Terms of endearment (and other gibberish)

Twas nearly 40 Valentine’s Days ago when Tom first called me his little boogma. I was so thrilled to be anyone’s boogma, especially his, that I loved the sound of it. I didn’t even stop to think how he might have come up with such a label but, instead, took it as another sign from the universe that he was my soul mate. I had a brand new word that no other guy was saying to no other girl—one he had concocted on a whim because nothing else fit! In my mind and heart, he was already a part of my family.

Wikipedia calls this neologism—making up a word that only holds meaning for the person who first utters it, and for those who later come to understand its usage. Medical references claim it’s psychotic, probably the result of brain damage or mental imbalance. I call it good old family dialogue and say the medical exerts are full of snash. Our special dictionary is colorful, historic, and only slightly insane. And I’ll proudly add pages to it as long as I can continue to hold a thought and morph it into an expression. Following is an abridged chronology.

dockanoon (circa 1931)
“Please don’t make me go in the attic, Mommy! The dockanoon lives there!”
One of the earliest made up words in family history, this came from my Dad (Mac) when he was about three years old. Late one afternoon, he got a little adventuresome and toddled up to the attic and there it was way up under the eaves, a menacing monster waiting to prey on little boys who ventured out on their own. Much later, he figured out it was a actually a dress form his mother (my Nana) used for sewing, silhouetted by the sun setting through the attic window. He never dropped the word, though, and made sure to pass it down to me and my sister as soon as we became afraid of the dark, too.

oopergawsis (circa 1958)
“Be careful of the oopergawsis when you jump on Daddy’s lap.”
We were just old enough to get rambunctious and still young enough to be scared stiff by dockanoons and other monsters when Mac coined this one. Much later, he’d explain we hadn’t yet learned how boys were different than girls, and the proper terms for their private parts. We hadn’t even had a chance to make up our own naughty names. So, in order to protect himself without getting too graphic, he tried to convince us that an “invisible” monster sat on his lap and was easily disturbed. My sister saw through that story, though. The first time we visited the zoo, she took one look at the male water buffalo, pointed, and exclaimed to everyone within earshot: “Mommy, look at the huge oopergawsis on that one!”

snash (circa 1965)
“I know that you stole all those cookies, so don’t give me any of your snash!”
My cousins and I inspired this word when we were spending the weekend with Nana, our original neologist. We were mischievous preteens, pushing her boundaries and figuring she was too off her rocker to be wise to our antics. We burst out laughing the minute she said it, and snash went down in family folklore as Nana’s gibberish word. Very fitting for someone so easily flustered who wrapped up empty boxes and gave them to us at Christmas. She could remember coming over on the boat from Scotland, but couldn’t remember lunch, so she compensated with Nana-speak. Or so I thought, until I finally looked up snash while researching this post. There it was, right in the Urban Dictionary, common Scottish slang for “verbal insolence.” I stand corrected, Nana! Guess you brought a bit of ancient dialect over on the boat with you and your dockanoon.

gutchies (circa 1974)
“Guess I gotta do laundry so I’ll have some clean gutchies.”
The first time I heard Tom say this in college, I thought it was odd that he nicknamed his undershorts. Then I remembered my own rich history, and was kind of jealous. Why hadn’t I come up with that? It was long before anybody called ’em tighty whities, when only grandpas wore boxers, and I could have been a trend setter. Tom claimed it was his brother’s term, not his. And all these years I believed him, until I finally consulted the Urban Dictionary and learned the truth. It’s a for-real word, supposedly originating in Pennsylvania. Generally not depicting the spiffy, new briefs modeled by Michael Jordan in the Hanes commercials, it can refer to women’s panties, too. Not the Victoria’s Secret variety, mind you, the 12-pack Walmart kind. Who knew?

wlak (circa 2000)
“Jasper’s a good dog, so he deserves a long wlak.”
Some of my most memorable neologisms, including this one, come from not thinking as fast as my mouth is moving. I was attempting to verbally spell out W-A-L-K so our beagle didn’t bust a gasket hearing me utter the actual word. Well, I did better than that by making sure he could never decipher my alphabetic code! Two beagles later, we are still taking the dog(s) out for a wlak.

stugged (2009)
“The table legs were rickety, so Tom reinforced them and now they are stugged.”
I didn’t realize it till later, but when I came out with this one, I was actually following the footsteps of Lewis Carroll and other literary greats in creating a portmanteau—lumping two words together to form a new one. At the time, I thought I was simply admiring Tom’s handiwork. He made a table sturdy + rugged = stugged. Now I use it to describe everything from a well-built backpack to my legs after a long snowshoe.

slub (2012)
“What kind of a slub leaves her wet bathing suit in a lump on the lanai for the rest of the day while she sits and drinks rum punch?”
I won’t confess how many of my portmanteaus I have set free while enjoying a cocktail on vacation. Suffice to say, though, the combination seems to create a fertile environment for some of my most memorable self-expressions. Slug + slob = slub. Somehow, I seem to be more comfortable being a tropical slub than a Rangeley slub. Even with a homemade wine cooler in my drinkin’ jar down by lake, change of latitude, minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, minus rum does not seem to create the same result. Go figure.

Fredded Shosted Wheat / Shark, Puddle and Fly (ongoing)
“Before you open the new box of Cheerios, I want you to finish the Fredded Shosted Wheat.”
“We used to leave our car at the Shark, Puddle and Fly. Now we take the bus to Logan.”
I blame proficiency in this sort of word art on my mother’s love of spoonerisms.
Before Wikipedia defined them as “errors in speech or deliberate plays on words in which corresponding consonants, or vowels are switched,” I knew them as cheap fun around the dinner table. She retold the story of Rindercella and her prandsome hince so often I think it must have triggered the spoonerism synapses in my cerebral cortex. I now carry on her legacy with pride and panache.

camp frau (Present)
“In the middle of winter, when she hasn’t been into Rangeley or down the mountain for awhile, Joy begins to feel like a camp frau.”
This is my own adaptation of house frau, a term I heard my mother-in-law use when talking about living in Germany in her younger years. The house fraus in her neighborhood were stuck in a rut by choice, it seemed, Germany’s version of Donna Reed or June Cleaver without their modern appliances or naturally sunny dispositions. They wanted to be housewives, to have no aspirations greater than polishing silverware and making sauerkraut. The tone she used when she spoke told me my mother-in-law wasn’t one of them, and made me pray to never become her son’s house frau. Sometimes, though, when the days get short, the snow piles up, and I wonder if I’d be a better woman if I swept up around the wood stove one more time, I do feel like a camp frau. But then I remember: Due to temporary circumstances and wanting to live the good life in God’s country, I am a cabin-bound woman, not a camp frau. I am a lucky little boogma.

—————————————————————————————
For other Valentine’s Day posts, see:

The power of squirrel media

Hard to believe it’s been three years since I first hit the Publish button on this baby. Looking back, I’m once again thrilled and humbled by those of you who continue to find me, however you can, and apparently aren’t scared off by your first visit. Month after month, you’re growing Rooted In Rangeley deeper and wider, letting my ramblings reach far beyond the tiny corner of the woods from which they sprout!

