January 22, 2018
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If you’re new to Maine, learn these things

By Sarah Smiley
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley

Summer 2018 will mark 10 years since our family arrived in Maine, making this winter our 10th. Throughout this past decade, I’ve convinced a number of people — some of them family, some of them friends — to move to Maine. Many of them arrived this summer, when the sky was blue and the sun was warm. So you can imagine how my phone has been blowing up with texts this week:

“I thought you said it rarely gets below 10 degrees.”

“Didn’t you say that people like to make the cold seem worse than it really is?”

“Remind me again why I should like the shorter days.”

All of this came after an unusually mild fall, during which no one could really complain about the weather in Maine — well, except for that wind storm in October, but that was par for the course for anyone from the South. In fact, even by Halloween, it seemed like winter might never come. Then, for the uninitiated, this past week brought a sudden and harsh introduction to northern winters.

So I’ve spent a lot of time reminding my friends and family of things I’ve learned during the nine previous winters in Maine, and today I considered doing a winter version of my summer column “Lies People Tell You at the Lake.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized people really don’t lie about preparations for winter. They are usually telling you exactly what you need to know. Often, however, we don’t listen.

Here are the things I wish I’d paid better attention to back in 2008:

Always watch the Mainers.

There is no better authority on winter than Mainers themselves, and if you watch closely, they will leave clues for how you should proceed. Dustin and I didn’t heed these unsaid warnings when were new, and we paid the (cold, frigid) price.

I still remember watching our neighbor rake his roof after the first snowfall during our first winter.

“I think the snow looks kind of pretty on the roof,” Dustin said as he peered out our window, past the icicles hanging in front of it, and sipped his coffee. “I wonder why he’d take it off?”

We watched our neighbor for several minutes with great amusement.

It was a lot less amusing when we woke up the next morning and found that it was raining — inside our house. That’s when we learned about ice dams, and the next day, we bought a roof rake.

Also watch the Mainers to see when it’s time to put out the poles that mark the driveway for the plow (poles that I once thought were marking the route for a winter parade) or the tents for your shrubs (I have never learned any other word for these).

There is nothing wrong with getting in your pajamas at 5 p.m.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There actually is a technique to shoveling.

I’m not just talking about “bend your knees” and “don’t lift more than you can carry.” Those are important. Equally important, however, is “rake the roof and THEN shovel the walkway” and “the plow will always move the snow back onto the bottom of your driveway.” I’ve shoveled our walkway twice as much as anything else thanks to the roof rake and my inability to learn the proper order of shoveling.

Then two of my kids grew into teenagers, and I never shoveled again.

Get teenagers to shovel your walkway.

According to Dustin, you should always have a plan for shoveling, and you need to work that plan into your morning routine. For instance, if you have an hour of shoveling to do, you need to set the alarm for one hour earlier in the morning.

That’s Dustin’s plan.

A good, solid plan for me is to always have the teenagers do it.

Life goes on after the storm.

When we lived in Florida, a decent hurricane could shut down the city for days or weeks at a time. This is why Floridians rush out to buy bread and water before a storm. And forget about getting gas or driving until flooded roads have cleared.

These tendencies stayed with me for a while in Maine (as did my habit of checking the grass for snakes). I wanted to batten down the hatches before the first inch of snow fell, and for all I knew, we’d just shelter in place from then until spring arrived.

When a new friend asked me to dinner and I declined because of the 2 inches of snow on my driveway, she helpfully said, “This state doesn’t shut down for a storm. You’re going to need to learn how to drive in snow.”

Always carry Bean boots and slippers.

No, Maine doesn’t stop for snow. Indeed, Maine will even host its most formal parties — where women are expected to wear dresses and heels — in the middle of winter. Which is why you quickly learn to have a pair of slippers and Bean boots in your car. You’ll use these to run through the parking lot or to keep your muddy boots off your host’s floors.

All until you can get back home and into your pajamas.

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