Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fire in the sky

In tiny towns, change comes slowly, usually driven by rumor, gossip, and acrimony. Such it is in our tiny town that boasts a whopping population of 400 people, more or less and depending on who is counting. Our little community, a scant ten miles west of Caribou, New England’s coldest town according to a Boston Globe story, sits on the easternmost edge of Maine’s Great North woods. In fact, between our house and the Canadian border about 120 miles west, only one paved road, Route 11, runs north to Eagle Lake and eventually to Fort Kent where Route 1 begins. The rest are dirt, mostly traveled by logging trucks, and at this time of year, hunters. 

The road through the woods in fall.
Most of the people who live in our little community are from original families, set in their ways, sure that progress is an evil, quick to pick a fight, and long to hold a grudge.  It makes for interesting politics and social interaction.  We’ve also had more than our share of political intrigue, including police officers at the door of town meeting to keep fisticuffs at minimum, misappropriated funds, broken laws, and a reliance on the age-old phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  What was good enough fifty or a hundred years ago remains good enough today even when it isn’t.

Like many tiny towns in the great expanse of forest and fields north of Bangor, which most people consider far enough north, our little burg faces the challenge of a dwindling and aging population and resources.  We have not yet reached the stage of considering deorganization, as has Bancroft, population of sixty, which made the fateful decision last summer, and after 126 years as a community, joined the vast reaches of northern Maine’s Unorganized Territories. Nor are we faced with that decision and process as has been the case for nearby Oxbow Plantation, whose 53 residents voted this week to give up its township and rely instead on the county and state for essential services.  But the reality of outward migration from the once thriving woods and potato lands of northern Maine is in fact very real, and often deorganization is considered a possibility. 

We may be saved from such a fate because in recent years, Amish families have found Aroostook County, bought land, set up communities, and built lives.  Easton, Fort Fairfield, Smyrna, Sherman, and others all have attracted Amish communities because of tillable land and relatively low sales prices.  Our tiny town had until recently been ignored. But within the last two or three months, there is new activity. Several hundred acres of land have been sold to the Amish, with varying reports on how many families have chosen our community.  Rumors and gossip run rampant, but we, with a new house having been built only about a mile away – neighbors by County definition – we are watching and waiting to see, welcoming the possibility that the abandoned or only partially used acres of potato fields will be put to productive use.  

We can’t help but wonder, however, how Amish families will sit in a community that so clearly loves a good fight about what goes on in their town. As for us, we have no complaints, and in fact, feel fairly confident that the presence of buggies and horses instead of logging trucks and behemoth potato harvesters and grain combines might just be better.  These are good things to ponder as the days shorten and the cold strengthens.

Snow in Aroostook
We have hit the time of year when there is no real demarcation of when day becomes night. One moment the western sky is aflame with setting sun and the next, it is dark.  Night falls heavily here in winter, not lingering like it does in summer, sometimes as late as ten o’clock before it is really dark.  The cold has also moved in and it has been snowing lightly all day, sudden squalls sweeping sideways across the landscape and sugaring everything white.  Temperatures have also dropped from an unseasonably warm range of high forties down into the twenties or slightly below.  We pull the shades early, blocking the cold and dark, and settle in for television or reading.  The dogs are content to snore in their chairs, covered with fleeces, paws twitching in dreams, until I make my way to bed and then all three join me.

Dogs in bed
Thanksgiving was wonderful, but almost was the holiday that wasn’t.  Becka, our youngest “daughter” and her husband and the two grands were set to come, but her grandmother, now in her 90s, took a turn for the worse and Becka chose to stay there, just in case.  We gave her the freedom to do that, reorganizing plans, suggesting that over Christmas break might be better.  The kids will be out of school; we can take them skiing, sledding, all the fun winter things of Aroostook. 

We did find ourselves a bit bewildered about what we would do with an eighteen-pound turkey and a mountain of food, and then decided to invite friends Sigrid and Kurt and their two boys, who I was sure would make a big dent not only in dinner but especially the three pies. It was a good choice and a lovely afternoon. Sigrid is Kasey’s best friend, and I am grateful Kasey shared her with me.  I like Sigrid’s comfortable ease and her integrity, and Kurt, well, Kurt is a Mainer and a timber-frame builder, and he and Bruce get along just fine.  It is a wonderful time in life when your children and your children’s friends become your friends.

Hunting season is over, and the parade of unsuccessful heater hunters that have driven slowly up and down our road, daily, for the past month, are gone.  If we needed proof, this morning two does with this year’s fawns browsed the dry grass poking through the dusting of snow at 10 in the morning.  Of course, Monty spotted them and all three dogs raced up and down one side of the fence, barking like fools, anxious to chase the intruders.  The deer looked up, flicked their ears and went back to browsing. If that were not proof enough, when we brought the dogs inside, they had barely settled in their chairs when a doe loped lazily across the front yard, and Monty raised the alarm.  Moments later, a yearling fawn followed, unfazed by the hounds of hell warning us of danger with their cacophony of barking. Apparently, the pair had been grazing the windfalls beneath the hundred-year-old apple on the north side of the house, and then moved on to the few apples still hanging on the tree at the edge of the road. When sated, they melted leisurely into the woods and were gone.

Vanilla Cardamom Lip Balm, top; and Sweet Floral Lotion below.
I have spent the bulk of the long weekend finishing product for the NMCC craft fair next Wednesday.  As Bruce grumbles whenever he comes in the back door, the house smells of “stinky stuff.”  Lavender and rosemary, jasmine and sandalwood. I have mineral baths, and herbal bath bags, vanilla cardamom lip balm, and sweet orange body wash, floral hand and body lotion, and moth repellent sachets.  This venture also marks the beginning of a long held dream: to grow herbs, which I already do, and to make safe, healthy products with those herbs and special oils.  While I haven’t reached the point of growing all the ingredients I need, there are some: mint, comfrey, raspberry leaves, lady’s bedstraw that find their way into the products I am making.  I find real peace in the careful measuring and mixing that it takes to make good product.  It is much like cooking, which I truly love to do, and from that love, Northwoods Herbs and Botanicals has been born.  More on that in future.  

For now, we move closer to winter.  There is the addressing of Christmas cards and making wreaths with Bruce and our new neighbors.  There are trays of cookies to be made and breads to be baked for Christmas gifts for our neighbors and friends, and to scent the house.  With hunting season over, it is again safe to roam the woods and next weekend, we will take the dogs and tramp the woods to try to find an acceptable tree.  When I took the dogs out this evening after supper, feather-pillow snowflakes were falling steadily, whispering as it piled up on the ground. I love that quiet, far from the madding world, and the quiet adventure of a ramble for a tree. That ties my heart to this place and makes it home like nowhere else has been, no matter rumors and gossip and acrimony. 

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