Definitely a high point in the year was being discovered by and featured on the first-class Rangeley-Maine.com website. It made me feel validated, practically syndicated, and all the more inspired to spread my rustic wisdom beyond folks up here—to those who wished they were up here bad enough to log on and read about it every chance they got. Even other country far away folks were wanting to read about all things Rangeley, I discovered, when a fan from Croatia left his comments and a pretty cool flag icon in my daily stats feed. Then, when a bright Bahamian flag showed up soon after, I knew I’d gone global big time. It made for some pretty colorful blog demographics indeed until my daughter, Becky, moved home from the Bahamas, cutting my international audience in half.

Still, each day adds new surprises to my search term history, evidence I am somehow roping in readers from the farthest reaches of Google and Bing. And just when I think I’ve touched the outer limits of social media, along comes a fan like “evil_squirrel_13” to show me otherwise. Who was he, I wondered, as I followed his crumb trail off my comments section and onto his blog. And why did Evil Squirrel 13 “like” Rooted in Rangeley?

“If you are visiting because I liked and/or commented on one of your posts, welcome to my little world!” his blog explained. Called Evil Squirrel Nest, it was illustrated with his squirrel cartoon drawings and dedicated to all things squirrely“I do random daily searches for “squirrel” on WordPress, and read the most recent posts containing that word. Even if it has nothing to do with squirrels, I will still hit Like if I enjoy it! It’s interesting to see the variety of blogs and bloggers there are out there on the internets!”

“Wait,” I said to myself, “through the marvel of technology that allows a WiFi signal to beam across Bemis, broadcasting my innermost thoughts from the Bald Mountain broadband tower—out into the same worldwide web used by Steven Hawking and all the great thinkers and doers of our era—I connect with squirrel guy?”

As near as I can figure out, the decoy phrase came from one or two postings. In Signs of Spring, I wrote: Folks in other social circles are blaming this year’s tough winter on a mixed up Ground Hog’s Day prediction. Back in February, he emerged from his hole and said spring was just six weeks away. The nerve of that wood chuck! How could he and his stuffy handlers come out with all their pomp and circumstance and say that? Aren’t there laws against false advertising? Shadow or no shadow, I wasn’t paying all that much attention. Up here, we don’t have Punxsutawney Phil or anything close. We have a bad ass red squirrel who hangs out in the shadow of the wood shed hogging all the bird seed, and he’s not real prophetic.”

And more recently, speaking of the luxury of Staying Past September in Rangeley, I remembered the years when, after driving uptah camp: “We’d pile out of the Subaru and scatter like squirrels, a flurry of divergent activities fueled by the common purpose of getting going with summer.”

I think it was the squirrel cussing, the rough bad ass red squirrel language that ultimately lured Evil Squirrel to my site. Serves me right, I guess, playing with the power of social media, putting myself out there until—a couple misplaced rodent references later—my cyber network sprouts a branch I never knew anyone would bother to hang out on.

Just kidding, Evil Squirrel, I’m sure we’ll cross paths often. After all, I do live in a cabin in Rangeley year-round and, squirrel talk will, therefore, find its way on my blog regularly. Squirrels eating Tom’s strawberries. Squirrels scurrying around the fire pit and screeching from the treetops. And, especially, the pink little eraser-sized squirrels birthed into a mitten left hanging on the screen porch till their squirrel mamma carted them one by one back into the woodshed. (Right there alone, we’re talking six hits on my blog from the squirrel search engine. Ooops…make that seven!)  

And just so my new fan will know he’s in good company when he revisits, I’ll now pay tribute to this year’s whackiest random blog viewers. By random, I mean these folks are not my regular acquaintances, or those who log on because I wrote the URL on a cocktail napkin they stuffed in their pocket, or even those who get curious because they heard about the “Rangeley blog lady” from a friend of a friend. Here’s to the best of this year’s Rooted In Rangeley search terms and the wayward surfers who found their way to my corner of the lake:

Rooted where? My search engine database is still logging plenty of “rootedinrangeley” attempts and a wide variety of spelling variations on my name and my location. Turns out, I am “routed” here and, some would say “rotted,” but usually just “joy’s blog in Rangeley.” Once I was even found at “My Fork in the Road, Maine.” (On occasion, I do confess to Googling my own self, just because I can. My blog publisher claims it doesn’t add to my reader tally, but it’s still fun to play cyber boomerang with myself now and then.)

Trip advisor (not!): Some people seem to have stumbled across me in their eagerness to discover all there is in to do in here in God’s country, and then some. They might come up in person, but only if they can figure out when the “worst mosquito months in Rangeley” are, what time it actually gets dark here, when will the lake freeze over, will the “Purple Onion” still be serving and, especially, will the transfer station (aka dump) stay open despite everything.

Woodsy Wikipedia: The 2013 award in this category goes to whoever was trying to figure out “What are the white bugs on my windows in Rangeley in October?” Most likely, this query came “from away” because anyone in my audience who really stays put up here past the end of September knows the true possible answers. The easy one is: “Those aren’t bugs.” Bugs, thankfully, get freeze dried soon after Labor Day. What’s white and is clinging to your windows in October is either, a) snow; or b) wood stove ashes blowing back toward your house on a stiff lake breeze; or c) a combination of both.

And the top wackiest surfer prize goes to… If search engines suddenly powered down, everyone knows that all forward human motion would stop instantaneously in its tracks. Never mind blogging, we couldn’t work, drive, shop, eat, date, or learn either. Even so, there are times when Googling is not called for, and stopping to surf the net should not be our first course of action. That’s the thinking behind this year’s wackiest random reader search term award. Because, no matter how much I enjoy having any and all readers at Rooted In Rangeley, I do believe that whoever got here pondering: “How can I shoo yellow jackets from my shorts?” should not have been sitting still long enough to log in and type!

Seriously, thanks to all my readers for another terrific year. If not for all of you, I wouldn’t be Rooted In Rangeley, but forever trapped in the meandering tumbleweed of my own twisted mind.

Dads of daughters

It was a Sunday in mid-June when we had to summon my Dad to dislodge a mouse that had been trapped inside the drain in the laundry room sink since early spring. My mother, my sister, and I were standing at the top of the cellar stairs cringing when he finally came up. He lumbered past us with a coffee can bound for somewhere way out back.

“Why am I the one who gets to do these kinds of things?” he asked, flailing the can in our faces. “Just because I’m the only guy in the house? Cause I’m the father around here?”

Ummm….yeah….we all said silently. Dad (AKA Mac) was responsible for plumbing, pest control, and safeguarding the house from intruders. The waylaid mouse met all of those criteria.

I grew up in a one-male household. And, after marriage and two daughters, that status pretty much stuck. No brother tinkering with a truck in the driveway. No son to shatter my theories about the uniqueness of father-daughter relationships. Just Dad, our one-man magic show. Please bear this in mind as you read the following theories. Please also know that my theories took root in the early ’60s when it was expected for females to keep their distance and say things like “Eeeek!”—and socially acceptable for Dads to declare stuff “too messy for girls.” Mine always swore he didn’t miss having a son. But I bet on certain occasions, especially that morning in June with the putrid coffee can, he instantly became a secret liar. If only he’d had a male dependent at the top of the stairs, Mac could have emerged from the cellar with his heart full of gratitude, but his hands empty. “Son, go find yourself a coffee can,” he would’ve said. “There’s a project for you down there.” And the imaginary son of the early ’60s would obey, trying to keep a stiff upper lip and a strong stomach, knowing the chore was ultimately preparing him for manhood—for the day when he’d take a wife and the responsibility for any yucky stuff trapped in his terrain.

