Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WHEN WINTER COMES...

During these wintry days of Arctic blasts and below freezing temperatures, I think of the winter I spent in Aroostook County, Maine where the average temps frequently reached 20 and 30 below zero. It was a long and bitter winter that began in late October and ended in late May. We lived in the second story of an old farmhouse in Limestone, Maine, a town in the heart of potato-producing country not far from Madawaska. As I'm of Acadian descent and lived near enough to Madawaska to enjoy the Acadian Festival held every year in June, I've always regretted that we missed this festival because we beat a hasty retreat in May, eager to leave the "winter of our discontent."

A lifelong southerner, I braved the first month of the severe Maine winter in clothing fit for a Louisiana frost with bare legs, wearing a lightweight coat, socks and loafers. I slipped on the ice twice before buying my first and last pair of fur-lined, heavy-soled shoes, and I learned to go outdoors with enough body coverings to ward off frostbite, even investing in earmuffs. For those readers who enjoy trivia, the earmuffs were first designed by a Maine resident named Chester Greenwood, a fifteen-year old boy from Farmington, Maine. Greenwood patented the earmuffs in 1876 and they earned him a comfortable living for the rest of his life. Farmington still honors Greenwood and celebrates his "invention" at an annual festival.

Although we lived close enough to glimpse the aurora borealis, or northern lights, which are caused by electrical charges in the atmosphere of the far north, we never saw this phenomenon that occurs beyond the Arctic Circle and sometimes travels south to northern Maine. We did claim the distinction of being able to celebrate the sunrise before any other state because the sun rises first in this most northeasternly tip of the U.S.

Part of the Appalachian Trail actually lies in Maine, a trail that winds for 2,000 miles through fourteen states, beginning near Mount Katahdin in northern Maine and ending at Springer Mountain in Georgia. Because of steep climbs and wild woods, the Maine climb of the Appalachian Trails is reputed to be one of the most challenging trails for seasoned hikers. Hikers and naturalists love Maine's natural beauty. At one time, John D. Rockefeller, fearing that development threatened to destroy this natural beauty, purchased 11,000 acres of land and helped create Acadia National Park in Maine, laying out fifty-seven miles of roads to be used only for horse-drawn vehicles. Today, cars are still forbidden to travel those roads.

It's a human tendency to romanticize places that we've visited or where we've lived that are located quite a distance from our roots, but I find it difficult to romanticize that severe winter I lived in the northernmost part of Maine. We heated the living room with an aging oil stove, kept the kitchen warm by lighting the oven and opening its door, and almost suffered frostbite in the bedroom and bath, which had no heaters. We survived with an electric blanket, a small portable radio, a 45 rpm record player, two decks of cards, books from the local library, and a set of Tchaikovsky's symphonies. Our fare consisted mostly of pinto beans and the potatoes raised in sandy soil on local farms that produced enough plentiful crops to place them sixth in potato production in the U.S. I was nineteen years old, and despite the monotonous fare and the frosty days I spent outdoors sledding and shepherding the neighborhood children, I returned to Louisiana glowing with good health and an appreciation for warmer climes.
 
I might add that Maine has a formidable list of Who's Who poets and authors, including Sarah Orne Jewett, Stephen King, Henry Longfellow, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edward Arlington Robinson, and others.


Several years ago, I published a novel entitled The Maine Event, based in Aroostook County, Maine where I lived, and although I don't know the identity of my readers, I still sell a few copies of this book monthly and often wonder if these readers are located in the Pine Tree State—perhaps live in the cold north woods near Limestone, Maine.
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