This year the exodus came early following several years of winter gloom, doom and shades of gray. A decade of aching bones and joints and the old, oft-repeated assurance that our beloved Maine is a distinct four-season paradise seemed extinct.
Mud and slush with lack of snow joined to make winters unbearable. Gusty winds with lack of cover combined to antagonize wildlife that wandered about, wondering whether to hibernate or not. Pipes froze and burst like hot dogs over an open fire. Old wintry scenes formerly depicting an incredible wonderland were hardly admired — being regarded as fabrications.
No wonder there was a transformation of native Mainers into snowbirds and migration to the biggest sand bar of all, where sand fleas, gators and scorpions waited to administer their first bite of the season. Or to emerald oceans where jellyfish wait with stingers cocked and sharks with halitosis ogle about.
An old-fashioned winter has arrived, blasting in at full throttle from the frigid Canadian tundra and sneaking up from America’s heartland to join in fashioning natural beauty not seen here for 10 years or more. The only weathermen that seemed to know in advance of a true winter’s arrival were the critters and creatures inhabiting our woods and fields and skies.
Squirrels were puffed up and prepared, having hidden away more extra rations, including tulip bulbs, than ever before. Pheasants and wild turkeys waddled like ducks, appearing as if someone had blown them up with a pump to rotund proportions, knowing they were in for some lean times. Birds clustering around feeders before departure for southern holidays seemed jumpy and nervous as December arrived, and they vanished all at once a few days before the first Arctic blast, departing so packed together that they brought down two airliners along the way.
Remaining people were ready for what we got. It was as if a crier had traveled town to town heralding this beautiful winter wonderland. Deprived of soft, light, grainy and fluffy deposits in depths measured in feet rather than inches for years, it suddenly was here, and the response was immediate and automatic. Snowmobiles and four-wheelers purred and hummed or clanked and backfired, depending on their vintage. Plows on personal pickups, some with sand-throwing capabilities scurried everywhere, obviously delighted in seeking work — having been unemployed for ages. Their big brothers rumbled the wrong way down side streets, driven by expert plowmen yearning for a little overtime for at least a decade. Later, meeting in diners and watering holes the stories of the storms were quickly being expanded to reach legendary status.
As the countryside awoke there was a transition to an entirely new environment. Recreational gifts received on Christmases past appeared after waiting patiently so long. This included snowshoes, toboggans, sleds and skis. Suitable clothing came out of hiding, while required garments and accessories such as long-johns, ski pants, puffy gloves, scarves, tinted glasses and woolly lined boots smelling of moth balls appeared. Even a few earmuffs were worn around Farmington, acknowledging their place of origin.
As another storm targeted Maine, the atmosphere was exhilarating and even contagious. Blaze orange tennis balls adorned antennae, and the state filled with people from afar. Joy, happiness, laughter and gratitude rippled from neighboring Quebec to New Brunswick and New Hampshire cars, vans and trucks filled our turnpikes, lugging paraphernalia to the mountains and shores in an endless caravan.
A boost in our stagnant economy was evident immediately as the snow flew — appreciated especially due to the way it came about. Nobody seemed jealous of their neighbors already grazing in Florida.
A beautiful transition back to years thought gone forever had taken place, and once again Maine became a place to be. Now the soft whisper of wind in pines had returned, not crackling ice and snapping branches. Even rare Arctic sea smoke and incredible northern lights in green and pink hues beckoned for us to stay home.
Who cares to lower handicaps a stroke or two or get caught in a Georgia speed trap? Let’s spend our winter rations at home and help get our economy back on track.
Dr. Richard C. Dillihunt is a retired general, vascular and transplant surgeon who lives in Portland.