When it comes to heroes, a Dad of daughters might as well have a cape and a lightening bolt emblazoned on his chest. Faced with danger and all manner of distasteful duties, he responds, undaunted by extension ladders or jumper cables, by navigating through whitecaps, or even by investigating nighttime noises.

“Yup, it’s a bear,” Mac affirmed. It was a June night back in 1964 and he was peering into the darkness from our tiny log cabin on Moosehead Lake. My sister and I had finally nagged him into determining the source of sounds coming from the front porch. We’d listened long enough from our beds right under the windows to know that, whatever it was, it was much bigger than the raccoon visitors of previous nights. And then we yelled for backup. “Daaaaaad!!!”

In years since, we realized there was nothing even Mac could have done—except maybe spray the bear in the face with the fire extinguisher if it got rambunctious enough to shove the door open. Still, there was something about our Daddy standing in his undershorts stating the obvious that we found comforting.

“Yup,” he said, “and it’s a big bear, too.” After watching it amble away in the dark, he shuffled back to bed himself, grumpy but gratified. Because the only thing Mac was afraid of was not being the rock hard center of our universe. And that was bigger and hairier than any old Maine black bear.

It wasn’t long after I began to watch my husband Tom’s interactions with my own young girls that I discovered it’s not necessarily bravado that stirs Dads of daughters to action. It’s the call: “Daaaaad...” It sounds like a sheep with a bad stomach ache, but little girls have it mastered by age two. And much the same way a dog responds to a high-pitched whistle even though he doesn’t know why, a Dad comes. Instinctively he snatches up a toolbox, a wad of paper towel and/or a plunger along the way, knowing that, whatever it is, if it’s broken, clogged or invasive, it’s his job. From Barbies to bike chains—to those hopelessly gnarled up necklace knots he can somehow unravel with his big, burly fingers—if Dad can’t fix it, it’s history. And if he really isn’t keen on squishing, trapping, or otherwise keeping creepy stuff away from his womenfolk, he has to buck up and do it anyway.

Daaaaddy! Keep these bees off my peanut butter and jelly!” my first-born Helen yelled from her picnic log down by the lake. She was about three, and Tom had already plucked her out of the Salmon Falls River, showed her the bears at the Seboomook dump, and desensitized her to mice so successfully that she was catching them in a minnow trap and rolling it back and forth across the cabin floor like her own animated Fisher Price toy. She was a new-age girl child, born to a Dad who stood there right in the delivery room waiting for her to show up, even though part of him wanted to be out in the waiting room with his forefathers. She and I had the best of both worlds, an ’80s “girls can do anything” male role model who still had enough Maine woods machismo to build a cabin around us and shield us from vermin.  On that particular outing, a nest of yellow jackets swarming our picnic was his call to action—one he definitely did not want to answer.

“Come with Daddy, Helen, we’re going inside now!” Tom commanded. His voice was uncharacteristically shaky and, by the time he’d shoved sandwiches back into baggies and retreated, his face was a non-summery shade of pale. I handed him the big can of Raid we kept for just such circumstances, knowing that its super long spray wand would not keep Tom far enough away from bees—his greatest, and pretty much only, fear.

“Daddy got stung really bad when he was about your age while he was playing down by the water at his camp,” Tom told Helen after she’d watched him do his little extermination dance from a safe distance. “But those naughty bees won’t bother you any more, honey. Daddy got ’em!”

By the summer she turned four, Helen was Tom’s fearless little fishing side-kick and a brave big sister in training. “Look, Daddy, a snake!” she said, pointing matter-of-factly to a place on the dock where I spent hours each afternoon, plopped into a beach chair in my lamp shade of a bathing suit, reading and letting soon-to-be-born Becky kick me like a soccer ball. Had I ever seen a snake anywhere near my spot, I’m pretty sure Becky would have been a preemie.

Don’t tell your Mom,” Tom said to his little comrade.

Then, somewhere along the way when I wasn’t paying attention, my daughters turned from gutsy little girls into bodacious women of the new millennium. “Better than boys,” I’d tell them, because they shooed snakes out of my path and changed their own tires, but still had all-day pajama days with me. All that plus, well, because they were girls. We were having such a discussion on a recent vacation, just the three of us sitting in a rustic cabana, staring out over bluer, warmer water and enjoying our favorite grown-up picnic cocktails, when Becky noticed something burrowing into the sand underneath where Tom was coming to eat his lunch.

“Hmm, looks like they’re ground hornets,” she said.

“Sssh!” I said. “Don’t tell your Dad.”

————————————————————————————-

For more Father’s Day sentiments, see:

My Mom’s special because…..

“For you, Mumma,” said Becky. It was almost Mother’s Day circa 1991 and she’d just finished her first “uptah camp” breakfast of the season: a Pop Tart skillfully warmed in the toaster oven, our favorite appliance, and handed to her on a paper plate by her big sister. She placed before me a handmade gift which, as usual, was a cross between art and nature and full of kid folklore. This offering was a human image, hand-carved onto glistening paper in shades of neon.

Ooooh, it’s nice honey! Who is it?” I had to ask.

“It’s you Mumma, you in your bathrobe. Happy Mother’s Day!” How could I not have known? The pointy little head atop the pear-shaped silhouette fringed with hair spikes. The zipper extending all the way down to the crow-like feet. Nobody, not even myself, could ever see me for who I am like my family.

A year or two later, our local paper began running short stories entitled “My Mom” submitted by school children. I remember reading with amusement (and trepidation) some of the sentiments the little nippers thought proper to fit into three or four sentences:

“My Mom has curly hair and green eyes like mine. She works in an office. She likes ice cream.”

“My Mom used to clean house a lot, but now ladies come in a special truck and do it for her.”

“My Mom is a nurse and she takes care of sick people. I am proud of my Mom. Sometimes she gets grouchy around suppertime. She works real hard and needs help. Her hair was gray until she turned it back to brown.”

That was the year Becky’s kindergarten did a similar synopsis, published on a huge scroll of craft paper. “What does your Mom do?” the teacher wrote at the top. The list she transcribed in huge magic marker letters ranged from little kid stream of consciousness drivel about their maternal care givers to the generic “My mom cooks, vacuums and watches Oprah Winfrey.” Somewhere along in the middle was Becky’s response: “My mom goes to Hannaford and types on the computer.” (My circa 1993 priorities in a nutshell, and in the right order, too.) Yup, and in between all that shopping and word crunching, I managed to slap together a few thousand sandwiches, watched her stage debut as a raccoon, and had the alphabet song emblazoned across my brain.

“What would you write about your mother for the newspaper?” I asked Helen. I figured, at age nine, her seniority would afford greater depth of vision.

“Hmmm…I’d write that you love camp, and Dad, and us, and Eric Clapton, but you hate Easter grass…and that you have exactly the same color eyes as mine, only redder.”

