When two or more Mainers meet on the street on this Labor Day weekend, the conversation is more likely to turn to the swift passage of summer than it is to lavish praise for the social and economic achievements of the American worker.
No surprise there. Few of us run around trying to impress one another by conveying how much — or how little — we know about the contributions of the labor force to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the republic. That’s just not how we roll.
Come Labor Day here in Maine, where tourism is big business, many natives who live in or near tourist enclaves are inclined to kick back, put up their feet and contemplate which ritual they enjoy more: seeing the tourists arrive or watching them depart. While the pessimists among us might harbor a vague feeling of approaching doom as summer begins to wind down and the paying customers head south, the optimists drink a toast to the two most glorious months of our calendar year — September and October — staring us dead in the eye, with little competition for their favors.
With Labor Day at hand, the pessimist expects the usual hike in gasoline prices and knows that the inevitable annual heating-oil price increase is only as far away as the first cold snap. The optimist understands the drill, as well. But liberated by the opening of school and other forces that combine to steer the tourists toward the Kittery bridge in droves, he figures such aggravations are a small price to pay for freedom.
A vision of a deep dark winter several months down the road, when the Saturday night entertainment might consist of listening to the oil burner in your basement click on to run for hours on end, is but a minor irritant when the hordes are gone and you can reclaim the highways and a slower pace of life, or have the hike up Mount Katahdin on an invigorating fall day pretty much to yourself.
Lord knows, we love our tourists. We have met them, and they are us. Still, when there’s no one but you and a stray villager or two to watch the waves break at Thunder Hole or hear the gulls screech over Schoodic, life is truly the way it should be.
It is, as the old song has it, “a long, long way from May to December.” And the days sure do grow short when you reach September. No lie there. But what great days they are. We rejoice in the cloudless and bug-free days of temperate September and golden October — days that are so sadly sweet and nostalgic as to render any true son or daughter of Maine homesick, even when they are home.
The tasks awaiting Joe Average on his nagging “Honey Do” list — caulking the windows, say, or ridding the roof gutters of debris before freeze-up — tilt more toward pleasure than chore. Golf balls hit in the oxygen-rich crisp autumn air tend to unerringly find the middle of the fairway, whereas in the doldrums of July and August they would have been a cinch to wind up deep in the nearest available frog pond. Little kids skip merrily to school, taking pains to leave no puddle of water un-jumped in and pausing only to pet the mandatory stray dog that trolls the schoolyard in search of affection.
Soon, the harvest will be at hand, the frost will be upon the pumpkin and the upland hills will come alive with colors so vivid that to gaze at them too long will be to court serious eye damage. Snappy mornings will herald days that feature the familiar aroma of burning leaves before fading gracefully into twilight. Before long, the ski and snowmobile crowds will arrive to jump-start the economy out of its temporary somnolence, and the winter version of the valued tourism cycle will be under way.
In the meantime, now is a swell time to rejoice in our good luck that is tied to the exodus of our summer guests. While they head for home vowing to find a way to live here permanently, we already do. For that — as well as for the many contributions of the American worker — we count our blessings on this Labor Day weekend.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.