You Don't Deserve the Summers
When I was a kid the old timers around town used to refer to our Maine climate as “Nine months of winter and three months of pretty rough sleddin.”
That old saw seems appropriate just about now as March roars in like a lion, one with another foot-and-a-half of snow in its jaws. Of course old philosopher physics dictates that for every hoary old axiom there’s an equal and opposite axiom, or at least one that provides a wry counterbalance to the first. Axiom # 2, in this instance would go something like this: “If you can’t take the winters you don’t deserve the summers!”
Whichever line suits your fancy you’re welcome to it.
You can take the snow as well if you’ve a mind too. I certainly won’t offer any objections.
Of course, I’d hardly be a Mainer if I couldn’t take the winters. But, takin’ ‘em and likin’ ‘em are two entirely different things in my book. Most of the dyed-in-the-wool natives I grew up with had a longstanding policy of taking only as much winter as they absolutely had to. These folks never — and I mean never — ventured outdoors during the winter months unless the trip was absolutely necessary. Then again, they had some darned good reasons to go out on a regular basis. There was wood to be hauled in from the shed, mail to be picked up at the end of a two-mile-long dirt driveway, paths to be shoveled clear and in some cases an outdoor privy trip to be considered. I can tell you from my own experience that when the snow drifts are hip deep and the thermometer reads below the zero mark those privy visits were always given plenty of consideration!
But, you may ask, what about stuff like trapping and ice fishing? Those are traditional Maine outdoor winter activities aren’t they?
Well, yeah. But they don’t count. Trapping doesn’t count because it’s covered by the absolutely necessary disclaimer noted above.
For the few remaining Mainers who actually set and tend traps (an activity, by the way, approximately half as politically correct as driving a fleet of Hummers up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to pick up your multi-billion dollar Federal bailout check) the endeavor is definitely work rather than recreation.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a sense of humor about it. As a matter of fact it more or less necessitates a sense of humor. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Twenty-some-odd years ago I co-hosted a segment of the “Portrait of America” series for WTBS in Atlanta. I like to say that I co-hosted the hour-long special with screen legend Hal Holbrook.
While technically correct, that’s a bit of a stretch. As it turned out Mr. Holbrook filmed all his segments in Atlanta and I was in Maine so we never actually met. I did some location work around the state but never saw the whole show until I attended a special advance screening at the Blaine House. Knowing how easy it is for folks from away to miss the nuance of Maine life I was very interested to see if the film crew had done us justice.
It didn’t take long to see that they had.
The opening shot featured two plaid-clad, grizzled Maine trappers snowshoeing laboriously through the St. John River valley boonies. There was no theme music, just the sounds of crunching snow and labored breathing. The scene lingered like that for at least a couple of minutes. As the camera slowly panned in for a closer view, one of the trappers turned to the other and in a classic Maine accents muttered, “Well, at least thay wunt be any black flies bothering us today!”
Ice fishing doesn’t count either, at least not the smelt fishing the way my dad and his pals did it in the 1960s on Damariscotta Lake. The idea was to catch a "mess ‘o smelts" but any ice fisherman worth his salt had rigged his ice shanty up with all the luxuries of a second home. These ice palaces had battery-operated lighting, butt-warmer seating surfaces, space heaters, and plenty of beer. Leaving aside for a moment why anybody would want the smelts in the first place, ice fishing of this sort doesn’t count simply because it’s about as outdoor as your livingroom.
Let winter do its best. I’ll sit here by the fire and read motorcycle magazines and review my upcoming travel schedule. Did I mention that I’m doing a show in Key Largo in a couple of weeks?
Ayuh, I figure I can stand anything for a couple more weeks.
Tim Sample is a Maine humorist and you can read more of his work here.