THE annual inspection of the Canadian maple foliage followed our usual roads, and as we motored pleasantly up Maine's Route 11, not too far beyond the last sight of Mount Katahdin, we ran into a squall and got two inches of snow. The first snow of our new Maine winter didn't last. It did linger on the softwood trees and gave a winter wonderland touch to the autumn colors of the maples, birches, poplars, and oaks.
The hardwood colors were subdued this time, lacking the brilliant reds, and the four days we selected were mostly overcast. It takes the sun to make the spectacle. The melting snow made the highway soupy, and our little sedan was drenched every time we met a truck with fifty cords of tree-length pulpwood headed for the mill. This caused our foliage viewing to be furtive, for the eyes must return quickly to the road - in that country nobody needs messing around with a pulpwood truck.
You'll be glad to know we paused on purpose at Poh'en'egamook to visit briefly with Gabriel Chamberland. He is the good-looking Canadian customs officer who waved us in a year ago, not for an official inspection but because he was lonesome for somebody to chat with.
Poh'en'egamook, Qu'ebec, is a border community just across from what we Mainers call Estcourt Station, and Estcourt Station is Maine's northernmost post office, zip 04741. The post office is supplied by airplane from Portland, and sits about ten feet from M. Chamberland's customs office. We had a clipping of last year's essay here which M. Chamberland hadn't seen. It pleased him, and he telephoned to his superior to say he got mentioned in the paper. Poh'en'egamook doesn't get in the papers every day.
We arrived at Rivi'ere-du-Loup to find that M. Levesque had renovated his motel, spending a great deal of money to eliminate some of the reasons we go there. Kind of sad. He has rendered his offerings into somewhat the same as you can find in any other motel. For many years we have looked forward to supper with M. Levesque, whose dining room had charm and difference, and this time we found he had improved everything.
In our room he had placed the printed form asking us to express our thoughts if we were pleased or not, with the assurance that M. Levesque would appreciate our comments. ``Un seul d'esir bien vous servir,'' he told us, but now we realized that with extensive and expensive modernization, M. Levesque had effectively removed himself from personal attention. We had the feeling things were so much better we had nobody to talk to, and that if we left a note it would be fed into a memory bank and analyzed by an operations consultant in Montreal.
They had sophisticated equipment on the registration desk, but they had no lamb chops on the menu. And we had driven many miles for his lamb chops.
But we found things were about the same with M. Hectorine LaForge at the Motel Pr`es-du-Lac. Some three decades ago, M. LaForge made a small pond and set some overnight cabins on its edge, and now his beginning has become a big motel and his little pond a lake. A few miles down the Trans-Canada Highway from the Motel Pr`es-du-Lac is the longest covered bridge in the world, crossing the St. John River. In whimsy, M. LaForge built ``the shortest covered bridge in the world,'' over the brook that runs into his pond - or lake. Maybe ten feet. It can be driven through, but serves no purpose other than to attest that M. LaForge is worth knowing as a gentleman, scholar, and amiable innkeeper.
A year or two ago I mentioned St. Louis du Ha! Ha!, and got eight letters from readers who thought I made it up. It is a town in Qu'ebec, and well worth driving the 100 yards off the Trans-Canada to see the fall foliage vista from the post office parking lot. It costs 44 Canadian cents to mail a picture card of the postmaster's window view back to The States, and if you ask her to make the cancellation mark with care, she will do so and your friends back home will have to believe there is a St. Louis du Ha! Ha!
We brought home several packages of Oka cheese, which is hard to find in Maine, if at all, and its aroma is such that the US customs man backed up briskly when we opened a window for inspection. He told us to pass - and quickly.