A directive recently descended to gladden our regimented affairs. It said that henceforth our fire-alarm system will be inspected twice a year: once in the jonquil spring when the air conditioners are installed, and again in the golden autumn when the air conditioners are removed and sent, like Caesar's legions, into winter quarters. Information of this importance is much appreciated by residents in a last resort for the serenity of senectutany, as it spares us from overtwiddlin' our thumbs.
This time, however, the juxtaposition of two things that have nothing to do with each other suggests a deeper motive, possibly institutional hilarity. Here in Maine, as an axiom, we have hitherto had but two seasons: winter, and the Fourth of July. All I knew until now about air conditioning was to pull on my mittens each morning before I started breakfast.
However, I am happy to report this summation of my reflections about telling time in Maine. To begin, when in late July you see the first gleam of goldenrod yellow in the field, it is customary to clap your hands and cry, "Aha! Six weeks to frost!"
It is true, and always was true. In exactly six weeks you can take off your first section of choice goldenrod honey, and there will be rime on the beehive cover. It is one of the several magnificent days of a Maine year, and the pan of hot biscuits that evening with new honey has not, until now, caused anybody to check the fire alarms.
A Maine day, from the Popham Thanksgiving until the FDR improvements, extended from "kin-see" to "kaint-see," and then you went to bed again. That is, you were expected to be up and at 'em as soon as the orient sun flicked faintly in the east, when you could see, and you'd continue to labor with zeal and enthusiasm until, descending in the west, the sun ran out of juice. After dark, you lit a lamp and picked over dry beans.
Some years back, Raytheon decided to have a plant here in Maine, and engaged an expensive research service to find the right community for their business. Before a decision was made, a number of areas had been closely rated, and Raytheon's choice was the city of Lewiston, which had the best overall rating as to schools, taxes, recreation, churches, drainage, altitude, and all else that goes with a computerized conclusion.
But the surveys showed an interesting statistic. Maine had the highest rate of industrial absenteeism in the nation, except it came only in the last week in May and the first week in November. The out-of-state analysts, including Raytheon's, found no way to account for this. At those times, every year, nobody came to work; industrial activity in Maine dropped to nil. Why?
Simple enough: Maine's year, with two seasons of weather, is also divided into two seasons for recreation and industry as unlike as fire alarms and air conditioning. These are when the law is on and when the law is off. The ice goes out late in May, and the angling law is off. Deer season opens Nov. 1, and the law is no longer on. How could Raytheon improve on that?
I hasten to add, in this codicil to compiled statistics, that although Mainers are zealously upright about obeying laws, it is not unusual to hear a rifle crack in the late hours or to find a gentleman bringing home a mess of trout from closed waters. In Maine, the word "poach" is seldom heard, and the practice is deplored, but it's still fairly easy to find venison chops in a domestic freezer labeled "lamb for stew."
When poaching is employed, it is usually in a family where beefsteak, beefsteak, beefsteak, meal after meal, has palled and Daddy wants the children to have variety in their diets. Besides, it's a bother to the game warden to come around in August, when the law is on, and investigate something like that, which is none of his business.
Besides, the judicial system is not geared to fish and game. One time Gil Bowden took a shot, and missed, at Lizzie Creamer, who was gathering mushrooms in a brown paper bag. The wardens brought him before the beak in Dover Foxcroft for careless safety precautions. They said he might just-swell have hurt the old lady. In his own defense, he thought Lizzie was a deer. Since this was when the law was on, folks unacquainted with Maine customs might suppose this was prime factious, but Judge Osgood merely said, "Eyah, Gilly-boy, buck or doe?"
Gil said, "Oh, no, Jim, I don't take no does." This proved Gil to be honest and upright.
ONE July when Bill and I were on our annual Grandfathers' Retreat to Cauc Lake, we invited all our friends in the area to a trout chowder the following evensong. These would be timberland folks, the game warden, a couple of forest rangers, and some lumber-camp clerks, a goodly company. Such an invitation entails a supply of brook trout, on which the law was off at that time of year.
So the morning of the feast, Bill and I put the canoe in the Scott Brook Deadwater, and shortly had 23 volunteer trout for our purpose. "We got enough," I said, "and I think our daily limit is 12 trout apiece anyway. It depends on what county we're in, but I don't know if this is Piscataquis or Penobscot. Better not risk any more."
As we were taking out our canoe, the warden walks up. "Nice batch of trout," he says. "Just checking to see if you've got enough for tonight's chowder." He didn't check our limit, so I've never known what county Scott Brook Deadwater is in. You look it up. The law goes on brook trout Aug. 15, just the time to reset the smoke detector.