So much for aged wisdom! “Nobody has asked you to write anything for the newspaper, have they honey?” I asked, suddenly deciding that was the year I’d settle for magic marker immortalization and hope the media would not be interviewing my offspring. She’d given me my day in the spotlight though when, at age 5, Helen used all her crayons to win the Mother’s Day art contest sponsored by (you guessed it) Hannaford. “My Mom is special because she cares so much about me” it proclaimed to all ‘neath a butterfly-adorned rainbow. No Mommy stick figure to further distinguish me that year, just a short, sweet, primary-colored sentiment posted in the window above checkout aisle 3. And that, plus the $100 grocery gift certificate, was as good as it got back in 1988. Course that was BC (Before Computers), way before I could snap a pic with a smart phone and broadcast my celebrity status to everyone drawing breath. And my babies couldn’t begin texting me as soon as they got manual dexterity and an unlimited family roaming plan either. We didn’t have the wherewithal to universally “like” our kids, to plaster their Facebook walls with little heart emoticons, or to instantaneously show how smiley-faced we were over their ability to share a perfect digital rose postcard with us and 65,312 other one-of-a-kind, “truly soul inspiring” Moms. Back then we had local papers capturing middle class motherhood small-town-America-style, and TV commercials showing kids what they should buy at JC Penney to make Mom look extra special when they took her to dinner at Friendly’s. But, even back in 1988 BC, I do remember attaining some notoriety with my own low-tech social media campaign. “My daughter drew that,” I’d point out to any shopper who happened to wheel past checkout aisle 3. “For me.”

It’s antique artwork now, preserved, framed and hanging above the desk in the upstairs hallway where I store my other Mumma memorabilia. There’s a folder of handmade cards in the top drawer that still gets my attention, even if I’m only rooting around for a pencil. Stuffed full of toddler scrawls, sophisticated custom hallmarks, and everything in between, it holds my personal dog-eared history as seen by my next of kin. Looking back through it all now, I’m glad my daughters took notes, reporting without censure and with a flair for vivid color. Over time, their Mother’s Day messages tracked who I was, how I hoped to be seen, and where I was in my work/life balance spectrum.

“Happy Mother’s Day to the best darn technical writer in the world!” Becky wished me circa 1998 with a creation she printed off our state of the art 300 DPI color printer. It featured a clip art rendition of me, lounging on the beach, snorkel in one hand and pina colada in the other, enjoying the fruits of my new profession with a family vacation. At the time, I remember feeling equally as proud that she put “happy mother” and “technical writer” in the same sentence as I was of the fact that she’d mastered PowerPoint and fancy fonts in the limited time I allowed her to boot me off the home PC.

“Here’s so you can spend Mother’s Day with your favorite people!” Helen proclaimed artfully in another memorable Mumma folder moment. It was during my Mustang years and, with just a bit of help from PhotoShop, she’d morphed our extended family (here and long gone) into my new red convertible along with me and Bono from U2.

After reaching that high-tech pinnacle, the girls’ greetings gravitated away from glitz and back to homespun, to simpler pictorial essays about being my grown-up daughters. Some were spoken, some printed on PostIt notes, some filled all available space in the “blank inside” store bought cards. Each told a tale of love and support, of silliness and adventure, of my special brand of mothering. And the best ones—the ones that said it all—were just words whispered, from younger women to their older one. 

“I think you’re beautiful, Mumma,” Becky said softly. We were sitting side by side on the couch the other night and I’d just made one of my more candid body image confessions. I had to laugh at myself and the fact that, after all these years and all her heart-felt affirmations, most days I still couldn’t bring myself to agree. While I’m glad her image of me progressed from those early zipper-bodied, crow-footed impressions she had when she was four, I still need her mirror to show me at my best—to convince me I’m less Dilbert caricature and more classic da Vinci.

It’s been 30 years now since I received my first Mother’s Day card. It was from Tom, who promised me he couldn’t imagine anyone else being the mother of his children. I remember resting the card atop my hugely pregnant belly, crying a few estrogen-fueled tears, and imagining that maybe, hopefully, he was right. And now, thanks to Crayola, HP, and my two lifelong travel correspondents, I have plenty of evidence.

Happy Mother’s Day!

——————————————————————————————-

For more Mother’s Day messages, see:

Dashing, stashing, wedding crashing

‘Twas the day before Thanksgiving and, as usual, the Oquossoc PO was abuzz over hot topics impacting our tiny community. Who was coming to dinner. Who was going away. Who had to cook what for which relative, and who found a new way to spiff up stuffing.

In true multi-tasking mode, I was making the most of my turn at the mail “sorting” station, fishing a couple official-looking envelopes out of the reams of high-gloss junk that, two years later, still finds its way to my cramped cubby hole inside a log cabin post office. I tossed piece after piece straight into the recycling bin, all the while keeping one eye and both ears open to what was shaking “in town” before the big day. “Eat lots of turkey!” folks called as they rushed off to get ready. “Safe travels!” Sending yet another Cabela’s catalog sailing toward the bin, I nodded and smiled. The sentiments would be the same no matter where I roamed. But, while talk of cooking and eating echoed holiday banter most anywhere, up here I know the driving part is a way bigger deal.

“Have a great holiday. Drive safe!” friends called as I headed off to do the rest of my loop. In Rangeley woman lingo, that meant, “If you’re the hostess, may your electricity stay on till the turkey is cooked, and may your family from afar bring all the fresh produce you need. If you’re the one traveling, may you dine in decadence that can only come from a different kitchen, with loved ones all around the table, plus a nice warm bed to sleep it all off in that night. But, above all, be ever thankful you don’t have to go out into the cold and drive back up over the mountain after dark!”

To most well wishers who asked about my Thanksgiving plans, but didn’t have all day to listen to my roundabout answer, I just smiled and said, “You, too! Eat lots of turkey!” I’d be surrounded by loved ones—at a table next to a giant volcano mural with not a scrap of turkey on it. And, while I wouldn’t be driving home after dark, I’d be going way out of the woods, over many rivers, to two airports, and through all manner of toll booths and traffic snarls before heading back up the mountain again.

“What’s that low humming noise?” I asked Tom a couple hours after we’d packed up the Subaru and headed south. He crooked his ear toward the dash and pondered a mile or so. “I think that’s the normal sound a car makes when it goes over 50 and it’s on a paved road,” he concluded.

Good thing highway driving is one of those skills we can rely on to come back to us as needed. By the time dodging traffic gets trickier than pulling over for a logging truck hell bent on its last trip to the mill, and we need our peripheral vision for more than missing moose, we get ourselves re-acclimated. “Cripe, there must be a traffic light every hundred feet or so!” Tom said when we chugged into Rochester. “Did we notice all this stop and go when we used to live down here?”

Yeah, probably, which is one of the reasons we decided to pack it up and move off the beaten track, saving long treks for special family get-togethers or bigger travel adventures. This time, our mission south was special indeed. If successful, we’d eventually get together with family out west, way down south, and a couple points in between. Tom would spend the holiday with his brother in camo out in the Idaho bush, while I’d be with my daughters and son-in-law ‘neath a pagoda in Saugus, MA. But first, Tom had to get to the Manchester airport, and I had to get north again to hold down the fort for a week before coming back down to Logan with daughter #1 (Helen) to fetch daughter #2 (Becky), who’d be flying in from the Bahamas for the weekend to be in her friend Amy’s wedding back in Rochester.

