Wednesday, January 3, 2018

WINTER

Friends think I’m stretching the truth when I say that I lived in a place where the temps dipped to 52 degrees below zero in January 1954. This morning, people in that place — Limestone, Maine — are experiencing only thirteen below zero, but their winter won’t be over until May. I know because in May of the year I experienced the 52 below zero temp, I went outdoors wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Sub-zero weather lasted long enough for me to memorize most of the quatrains of the Rubaiyat and listen to recordings of Tchaikovsky’s music so much that I could hear the music reverberating in my mind even when the little 45 rpm record player wasn’t turned on. What became apparent to me is the same thing that became apparent to me while living in the desert province of Khuzestan in Iran — people who live in extreme climates had better develop a gracious plenty of indoor pursuits. 


Right now, temps in Louisiana have been in the 20’s, and winds from the north bluster over the swamps at 17 and 18 mph. We laugh when someone kids us about returning to the South from The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee to get warm. Temps at Sewanee hover around 7 and 8 degrees, and I receive e-mails from friends on The Mountain complaining about the hard winter. When I read them, I cite my famous statement about living in Maine during the winter that temps dropped to 52 below zero. It’s almost as good a line as the one that an old-timer tells school children about trudging a mile or so to school in the snow back when…

Many authors based, and still base, their writing habitats in wintry Maine: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edna St.Vincent Millay, E. B. White, Stephen King…Sarah Orne Jewett remains among my favorite Maine writers. I didn’t visit her home place in South Berwick, Maine because I was rather isolated in northern Maine, but I discovered The Country of the Pointed Firs, a series of sketches written about New England life, in a Limestone library while I lived in Aroostook County, Maine. In this volume, Jewett talks about the “unchanged shores of the pointed firs, the same quaintness of the village with its elaborate conventionalities, all that mixture of remoteness, and childish certainty of being the center of civilization of which her affectionate dreams had told…”

Jewett lends a kind of romanticism to the stark winter I spent in Limestone; however, truth told, an old oil stove and an electric blanket were my only defenses against the wind that whistled under the eaves of a two-story farmhouse in which we lived. No heat in the bathroom; no heat in the bedroom; no garage to keep the block from breaking in an ailing Mercury station wagon; meatless meals and much beans-and-potatoes fare; no washer/dryer and lots of washing clothes in the bathtub of cold water. I have a long list of discomforts, but oddly enough, over forty years later, I began to write a novel entitled The Maine Event and last year, I had the novel recorded by a professional reader and put on Audible. As I listen to it, I find that the descriptions of the area and the primal forces of nature loom larger than the story, but, no matter, I enjoyed relating the memories of that winter of the 50’s.

I lived near descendants of Acadians who settled in the St. John River Valley after being exiled from their homeland by the British. Their homeland Acadia had been renamed Nova Scotia by the British in 1710 which ended one hundred years of war between the British and French in North America. New France consisted of the colonies of Acadia, Louisiana, and Canada (Quebec). The St. John River had been a prime communication route between Port Royale, Acadia, a port from which some of my ancestors departed! I had no knowledge of this family association when I lived in Maine or perhaps I’d have been more interested in the history of Aroostook County. In my readings today about this history in Land of Promise edited by Anna Fields McGrath, I discovered an arresting sentence: “The Acadians remained dominant due to their very large families, economic control, and stubborn adherence to oral traditions and melancholic memories…” And why was I not surprised at that description of the Acadians?!

Meanwhile, the temps have risen to 31 degrees in New Iberia, Louisiana and dropped to 9 degrees below zero in Limestone, Maine, and I am happy to be reminiscing rather than living in the harsh “Land of Promise” first inhabited by humans 11,000 years ago.




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