Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maine Harvest Seasons

We set out this morning to go berry picking, as one simply should enjoy during a Maine summer. Much to our chagrin, the raspberry patches were closed due to the rain...I don't think I know a Maine native who wouldn't pick raspberries because it was raining, perhaps the owners of the berry patch needed a day off!?! We will have to reschedule for later in the week-stay tuned...

Maine is steeped in seasonal harvest: potatoes, lobster, fish, blueberries, wood for paper, toothpicks and firewood, Christmas trees, clams, berries, apples, wildflowers, pumpkins...(and I count antiques and other "pre-owned" items as one of Maine's bountiful harvests too!)
These harvests are one of my favorite things about living in Maine and one of the things I am very excited to share with my daughter, now that she is growing up here as well. I have had the pleasure, opportunity and misfortune all at the same time, to have participated in many of the harvests from a working perspective, tending a lobster boat one summer, raking blueberries on my Grandfather's blueberry land, tuna fishing 20 miles off shore in a boat much too small for such purposes, tipping Fir Balsam trees to make and sell Christmas wreaths in the winter, along with tending a sea urchin diving boat in the frigid January waters-yes people do eat these things, but they are mostly from away, as we say.

My family has an historical and almost famous obsession with firewood and potatoes, these harvests are so commonplace, I almost failed to mention them. My Grandfather always attempts to get to the mashed potatoes first at Thanksgiving and he strategically notes where my sister will be sitting so he won't have to compete with her for the potatoes. After my sister has served herself and passed along the potatoes, my Grandfather calls out in his dear and true Maine accent, " Is there anything left?!?"

My father's idea of a family gathering is everyone he has ever known, in full safety regalia "down" at the wood lot, an assembly line of free laborers, furiously splitting, stacking and loading the wood splitter, a frenzied, wordless, choreography, of which we all know the moves, a little too well.

That is my Dad, the foreman, in the orange helmet-his brother is a professional logger-really. Do we still use the word lumberjack?!? M'Uncle (pronounced MUNCLE, conjunction of my and uncle in these parts) is the one without the helmet- but my dad, donning kevlar leg chaps and hearing protection and all-clearly has a thing about safety.
And yes, my then 85 year old Grandfather still managed to make the 4 hour drive for some turkey and the elder's honorable seat on the kitchen stool, operating the wood splitter. He could do it with his eyes closed. He hates to take a break.
There is too much good wood to be split.

My sister and I used to feign serious and contagious illness on Saturday mornings growing up, to avoid my father's exuberant call to duty for wood stacking. I can hear his voice now, prefaced by a whippoorwill whistle: "ALL WOOD STACKERS REPORT FOR DUTY", as he came up the stairs to drag us from our beds and clock us in at the wood pile. We always did heat our home predominantly with a wood stove-those who are familiar with the perfect radiant heat will think fondly of how it feels to be near a wood stove on a sub zero temperature night.

When my sister was in college, she would visit home and announce upon arrival, "I'm home, will split wood for food!"

Maine people have a long tradition of working hard, working the land and maximizing the natural abundance of this magical place, in order to survive-even in the varied seasons and wildly ranging temperatures. (It is not uncommon for there to be a 30-40 degree temperature swing from morning to night in a given day, and it is true, it has snowed in May here...)
It makes me feel happy that I somehow manage to maintain a reasonable body weight for a woman around here, considering my sister and I were lovingly told by our Grandfather at each meal he shared with us, "If you keep eating like that, you'll hit 200 by fall!"
One fall I did hit 200-the fall I had my daughter-we had a great chuckle that Thanksgiving, when I announced to my Grandpa that I really had hit 200 by fall. He was so proud: "You're a good Maine woman" he whispered to me.
The bounty, the beauty, the way life should be.

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