“Phew,” I sighed, pulling down my driveway after the first leg of holiday excursions. “Made it back just before dark!” The trip “uptah camp” was a long pull, especially the stretch of Route 17 between Rumford and Oquossoc when, if I didn’t know better, I’d start to lose sight of what lured me out here. Over the last two and a half years, I’d happily become one of those “can’t really get there from here” folks that people from the other states like to joke about. On the drive back up, as the radio stations went to static and I got too road hypnotized to fish out a CD, I pondered the transformation. Why, I wondered, could I motor for 20 miles into Rangeley to get groceries with a smile on my face, while a two-mile, stop-and-go pass along my old commuting route seemed so out of the way? And why, in comparison, did my long, roundabout ride home—seemingly into nowhere—feel so straightforward? I got my answer as I came around the corner onto the Height of Land and once again squinted down at my little dot of real estate on the tip of a big, wild lake. A few more hills and a bit of long, winding road, and I’d be home.

“If we go past a Walgreens, can we stop for just a sec so I can run in and get some contact solution?” I remembered Becky asking the last time we saw her. It was June and we were in a “busy” section of Portland, trying to find our hotel. Her dad, the driver, did not commit.  And the next day we shipped her out of the Jetport to go live on an”out island” in the Bahamas without a last detour into the corner drugstore. Growing up, she could convince us to drive for hours down logging roads in search of moose no problem. But stopping in the city when we weren’t sure if we’d get “turned around”—now that was a hassle.

I made it up to Becky big time, though. Since she wouldn’t make it farther north than Rochester this visit, I was doing what her island friends called a “mule run.” She’d given me a wish list of all the items she thought she wanted but couldn’t lug down there in June. I’d fish it out of the giant totes up in the garage attic, and bring it to our Thanksgiving day rendezvous. We’d see each other just long enough to stuff her belly with Chinese food and her honkin’ backpack with fresh clothing, and off we’d go our separate ways again till Christmas.

“I miss seeing Dad,” she said. “But I’m glad he’s having a nice time with Uncle Jon.”

“He is,” I agreed, cramming in an egg roll while the waiter served a round of tiki-bowl drinks. “Aunt Nancy’s fixing turkey and all the trimmings.” We’d actually be going back through Rochester right around the time of Amy’s wedding reception, I told her. But her dad would be exhausted, and we’d still have a long way to go to get back home. Good thing she’d have plenty of time to see him at Christmas.

Two days and another airport later, Tom was back in the driver’s seat and I was catching him up on my quirky turkey day with the girls. Maybe I distracted him with my verbal meanderings, or maybe something more significant was steering him, but suddenly we were both wondering how we got off course in the city we’d called home for 30 years. “Why’d I come this way?” he asked.

I shrugged, not sure why he ended up taking the “long way around” either. But when we pulled up to the next stop light, we got our answer. Straight ahead and to the left stood the Governor’s Inn, a Rochester landmark, its parking lot filled with guests who had just gathered inside for Amy’s wedding reception dinner. “I’m going in there,” Tom said, making a hard left, “and hugging my daughter.”

And in we went, standing just beyond the buffet table, searching for Becky. We spotted her as soon as we realized our island girl had turned into the prettiest bridesmaid ever. She found us, too, as soon as she realized the only guy wearing a Mooselookmeguntic hat was her dad–on a short Thanksgiving detour, following his heart back home.

Staying past September

“Dock’s out,” Tom announced. “Boat’s out, too.”

“Yup, I know,” I said, even though I was pretty sure he knew I knew ’cause he saw me watching the whole process from my “office” window.

Out here, stating the obvious is expected. It’s a rite of passage, our way of keeping in touch with our surroundings and in synch with the seasons while keeping our vocal chords limbered up. And the longer we live here year-round, the more necessary it becomes.

“Wind’s come up,” one of us will report at least once a day, usually right after a stiff breeze has nearly blown both our hats off. “Yup,” the other will agree. “Lake’s gettin’ choppy.”

Casual listeners (if we had any besides the beagles) might say we sound like we should live closer to town or, heaven forbid, like retired folks. But I’m glad to be right here, watching ourselves move past summer and into another fall, sharing eye-witness reports.

Not too long ago, what went on “up here” this time of year was a hypothesis, a big grey question mark. We crammed as much Rangeley life as possible between Mother’s Day and Labor Day and, most years, even squeezed in Columbus Day. But try as we might to prolong every moment, the days between having summer sprawled before us like an open-ended promise and heading back home were like a screen door on a short, tight spring. I’d barely be unpacked, just about settling in, when zing… BAM! Suddenly it was time to stuff all my canned goods into an ancient Seagram’s box and lug it back down the mountain for the winter. We’d be away then until ice-out, home but not really home, pondering how things were surviving without us “up to camp.”

“Jeez, I bet it’s pretty barren up there right about now!” I’d muse from my other kitchen sometime mid-November. Munching on limp, sawdust-flavored graham crackers pulled from my Seagram’s box of “camp stuff,” I’d be dreaming of s’mores in July. With no year-round Rangeley relativity, my off-season imagination was filled with such conjecture, and enough cold-weather adjectives to convince myself I wasn’t missing much. Part of me knew the leaves fell, the loons left and came back, and the land critters tromped through the snow until April. But, without being right there to watch, it was all just a big theory.

Each year, when the calendar pages of our other life finally wound back around to May, we switched into “going back up” gear. “You start putting stuff away, while I turn the electricity on, get the water going. Then, I’ll go down front, check the lake level, see if there’s any trees down. Maybe tomorrow, we can get over to the building supply, get those parts to fix the dock so we can put that back in.” We’d pile out of the Subaru and scatter like squirrels, a flurry of divergent activities fueled by the common purpose of getting going with summer. Our agenda was long-winded and multi-directional—pulling us around, under, over and through—allowing us to pause for a couple tranquil breaths before driving away until the next time.

Now that we stay put, our sentences are shorter, our movements slower, taking us just a few steps off center. No more hypotheses. No more figuring that whatever goes on past September, it must be dark and pretty dreary just to console ourselves. Truth is, the loons take their sweet time about leaving the lake, gathering in long, farewell dances on the cooling water until they’re ready for their journey. And yes, the leaves do fall off the trees, sometimes one by one. Before they do the birches hold on a long while against the blue of the bare mountains, their last flashes of gold no less gorgeous than the first wild flowers blooming along banks of just-melted snow. Then, there’s a pre-winter pause when the naked branches stand in contrast to the evergreens, mottling the hillsides with warm magenta and pewter. Who knew? Now I do. Being here, with Tom as my co-anchor, I know colors change and weather patterns come and go, not necessary on schedule with calendar days or vacation allowances. I’m now at leisure to flow with it, my rhythm no longer set from knowing “time is wasting,” or my “time off” is short, but by knowing it’s time. Time for stopping, for starting up again, for pausing along the way.

“Outdoor chairs are back in the garage,” Tom announced the other day.

“Yup,” I acknowledged, even though I knew he saw me watching him trudge by. Bearing witness to the Adirondack chairs’ departure from our waterfront till May, I was glad to see it looked like a natural migration rather than a funeral march as in years past. I waved and smiled, knowing that, moments earlier, I’d been sitting in one of those summer chairs, watching the last leaves fall and the loons gather, long past September.

Roping in readers

Woah…hard to believe it’s been two whole years since I gave birth! Not to a baby—at least not the kind that squeals and squirms and grows up to need braces, a room in the house you avoid at all costs, and a college fund. Two years ago today, I began this blog.

In looking back over how my little creation went from wet behind the ears to toddling around getting into trouble, I figured I’d acknowledge its 4,000-plus viewers-to-date by sharing some of my favorite ways it’s been visited this year.

