorry, there just something wrong with that. Isn’t this about the time when when all the bears decide to pack it in and hibernate? Smart move. About a half-hour later we pulled into our driveway, unpacked in a somnambulant fog, and were fast asleep before the six o’clock news came on.
We’d decided to come up on this particular weekend largely because friends keep telling us how much fun they have every year Christmas shopping in downtown Calais during the “Moonlight Madness” sale on Friday night. That sounded like fun to us. By the way, in case you were wondering, the Moonlight Madness Sale kicks off at 5 p.m. The actual moonlight? Um, well that arrives a little after 4.
You probably know that I tend to be easily engrossed by all the little details of small-town Maine life, and Christmas in Calais this year featured all the right ingredients to jump-start my holiday spirit. Arriving at the outskirts of town just as the big Christmas parade line was forming, we watched as an impressive procession of lovingly decorated homemade floats departed from the staging area in the IGA parking lot. Santa himself was on hand, ho-ho-ho-ing enthusiastically from his perch high atop the Calais Fire Department’s spit-polished “ladder truck.” This prompted a bit of speculation on our part. What if an emergency call came in during the parade and the fire engines had to rush off to fight a fire? We decided that since Santa was more than likely a member of the fire department, he’d just wind up being in the right place at the right time either way.
We stayed up really, really late that night (well beyond my usual 7:30 bedtime) and managed to snag some wicked good holiday bargains in the process. Although we did pass on the fashionable, shocking pink hunting rifle (Barbie’s first .22 ?) on sale for 30 percent off in the gun case at the Calais True Value Hardware, we did load up our cart with several other treasures including three custom printed hoodies emblazoned with the following message printed in flashy Las Vegas-style lettering, “ Welcome to Fabulous Calais, Maine. What happens here stays here … But nothing really happens here. “
I beg to differ. Like me, my wife hails from a small town, (Marine-on-St. Croix, Minnesota, population 602 in the most recent census) and she too has a soft spot for the sort of little mom-and-pop shops that, despite the rising tide of chain stores, still exist on the Main streets of America. So we came, we saw, we did a little shopping by the silvery light of the afternoon moon.
At the local jewelry store a fresh-faced teenager greeted us and handed my wife a card. “This is your ‘gift list’ card.” He said. When she asked him how that worked he replied, “ Oh, it’s easy. You walk around the store and jot down all the things you like and then,” nodding at me, “your husband will come in tomorrow and buy them for you.” Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?
We managed to have a terrific time, do our bit to stimulate the beleaguered Washington County economy, and get quite a bit of holiday shopping done all at the same time. Not bad. But, just in case my wife is reading this, I should mention that there is something special on my wish list this year. You know those “full spectrum” artificial daylight lamps? I hear they’re just the ticket to stave off depression and boost your energy during these long, dark December days. Who knows? If I had one of those lights I just might be able stay up until, I dunno, maybe as late as 8:30 or 9 o’clock for next year’s Moonlight Madness.