You'll find it in Township 6, Range 15

Very far up in the Maine woods, well beyond the chains that keep the timberland logging roads private, there is a relatively small body of water named Loon Lake. Maine has at least four recognized Loon Lakes, plus all manner of Loon Islands, Brooks, Ledges, Ponds, and Etceteras. The one I mention now is not far this side of the Canadian boundary, the source of Loon Lake Stream, which flows into Caucomagomac Lake and then into Chesuncook Lake and the west branch of the Penobscot River. Now you know where you are.

The subject this morning is pickup trucks.

My friend Robert Bartlett has a camp at Loon Lake. And when Bill and I (Bill being my alternate incipient grandfather) began going into the woods in July, we would drive from our camp up to Bob's to inspect the situation and make sure it conformed to the rigorous requirements of wilderness comfort and convenience. Bob kept his camp acceptable, and out front by the access road he had a game pole. His game pole was more than a pole. It was a heavy trellis where, in the hunting season, the trophies of the chase would be temporarily exposed for safe keeping until camp was broken. Bill and I were there only in fishing season, so a game pole was not important to us.

We did keep pickup trucks when we lived on our farm, but that was for farm purposes. The pickup I kept afterward was altogether a pleasure vehicle, meant to be used once each year when Bill and I put in the canoe, our camping gear, and our flyrods and took off in idle merriment to entertain the noble trout. Then came our final outing and we were resigned to our sadness that the years were upon us and the trout needn't expect us. That year I had a new Toyota pickup, and it didn't have a scratch. Everybody admired it as we went by. As usual, we made a visit to Bob's camp at Loon Lake.

Until we went to Europe and bought a VW Beetle at Wolfsburg, that Toyota was the only foreign-made vehicle I owned, and I can say it was a fine one. Mechanically, it needed no attention while I owned it, and as a used vehicle I got more money for it than I paid new. That pickup had just one fault.

When I got back from the woods, I saw that one of my bumper steps had lost its bolts and had fallen off. Except if you wanted to step up to the body of the truck on the right side, this didn't impair the usefulness. And as I didn't know where the lost bumper step was, I ignored the lack and before the summer was spent I put a for-sale notice in the local newspaper. Immediately, the resale value of a Toyota pickup truck was demonstrated, and of the 25 buyers for my truck, I selected the gentleman who was quickest about getting out his checkbook.

To him I said, "The only negative thing is the missing bumper step. Go to a place that has used parts, and I'll pay for a bumper step." He came again in maybe two weeks to tell me he'd been to all the car-stripping places and couldn't find one. The dealer said that model wasn't made anymore, and a new bumper step was not available. He said, "I'll keep looking."

I never saw him again, and then I got a Christmas card from Bob Bartlett. Bob wrote under the printed greeting, "Your bumper step is fastened to the game-pole up at camp."

So that's where I lost it, and that's where it is. The next summer I got this letter: "You don't know me, but I married the daughter of the man who bought your Toyota pickup. Now we have your truck here on our farm, and it is going every day and in perfect shape except for the bumper step." That letter was from southern Ohio. I wrote back immediately, saying the missing bumper step was in Township 6 Range15, west of the Easter Line of the state, awaiting his will and pleasure. He hadn't come for it at latest word from Bob.

NOW, in the meantime I've tabulated an interesting statistic. I arise each morning and start my cereal. I alternate: oatmeal one morning, Cream of Wheat the next. Sometimes I put a few raisins in the oatmeal, but I don't care for raisins in Cream of Wheat. I like my morning porridge, but my wife doesn't, so I start just enough for myself.

And when I have my porridge cooking, I go sit by the window and watch the commuter traffic pass until my wife says the muffins are warmed. And a year ago I noticed that of 10 vehicles that passed, five to six would be pick-ups. Red was the most frequent color. The reason I surveyed by tens is the traffic light up the street. It lets an average 10 vehicles pass and then turns red. You can see that I've conducted my impartial, unbiased survey in good form and my conclusions must accordingly be accurate and reliable.

But about the time 1999 arrived, I was disturbed to find that my summary was incorrect. The number of pickup trucks has declined. I even noticed that of the pickups I did count, green predominated.

I have no way of knowing what has caused this reduction in pickups. A meticulous pollster, I offer no conclusion and am not about to get into an argument over this. I make that clear. I simply say that this morning I counted 23 vehicles (two green lights) and only two were pickups, one yellow. There you have it, and I don't know what to do about it. I think I'll be unhappy in a land without pickup trucks. Perhaps I should stop eating so much oatmeal.

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