Unlikely links to An Unbroken Bond: Proof of my premise that much of what’s good and true in my life is somehow, someway rooted in Rangeley, I’m honored to report that the largest percentage of searchers landing on my blog were looking for my friend, Edie Lutnick’s book, An Unbroken Bond. So how does a blog rambling about life in the woods by a big, quiet lake end up promoting an award-winning biography about an event that rocked the world from our nation’s core? Just how does an author like myself—who marks the seasons turning with passages like “Out Like a Lamb-eating Yeti”—help another author reveal what it was really like surviving the aftermath of 9/11, what it really means to never forget 10 years later? Very serendipitously. That’s the short answer. For the long answer, see my tenth anniversary tribute. Then please click on the book graphic (to the right of this post) to read Edie’s story, share it, and join the bond that winds its way from the mountains of Maine back to the heart of Manhattan and beyond.

Taking my serious cap back off, I will now pay tribute to my random blog viewers. By random, I mean these folks are not my regular acquaintances, or those who log on because I wrote the URL on a cocktail napkin they stuffed in their purse, or even those who get curious because they heard about the “Rangeley blog lady” from a friend of a friend. I’m paying tribute here to those Googlers who most likely were looking for something entirely different when they happened upon my back woods website.

So here’s to the best of this year’s Rooted In Rangeley search terms and the wayward surfers who found their way to my corner of the lake:

Rooted where? My search engine database is still logging plenty of “rootedinrangeley” attempts and a wide variety of spelling variations on my name and my location. Turns out, I am “routed” here and, some would say “rotted,” but usually just “joy’s blog in Rangeley.” Once I was even found at “My Fork in the Road, Maine.” (On occasion, I do confess to Googling my own self, just because I can. My blog publisher claims it doesn’t add to my reader tally, but it’s still fun to play cyber boomerang with myself now and then.)

Trip advisor (not!): Some people seem to have stumbled across me in their eagerness to discover all there is in to do in here in God’s country, and then some. They might come up in person, but only if they can figure out when the “worst mosquito months in Rangeley” are, what time it actually gets dark here, when will the lake freeze over, will the “Purple Onion” still be serving and, especially, will the transfer station (aka dump) stay open despite everything.

Quirky seasonal celebrations: I’m not the least bit surprised that this search term found me. Even when Santa has to rely on his hazard lights to land at the Wilhelm Reich Museum for his annual breakfast with the local kiddies, and the Easter bunny can barely hop down our muddy trails, Rangeley is a popular holiday destination. One potential visitor, however, seemed bent on “making myself into Santa” and becoming “Santa’s special helper” up here. He’d have to read and distill all my blogs to get the right answer: Move here year-round. Don’t shave or cut your hair from hunting season till ice out. Join the guide’s and sportsman’s club so you can fill out your flannel at their legendary potluck suppers. And keep your cheeks red and yourself jolly with regular summit-to-pub runs up on Saddleback. Oh and, to whoever read Quirky Turkey and A Moving Feast and wanted to know the “best kind of wine to serve with a seafood stuffed turducken,” the right answer is homemade apple—made from whatever Tom could put through the press before the deer nibbled ’em off the trees.

Woodsy Wikipedia: The 2012 award in this category goes to whoever was trying to locate the “tallest tree in Rangeley.” Can’t imagine what sort of research she’s doing, but I think she should ask CMP, M & H Logging, the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, and the local float plane pilots. They’ll tell her the exact coordinates, how close it is to a power line, how much cord wood it would yield if it doesn’t survive the next wind storm, if an eagle calls it home, and how much it would cost to buzz over it.

Haphazard how-to advice: Since I offer cooking tips one week, then blab about my fashion blunders and my novel approach to home decorating the next, it only makes sense that I could attract folks wondering about “how to decorate my old snowshoes” along with those looking for “Tomlette recipes” (evidence there is another Tom out there making signature omelets or, at least, someone who wants to learn from him). I don’t know if, given the chance, I’d invite them off my virtual doorstep and in for coffee, except maybe those sisters still searching for “bathing suits that support real outdoor women.”

Top prize for 2012 search terms in this category is a toss up. I can’t for the life of me decide if the winning query should be “how to get squirrels in my wall to stop making flapping noises” or what to do when a “dead mouse in the wall smells like PMS.” Even though those researchers were misdirected to my take on The Other PMS (Persistent Male Snoring) and Creatures Stirring, I think they need to look way beyond the Web for the help they really need.

Boom chicka wah….what?: Whoever Googled “hot chicks in Rangeley” probably wasn’t looking for a blog featuring me in my fishing hat riding around in the canoe with a couple beagles, but I guess it depends on his definition of hot. And I’m pretty sure the mystery surfer who typed in “tales of Indian wives getting rooted by somebody besides their husbands” was not curious about my descriptions of life (alone with Tom) in the pucker brush. While I do hope to one day be accepted as a “native” around here, I will continue to keep myself “rooted” in a different context!

Seriously, thanks to my readers—those from away who wish they were here and those from here who aren’t scared off…yet. And thanks to my real kids who haven’t stopped speaking to me…yet. If not for all of you, I wouldn’t be Rooted In Rangeley, but trapped in the meandering tumbleweed of my own twisted mind.

Procrastin-ista

You know the commercial. The girl’s never teetered off the pavement in her outrageously silly shoes. She’s wearing some sort of paisley scarf, a tweed skirt and a blouse more ruffled than a partridge on the prowl. Only the blouse is pink, and the necklace she’s draped it with looks like she didn’t bring enough money to a rummage sale. But she does have money—not enough to shop the high-end stores—but enough to go to TJ Maxx more than I brush my hair. At least that’s what she says when she stops mid-strut and smirks into the camera:

“I used to be a fashionista. Now I’m a Maxxinista!”

“Well whoopie for you, chickie,” I tell her from my TV chair, defiantly crossing my fleece-draped arms over my ancient jammie t-shirt. “I was a Maxxinista before you were born!”

Hard to believe to see me now, with my daily “look” featuring must-have items I pluck off a deer antler hook in the pantry. But I used to go shopping, as in actually going shopping. I’d drive to TJ Maxx, paw through the clothing racks, and drive home with whatever outfits survived me squinting at myself in the dressing room house-of-horrors mirror. Yup, I was a well-dressed up-and-coming working woman once, and I had the shoulder-padded tops and pleated pants to prove it. But that was back when I ran my own marketing communications business, and sometimes I had to match a skirt, blouse and blazer so I looked like I belonged in a boardroom instead of back home working in my basement office in my fuzzy pants. As it turned out, though, the classiness of my business attire was inversely related to my career success. The more skilled I got, the less my wardrobe looked like I drew a decent paycheck. By the time I’d made a name for myself in high-tech, I never got dressier than Dockers unless I wanted to start a rumor that I had a job interview somewhere else during my lunch hour.

Now that I’ve left my office job and moved up to Rangeley, I’ve got the no-nonsense, all-weather, mountain-to-shore wear to prove it. Gone are the blazers and most of the Dockers, and any footwear that can’t function as either slipper-shoes or boot-sneakers. All terrain Tevas are OK, too, as long as they’re loose enough to strap over wool socks. I stay in my computer chair for shopping sprees, pointing and clicking, and hoping for free shipping and a lifetime return policy. Yup, I used to be a Maxxinista. Now I’m a “remote” working-at-home-in-the-woods technical writer who works almost as hard to figure out just the right Rangeley outfit for any given moment. So far, I’ve been a couple weather patterns and a couple layers short of hitting it right.

