Cooler temperatures mean stunning views of New England’s landscape for travelers. For natives, it’s a stark reminder that winter’s long, dark nights are slowly closing in on early mornings and evenings here. Many Mainers will turn into lazy, sleepy creatures waiting for the spring big melt.
Much like a salamander on a cold fall morning walking slo-mo across the dooryard looking for a good loft of leaves to hide under—Mainers are hiding under tacky sweaters and various layers of plaid. Soon we will be getting up at night to stuff stoves with firewood and scuff back to bed with heavy moccasins on tired feet.
Everything in Maine seems to change so quickly. It sneaks up on us. Or maybe we put things off and don’t want to admit the first real nip in the air. Then there are those who embrace the freezing temperatures, ice storms and terrible drivers with both confidence and humor. We say SNOW in public to see mangled faces turn and glare in grocery store check-out lines. That’s a good way to get on a hit list in these parts.
Before the leaves drop great masses of cones weigh down the very tops of spruce this year. Green acorns, beach and hazel nuts ripen too. Apples drop and litter the roadsides.
Sometimes we pick wild apples for the animals and bring them home. Grain bags and 5-gallon pails are always good to have kicking around. This year seems to be a bumper crop with yellow, red and green fruits ready to snap off the very branches which gave them life. I even saw hazelnuts with five to eight tiny clumped nuts clustered together when it only ought to be two on three different trees. That is the goal of all living things is to spread their seeds and create another generation.
Squirrels stash nuts in holes mapped out along forest floors. Green leaves turn to blaze orange, red, and yellow then drop as wind and time tug at them. First to show in the Maine woods are maples. They stand out more than a sexy drag queen walking like a high fashion model down the Maine State House during a referendum vote over peanut butter in classrooms. It’s the best time to mark them for tapping in the spring. Poplar leaves quiver and twist in the wind making fast work of shedding the deep yellow, cupped leaves. In other parts, people call them Aspens. That word makes me think of ski bunnies from away.
After the blaze orange, brilliant red and yellows, comes the pale yellow of ash. Their pinnately-compound leaves look like ferns. Each leaf is actually a stalk with five to eleven leaflets lined up on either side. Less showy oak and beech lose their deep green as they brown. Oak are fast to fall all at once while the beech cling to their branches. Some beach leaves make it all winter long, only to fall in spring as the buds push out new leaves in their place.
A few weeks pass to reveal naked branches. Wind and rain play a great deal in how fast they are shed. The hardwoods look dead. The ground turns brown and laced with frost each morning. A walk through the forest can be herd from all around. Crinkle, snap, crunch—”Here I come Bucky!”. Only a stiff breeze or a light blanket of wet, soft snow can keep a hunter from disturbing the peace of deer in rut.
Deep evergreens take over the landscape seen through thin branches and stark against the stunning contrast of the first snow. On still nights, light snow lays so carefully on spruce needles and umbels of Queen-Annes-lace.
Then we are stuck there. Everything slows down. Before we know it we are deep in the sleepy months of winter. Just like that we are cloaked by hours and hours of darkness by night and the brightest white of snow beaming off wet roadways during the ever-shorter days.
Many Mainers rush to the grocery store each time a storm is forecasted. By rush, I mean 20mph because it might creep up under their car without them noticing it. Old ladies with their Wonder bread, 1% milk and cat food shamble aimlessly and confused down isles of cereal boxes colorful as the foliage was only weeks ago. Young men with beer, bacon and chips dart past them.
Those of us with true grit simply ride it out with amusement and a sense of eventuality. With milk to squeeze, dilly beans canned, deer in the freezer and fresh clucking chicken ready to pluck and roast. It’s all good. The gas is topped off in rusty plow trucks. Plows sit ready to hitch on. Snow shovels await under standby in the backs of sheds behind pool noodles and rakes.
I love to plow with my husband. He drives and I hit the buttons on the remote. It’s an old Ford with just enough life left to push snow, drag trees out of the woods with a strong strap, and rig with a water pod all summer to water livestock and gardens up in the barnyard.
The best we can do is to enjoy it for what it is. Build forts and snowman with the kids and slide down the hills. Make hot chocolate and tea in the afternoons. Or for those of us with a caffeine addiction, a stiff cup of coffee.
Driving is a nightmare. Slippery roads full of terrible drivers to avoid. Half the state has bald tires and old cars. College students in their four-wheel-drives think they are safe but discount for their lack of skills.
Plow trucks and tow trucks make their living scraping and flashing lights along the roads. Chipmunks and toads sleep through it all.
Clear nights dip low enough to freeze your nose hair and numb your ears in minutes. Cheeks are rosy and and toes toast by wood stoves. Kids who think they’re tough and cool prance around in pants full of intentionally-placed holes and thin leggings. No gloves or hats. They try not to shiver while the bus runs late. They won’t let on they are too foolish to dress for the wether.
Snow muffles the sound at night while the state sleeps. Without any real big cities in the woods of Maine the Milky Way is a foggy, bedazzled belt across the night sky. Breath bellows out in great, thick clouds too thick to see through. We remember winter is beautiful and worth the trouble. Some of us do any way.
That’s what drags on for most folks up here. Mainers moan and cry over the cold. Shoveling, plowing, dressing up only to dress down again. These things annoy and even control the lives of most Mainers here. But I do not hibernate under my afghan blanket on my well-loved couch, oh no. I stomp around in the snow. Stare at the sky. It’s just another part of life here. It thins out the wimps and keeps the tourists in the cities.
Holidays help the haters wade through the months of winter. November with turkeys to road. December with its giant trees to drag inside. January starts a new year but nothing outside changes. February is a month of love when surly many babies are conceived while we are shacked up riding out the very coldest month.
March is lucky and April is when most of the snow melts off. Sometime in between a giant bunny hides eggs of all things. We do nice things for our mothers than our fathers because the calendar reminds us to. Then mud season finally gives way to spring. We married during mud season. I wore boots, Carhartt overalls and a charming white veil through the dooryard, down the driveway to stand on a bald ledge near the little farm pond.