Thursday, January 12, 2012

A MAINE LAMENT


SNOW AND REMEMBRANCE

I am up this morning at six o clock and as I pass the window, on the way to the bathroom, I note the snow has not arrived.   WCSH weather forecasters said it would start at six: six to ten inches in our area.   We have had one snow this winter worth shoveling out.  As I start the fire to warm up our cabin, my wife is still in bed,  I am joined by our old cat.  She somewhat impatiently waits for me to finish the fire and make her breakfast of salmon juice laced with her thyroid pill.



 I sit and watch the fire build in the wood stove and think about the earlier days and the changing face of Maine. When I first came to Maine in 1962, Maine was still a wilderness.   At that time Rangeley, Maine was a two caf√© and one grocery store town (now, like L.L. Bean, it has become a yuppie Mecca for sportsman.)   My buddy and I would drive the icy roads to Rangeley to deer hunt – and you had better bring your snow shoes if you planned to leave the road.  In that era snow came in the woods in late fall and staid and grew; by mid winter you could step off your snowshoes and sink in a drift up to your chest.   There were no snowmobiles; and few people other than the locals.  

In the spring I would go to Joe Mary Lake and spend a week.  More than likely I would not see another human unless I went out to the local town for supplies.  In the evening, by the camp fire, I would listen to the wood cock and the king fisher as they settled in, followed by the song of the night hawks and fish splashing in the shallows as the sun went down.   In the morning I would climb from my sleeping bag and shiver as I lit my fire set.  I would set the tea water on the Coleman gas stove and then go down to the lake’s edge to wash my face and get a bucket of water; I would often find a moose feeding in the nearby cove and sometimes see bear tracks on the beach.   Back at the fire I would warm up and get dressed - a cup of tea – some cold biscuits from the night before and then out in the canoe for the morning trout rise.   Today Joe Mary Lake is filled with housing. 

In the early sixties I ran the Allagash River.  We drove two hours on dirt logging roads to get to the base lakes to launch.   It took us three days paddling (and fishing) on the base lakes to finally arrive at the dam that marks the headwaters of the river.   The Allagash runs 110 miles, from south at the dam, north to the town of Allagash - where we would take out.   The first fifteen miles of the river, known as Chase Carry Rapids, is a sometimes dangerous but always challenging stretch of water.  Once you have run Chase Carry the rest of the rapids are manageable; the only other concern being Allagash Falls.    We spent seven days on the river - and on the fourth day a motorized canoe with a game warden stopped and talked to us, and then headed north – we didn’t see him or anyone else again.   The trip was through beautiful, unspoiled wilderness - what memories.   

Back in Brunswick, about once a month, my buddy and I (we were both in the Navy and both Maine State guides) would  get off work, drink a few beers and around midnight decide to drive fourteen miles to L.L.Bean.  Today Bean is a mega store catering to upscale couples: selling everything from designer boots to clothing to household furnishings – their hunting and fishing supplies are there more for the ambience then to cater to the local Maine woodsmen.  

Back then, L.L. Beans was a warehouse – with concrete floors.  They were known for their rubber-bottom-leather-top hunting boots.   Bean was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; but made most of its money selling mail order.   Their products were designed and practical for Maine and the northern bush wilderness.  When you entered the front door there was a counter with pipes for sale and pipe tobacco: they always had open cans for sampling and my buddy and I would fill our pipes and spend two or three hours rambling through the store checking out Fendwick fly rods, fishing flys, guns, Old Town canoes and tents.  Back in the parking lot we would drink some more beer or whiskey before heading back to our respective families.  The next day we would show up work somewhat bleary eyed, at the Navy survival school where we were assigned. 

Here it is: eleven o clock and still no snow.  

 Maine still has beautiful wilderness, but not as pristine and untrod as it use to be.  Today hikers on the Appalachian Trail look for high terrain where they can find a cell phone connection.   People carry GPS instead of compasses.   They dress in microfiber instead of wool.   At night they sit around the camp fire with headphones in their ears while texting or playing Angry Birds on their cell phones. 

There are thousands of miles of snowmobile trails that now crisscrossing the Maine wilderness.   Where my cabin is located there are seven camps owned by people from Massachusetts.   They are good people, and they maintain their camps.  Usually, on a long week-end they show up on a Friday night – whoop it up – and the next morning, bright and early head out in a pack, like Hell’s Angles of the wilderness.  They storm along the snowmobile trails for a hundred or a hundred and fifty miles to some designated lay over where they have rooms reserved and they can enjoy a steak dinners, sit in a hot tub, drink beer and ogle at the waitresses.   The next morning they are up at dawn for another marathon ride to their next destination.   Finally on the third night they return to their camps – crash early and the next morning head back to Massachusetts - driving too fast, and riding the bumpers of the slower Maine drivers.   It is kind of sad: I can see more wildlife and experience more of the wilderness wonders in one hour on my snowshoes than they will see in three days.