As I said back in Fashionably Late, we don’t actually have summer, fall, winter and spring in Rangeley. We have summer (for about two weeks in August), almost winter, winter, and not-quite summer yet. Being weather-ready means having a huge row of deer antler hooks draped with all manner of L.L. Bean basics close at hand. It also makes putting anything under the bed or up in the attic because it’s off-season seem pretty silly. And you can bet I never bother to just “accessorize.” I don’t buy a plaid top just because one stripe matches a pair of mauve slacks waiting to be completed in my closet. All purchases must go with at least two other layers and, ideally, be water-repellent and wind-proof.

“Look at this cool top I’m buying,” I said to Tom. He gazed at the sporty little Spandex jacket on the Land’s End website and nodded his approval. “I’ll wear it over my bathing suit when I want an extra layer for snorkeling. It matches my suit perfectly! Plus it’s got some sort of sun shielding properties in the fabric.” Even so, long after I clicked “Buy,” I wondered whether I’d really get $50 worth of wear out of a bright aqua piece of beach wear called a “rash guard”.

“Hey, Mumma, do you think I’ll wear this?” Becky asked last month, “or will it just put me over the weight limit? I don’t want to pay a huge baggage fee for a yellow sweater that only goes with a few things.” Standing amid a sea of clothing, she was holding up a daffodil colored cardigan she’d plucked off one of her “maybe” piles. After spending a couple years living in the desert, a winter on the slopes in Colorado, and then a month rafting the Grand Canyon, she was packing to go teach in the Bahamas for a year. She was climatically confused, for sure, and coming to stay in Rangeley in May and June had messed her up even worse. “Maybe it’ll be good for layering if it gets cool at night,” she concluded, and stuffed it in the side of one of her honkin’ duffel bags.

“Hmmm, maybe,” I said halfheartedly. I was in her room to offer moral support and, hopefully, a bit of motherly advice. But what did I know? I was confused and more than a little off kilter myself. Stretched out on the bed, I was gazing listlessly at the tan still showing on the half-inch of skin between my sock ridges and the cuffs of my fuzzy pants. And I was pretty sure there was still some sun-kissed skin on my forearms where the sleeves of my little aqua Spandex jacket had left them bare and warm, even though I’d been too bummed to look for a month. You betcha, I’d worn the thing—not in Rangeley yet…maybe not ever in Rangeley—but on the balmy island of Bonaire. A month ago, it matched the Caribbean blue sea perfectly and had been my must-have layer for snorkeling and then sitting for hours sinking my sockless feet in the sand. “Yeah, layering is good, Becky,” I sighed, envying her upcoming destination but not her current location in cold, damp Mooselook surrounded by four seasons of gear busting out of giant Tupperware totes.

Ah, this was the year I was going to return to Rangeley with spring in full swing. None of that still winter, not-quite spring crap. This was the year I’d keep my island clothes close by instead of waiting to haul them all out again sometime in August. After all, ice out had come wicked early and folks told me on Facebook that, the minute I went away, it was 80 degrees in Rangeley—”the same temperature” I thought required a long flight south. Strategizing on the plane ride home, I had a smug grin a lot like the girl in the TJ Maxx commercial. I was going to think positive, stay on top of my fashion game, and swap tank tops for sweaters the minute I got home because I’d need that summer stuff soon! And, for the first year in my adult life, I’d done just that. I had all my woollies stored and my light ‘n airy clothes handy. No procrastination. No digging through Tupperware. I was ready to enjoy quality time with Becky, to guide her in being practical yet fashionable, to get her in the tropical spirit.

‘Course all that “it’s so warm we’re drinking beers out on the deck here in April” was only a cruel joke. When I got home, summer was still way far around a cold, rainy corner. It  didn’t get here till after Becky left and had been gone long enough to wonder what ever possessed her to bring a daffodil colored cardigan to the Bahamas in June. And, when summer finally did come, it blinded me. Still in the sweatshirt and flannel-lined pants I’d hauled back down from the attic, I was sweeping trailings from having to get the wood stove cranking in June out the back door. Suddenly, the sun came blazing out from behind a cloud and stayed there, intensely hot! I spun around on my slipper-shoes and went to dig out my cute little Spandex jacket, knowing it would double as a windbreaker over my bathing suit when summer changed its mind again.

From Daddy’s little girl

(Author’s Note:  The following is from my writing archives (circa 1988). I post it in honor of my stashed-away memories—of my dad, of spending my best Father’s Days in Rangeleyand, especially, of Helen and Becky and their awesome fishing/adventure buddy, Tom.)

Dear Dad:

Mom said I should make you a special Father’s Day card ’cause I’m such a good drawer. Plus I’m the big sister and little Becky can’t really hold onto a crayon yet, never mind write big girl words. Mom used to let me just point at cards in the store and then she’d buy whichever one sounded pretty good, but she doesn’t let me do that since I won that Mother’s Day card contest at Hannaford. Now I gotta send my very best to everyone.

I did sneak a peak at the store cards, thoughthe ones Mom says tons of dads would be opening up all across America the same time as you. Know what? Mom was right. None of ’em were really for you, Dad. They all had pictures of golf clubs or cartoon puppies holding up hearts or just “Father” in gold, squiggly letters. I only found one that showed a guy on a pond early in the morning but there wasn’t one trout rising, so that wasn’t any good, either! After all, Father’s Day is for fishin’ with your dad, right? Why else would it be on a Sunday in June?

So I started drawing some fish to decorate your card, but they sort of looked like hot dog buns with wings. Then I got a better idea. Remember how Wheaties stopped putting pictures of basketball playersand that little Mary Lou something or other from the Olympics who was kind of like Minnie Mouse in a leotardon their cereal boxes?Remember how they just left a white place on the front and everyone was supposed to draw in their own faces? Well, we have a box that Mom’s been trying to make me eat ever since I begged for it in the store. She says it’s the breakfast of champions. I asked her if a champion was somebody who liked old flaky stuff with no sugar on it. She said: “No, it’s someone who plays a sport better than anybody else. Now eat up or you’ll be late for school.” So Dad, I drew you in the face on the box, with your fishin’ hat and your pole, and that silly grin you get when you pull in a lunker. It came out real nice and I was gonna cut it out for you. But then Mom hollered ’cause I’d been sitting there in my pajamas drawing for a really long time, and she grabbed the box and stuffed it back in the cupboard. That’s O.K., though, ’cause we should finish the Wheaties before I cut the box open, and you’ll probably need some this weekend to give you big muscles for turning that huge crank on your boat trailer. I betcha Michael Jordan can’t pull a boat right up out of water like that!

Mom says I’m pretty lucky you take me fishin’ all the time cause lots of dads go off by themselves instead. Wouldn’t that be kinda boring though? You wouldn’t have anybody to talk to just floating around all day alone. And who’d share their cheese curls with you and get your beers out of the cooler and tell you knock-knock jokes?

