Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lonely Maine Winter

Lovell after freezing rain
Maine can be dreary in February and March, especially for women. Ladies’ Delight Hill in Lovell, Maine “was not named for the view. Nor because it made a delightful walk for ladies to take on a Sunday afternoon or because it was covered with wonderful blueberries . . . [It was] named in sarcasm because women who tried to live in two houses built there could not endure the loneliness and isolation.” So says a history of Lovell called Blueberries and Pusley Weed.

View from my office
The hill isn’t far from me as I type this. In summer I can hear loons crying on Lower Bay of Kezar Lake on which Ladies’ Delight Hill borders, but in winter there’s not much happening over there. The road is plowed and some of the waterfront cottages are used year-’round. Caretakers go in and shovel roofs during snowy winters like this one.

I remember shoveling one over there forty years ago. Park on the road, climb over the snowbank, trudge through deep snow lugging a ladder and a shovel, and get on the roof. It was so quiet the only sound was the “whoomp!” of a big cube of snow I carved out dropping into deep snow on the ground below. I would think of those lonely ladies who lived here generations ago. Women need the company of others more than men do. They need to talk and have someone listen. Lovell Village wasn’t far away but there was no bridge over the Narrows back then. One had to take a ferry in summer or walk over ice in winter to get there.

Stone wall behind my house in Lovell
A hundred fifty years ago this part of Maine wasn’t “Vacationland.” There were no summer cottages on the lakes and ponds or on the hillsides either. There weren’t many trees because farmers had cleared them off, pulled the stumps, and rolled stones to the borders of their property to make the now-gray stone walls around which trees have grown up again in most places. Old timers told me you could travel up Route 5 all the way through town and see Kezar Lake constantly in view because it was treeless clear to the New Hampshire border in the west.

Maple Ridge Road in Harrison last weekend
Though Lovell is nearly all forested again, parts of western Maine still look like they did back then. Last Sunday I drove to Harrison along the Maple Ridge Road. It goes for over a mile with long fields on both sides. It starts just off Route 117 just beyond Crystal Lake and rises through woods to the height of land where it opens up. Fields slope off from the road but not steeply. Big old wooden farmhouses still stand along the road, but the snowbanks were so high I couldn’t easily see over them from my car and I wished I’d taken my pickup instead.

Maple Ridge Road looking west
Those big homes would have been built in the early 1800s, a generation or two after the first settlers cleared their tillable land, sold crops for cash, and their children or grandchildren became prosperous enough to build them. A couple are now horse farms which may bring in a little money here and there, but are probably hobbies for the most part. There was so much snow on the ground I couldn’t tell what the other farms were used for but it was nice to see long fields with unbroken snow cover surrounding them. 

Maple Ridge Road Schoolhouse
Some areas had become overgrown since I was there about thirty years ago. The old wooden schoolhouse was still standing but it’ll need work if it’s going to last another thirty years. I’d liked to have looked in the windows but didn’t want to trudge through deep snow to go up to them. Across the street I could see an old windmill still standing in what had been a field but is now overtaken by new growth. There were the faint outlines of old building further back in the bare trees. I would like to have explored that but the deep snow prevented.

Separate doors for boys and girls
I can only imagine what it took two centuries ago to travel any distance during a winter like this one. It would have been an all-day affair: feed and water the livestock first; hook up the horse to the sleigh; break the runners out of the ice; head to the store or to a neighbor’s farm across town all bundled up and shivering on the seat. Then head home again; unhitch the horse; wipe it down; put it back in its stall; feed and water the livestock again; then go into the house and stoke up the stoves to warm things up — all that just so you could pick up some necessary items and the wives could visit.

Woman ice fishing alone last weekend


Anonymous said...

I had ancestors up there in the mid 1800’s. They farmed in the spring and summer, logged in the winter. Like a lot of others from Maine during that time, they moved down to Boston and other parts of the country looking for an easier way of life when things got too tough. It was hard living up there then and still is now. It’s beautiful country though and I visit every chance I get. Problem is though, every time I visit, it gets harder and harder to leave. Sooner or later, I’ll come up and stay for good.

rhondajo said...

Beautiful photos and beautiful view from your office!

CaptDMO said...

I'd LIKE to think someone ELSE was stoking up the stove/fire place, and getting something warm to consume heated, while the livestock and rig were being tended to.
Break the runners from the ice?
Those "runners" don't work so good without SOMEBODY packing down the snow with ...."a roller (or simply high traffic near town) or something" first. I'm guessing Monday was best for "shopping", after MOST folks spent Sunday "congragatin'" to the church, and trampling down the snow.
Apparently, that sledge hammer was a much more diverse (and lighter) tool to have around for whacking the frozen runners, and other stuff, than the "commander" sittin' at the end of the barn ever since construction of the barn/house was done needing adjusting.(Eric Sloan)
But which came first....the foot warmer filled with embers for underneath the blankets wrapping up the passengers in the back, or adding a long handle to it for "bed warming"?
I wonder how "smart" folks initially felt with those LONG covered bridges when it was time to cross them with a horse drawn sleigh! (Now you know what to do with that "extra" snow!)