What has happened to the Maine wilderness?   I guess I am among the last generation to remember the skills of camping and woodcraft - being alone and traveling through the wilderness.   It breaks my heart to see the warning in the Maine Fishing Regulations telling pregnant women not to eat the fish from Maine waters and warning fishermen not to have more than one fish meal a week.  

There was a time when our little town had one old, rundown theater; and you could get a meal at either the local diner or one prepared at the local drugstore on hot plates.  At that time my wife and I lived in an old farm house without water, sewerage or electricity and we traveled back and forth to college on our motorcycle.

Today the Maine wilderness has opened up – it is now a destination for people seeking their “get away.”  MaineVacation Land.    Change has its up side and down side: now our little town has nice restaurants and a multiplex movie theater; we have an excellent hospital and many amenities we would not have with out the growth and tourism. 

I am retired and my wife and I make (barely) enough to keep the wolf away from the door.  And, at my age I know my future is short; but I would not trade the memories I have of the real Maine wilderness for the memories that the young people of today are amassing.

It is noon and still no snow.   I wonder where the snow has gone – perhaps the Massachusetts people have taken it. 

Two p.m. it’s snowing.


 the Ol'Buzzard



9 comments:

  1. Old Buzzard,
    Great post! I rrally enjoyed reading about how it was back before snowmachines and cell phones.
    I spent almost two years in Michigan's upper peninsula - Yep, did some rabbit and grouse hunting on snowshoes. Alaska came next - a year out on the peninsula at King Salmon. It was good duty for an Alaskan remote (1 yr) tour.
    As I posted, we have maybe 2 inches now in Indy and may get 2-3 more. It will be bumper cars out there at rush hour....


    Sarge

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  2. I LOVE this narrative and remembrance. It reminded me of growing up in North Florida (at probably the same time as this), going seining in the St. Johns River amidst the sea cows (manatees), and surf fishing at the beach as a boy and teenager. It was still safe to eat the oysters, and shell fish. And many, many, many nights our meals were based on these activities. Granted, no where near as wild and isolated as you describe, but still it was a time when one could do these things without a whole lot of interference from others.

    I attribute the ruin of these things to Disney. That was the being of the end for Florida in terms of being next to nature.

    Great post!

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  3. If you want snow, I'll see if I can't shift some over your way. We got 2ft on the ground right now and it's been snowing all day and supposedly will continue tomorrow. The only thing disconcerting is that it isn't staying cold. We get some cold and maybe snow, then warms(30s up to 40) up for a couple days, enough to make things sloppy and slick.

    I too remember back when we kids would take a tarp or pup tent and go to a lake to do some camping, fishing and swimming. Everyone used to go to the lake on the Fourth to picnic. Now it's unavailable to us. Some FIPs(Fucking Illinois Pricks) bought the only private land at the lake(where the beach and picnic area was) and closed off access to the lake.

    Used to get around in the winter with skis and snowshoes until spring when the days would get warm enough to melt the top layer of snow and with the cold nights freeze hard enough to walk on the crust for most of the morning. When you started breaking thru you would hope you weren't too far afield!!

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  4. Excellent trip down memory lane. My first memory of LL Bean was in 1962 while visiting my aunt and uncle who lived here in Acton. Acton had two paved roads, maybe three at the time. The school house was two rooms and an office.

    Maine has definitely changed, but so then has the rest of the country.

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  5. Great post. The world changes and we change with it but it is nice to look back

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  6. just to let you know..I read Salem's lot in a tiny trailer by Lake Austin while waiting for our apt to be finished and it was so ratty..the wind was blowing, things were scratching on the trailer top and windows...I kept hearing scuttling noises and was reading in my bedroom with tiny lamp on..went to the hall way and flipped on the light and water bugs the size of mice were running all over the place..freaked me the fuck out..I kept reading, but never did turn the lights back out or..get any sleep.
    just finished the latest stephen king..and it fucking rocked..best book ever...yafta read it..now

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  7. nice reading. I am actually a Michigan boy and Sarges comment resonated...I spent a lot of time in the UP and did a lot of winter camping in Michigan and NY State. Here? It snows once or twice a year. I don't complain, I lived through too many frigid winters. Too many 18 below mornings freezing my lungs. But, what we do have here are winters where every morning finds the fields covered with white frost. It's been way too warm this year and already the spring bulbs are starting to peek out...We have to have a good frost just to keep the vermin under control!

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  8. I was especially interested to read what LL Bean used to be like. Many things have changed but only a few of them for the better.

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