Thanks, Dad, for being my fishin’ pal. You’re the nicest guy in the whole world. Someday I hope you buy me one of those vests with the tiny pockets all over it just like yours ’cause I bet I could fit about 20 hundred mini Snickers in there and I’d never hafta go in for supper. Maybe when I’m seven or eight, O.K.? Boy, when I was four, I didn’t even know how to get the line to come off the fishin’ pole out into the water without making a helluva mess, remember? Now look at me, I can do it so good that my hook goes to the very bottom, right down in the rocks and weeds, and stays there. Maybe next summer you’ll let me push all those neat buttons on your boat. Like on that beeping box in front of your seat you said helps us find fish, and that giant up and down humming reel off the back of the boat you’re always playing with to catch ’em once you find ’em. How do they work…sort of like magic? If I push the buttons, too, maybe we’ll really find some fish!

You show me lots of things when we’re out fishin’, like how important it is not to talk to people we’ve never seen before. It was a good thing you didn’t answer that man over at Quimby Pond when he asked you what you were catchin’ all your trout with. You acted like you didn’t even hear him, which was very smart ’cause he was a stranger.

I want you to have the best Father’s Day ever, Dad. Maybe we could take the canoe down the Salmon Falls River to that cove where I went swimming once by accident. It was all mucky and weedy and you said pickerel like that kinda stuff. Too bad Mom didn’t. Or maybe we’ll try Winnipesaukee. I like it there ’cause it’s fun to watch all those boats racing around. Mom calls ’em “fancy assed” because they’re way sparklier than our boat and must remind her of the time I dumped glitter all over the kitchen floor. Do you think Don Johnson is a bass fisherman? I’m pretty sure I saw him go by last time we were out. Boy, I bet his kid was having a blast!

No matter where we go, I don’t want you to sit and worry about work and whatever it is you do there. And I sure hope we can find a spot where there’s not too much wind, where the water’s not too warm or too cold, and where there’s lots and lots of fish biting all around our boat. That’s what I’m wishing for you on Father’s Day, Dad, ’cause you sure deserve it.

Your daughter,

Helen

Songs of warmer weather

South of here, the sounds of spring would call me out of my seasonal semi-stupor even if I  was still hunkered down and had barely cracked a window yet. I’d be driving somewhere in a fog or maybe stuck in my kitchen, hoping that first blast of fresh April air would blow some dust off me. Suddenly spring would reach in and knock me upside the head.

Peeeeeep…..Peeeeeeep…..Peeeeeep!” Peepers! Their familiar falsetto was loud enough to jerk me awaketo make me look hard for daffodils and other boisterous signs of the season I’d probably missedand mesmerizing enough to make me leave the window open till the heat had to kick back on.

Once they caught my attention, I’d be all ears for the peepers. Standing on my back deck in my fuzzy pants each evening, I strained to hear them bring every little pucker brush puddle back life. As the tundra thawed, the crescendo swelled until, by May, hundreds of teensy frogswound to a frenzy in the circle of lifesurrounded me in one, long tumultuous chorus.

Peepers weren’t the only species to wake me from my hibernation. During one particularly belated spring, I didn’t even need to open the window to hear the rhythm of pent up instinct bursting forth outside.

“FWUMPPP….Fwapp, fwapp, fwapp, fwapp….flop.”

I lay in bed listening and wondering. An early morning illusion perhaps, a figment of a pre-dawn dream state? “FWUMPPP….Fwapp, fwapp, fwapp, fwapp….FLOP.”

The only other noise it resembled was the coffee maker. But, this was way before Mister Coffee came with a computer chip to automatically respond to my brewing habits andunless wishful thinking had somehow started it perkingthe thing wasn’t even on. I shuffled out toward the kitchen to be greeted by the roundest-breasted robin ever perched on the deck railing staring at my dining room window. He peered up at the glass so intently it was obvious he wasn’t just admiring my African violets on the other side of the sill. He’d cock his head from side to side, take a running leap and FWUMPPP… right into the window he’d go. Then he’d hover and peck, perch and fly…FWUMPPP and repeat. Over and over and over and over.

Our first explanation was that he had the worst case of jet lag in bird history and was disoriented and starving. Five days later, we were still waiting for Nature to help him get his groove back when we finally went out to observe his view from the deck on the other side of the window. “He sees another big robin sitting all fat and sassy in a tree in his territory and he’s fighting back,” Tom concluded. And judging from the appearance of the deck railing, this feisty fella was at least a pound of food a day away from starving. Two days later, he was still defending himself against his own reflection and driving us completely batty. “What is that bird’s problem?” I hollered for the 15th time in a row.

Way too much bird-and-bee kind of energy, I figured. I was grateful that my friends the peepers could keep their spring fever percolating out in the swamp where it belonged and didn’t use it to propel themselves headlong into the house!

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate my little heralders of spring and their constant background noise. I didn’t realize that moving north would trigger a complete role reversalthat I’d be the one busting forth announcing to the world I’m ready for spring, yearning for an answer to my call. Sometimes I’m drawn to go outside in my PJs or even out in the yard till my slippers get soaked. Other times, I find myself on shores even more exotic than Mooselook.

Ruck…ah…caaaauuw!” I sang off my lanai. It was early spring a year ago and, after a winter in Rangeley that almost froze off my tail feathers, I was more than thrilled to answer the call from the nearby plumeria trees. “Ruck…ah…caaaauuw!” (A couple mornings later, I’m pretty sure the folks from California on the balcony next to me were much more curious about my mental state than where I’d traveled from on the mainland.)

Luckily, by the time I migrate back to Rangeley, the songs of spring aren’t far behind. But, more than ever, I need to go out of my way to listen. “WhaWHO….WHO…ha…WHO….WHO…ha…WHO!”
Filtered through my R-25 insulated log walls, the first loons on the lake beckon. I rush outside, closer to the sound, tilting one newly-naked ear to the night air. Sometimes I answer, especially if Jim Beam comes with me. But mostly, I look out over the dark, ice-rimmed water, and smile. Soon, the Joy Birds will join in the song!

Much as I love peepers and loons, if I ever had to set my feelings for my Maine home to just one melody, it would be the Joy Bird’s. He’s been calling me back here ever since I was a kid, letting me walk without ever missing an IPod. “BOO..DOO…bum-ditty…bum-ditty..bum-ditty…bum!” To sing that sweetly, I imagined he had to be prettier than anything that came to my feeder before the squirrels took over. Must have lots of red on him to sound like that, or maybe blue, I thought. Then, when I finally got my first good look at the lusty whistler, I stood in disbelief for a long time before consulting Audubon and finding out my Joy Bird was actually a white-throated sparrow. A rather nondescript brown and white-throated sparrow, he was, with the tiniest thatch of yellow on his fervently singing head. “Fondly known as the ‘Whistler of the North,” my bird book said, “this sparrow heralds spring in the woods with his familiar song: Oh sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada.

“Really?” I thought. I guessed BOO…DOO…bum-ditty…bum-ditty..bum-ditty…bum was too much of a mouthful for the Audubon folks.

Back outside with the bird book closed, my Joy Birds concurred. “BOO…DOO…bum-ditty…bum-ditty..bum-ditty…bum” they called, reminding me that the simplest creatures often sing the most beautiful songs. “Sweet Canada, my ass!” I chuckled, these little guys know the sweet spot is right here 40 miles from the Quebec border. Throwing my blonde-tufted head back until my parrot-bright tie dye peeked out from under my almost-summer fleece, I answered: “Oh, sweet warm, weather warm, warm weather!