Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bread, milk – and generators

When my little family moved to Maine from Connecticut at the end of ’97, we thought we knew all about snow and how to deal with it. It didn’t take long to find out we were strictly amateurs when it comes to snow removal, outdoor activities, and not letting a little of the white stuff stop anything.

Two weeks after we had settled into our apartment in Saco at the end of December, and two days after First Born joined her new fourth grade class which had just resumed after the holidays, the Great Ice Storm of 1998 smacked us upside the head. If you were a photographer, the vision of glistening branches bending over the roads and the moonlight striking untouched, crystallized snow was practically heaven. If you were anyone else, this was probably not the case.

From the frigid effects of an ice storm in ’98 to a record-breaking snowfall in 2000, we experienced Maine’s way of dealing with winter, and it was impressive. One morning after a rather severe storm, I witnessed what appeared to be a giant Tonka truck plowing its way down a Saco sidewalk. Chunks of snow were blown with brute force away from the path, forming a thick mountain along the way. It was what Mainers would call wicked cool.

Like any other state in New England, there are priorities when preparing for impending whoppers like the one we are anticipating as I am writing.  Stores become packed with patrons grabbing the last of the bread and milk – necessities when you might be stuck inside for any length of time. Gas stations pick up business because nobody wants an empty tank if they do decide to foolishly venture out in the midst of the mess. But in Maine there is one more reason to go to the gas station, and one item that appears on a regular basis this time of year.

That item is a generator.

Picture this. The power goes out. A short time later you hear its hum from your neighbor’s house where the lights shine, the refrigerator is working and occupants can even charge their iPads. Meanwhile, you sit in the dark surrounded by those weird candles that are supposed to burn for hours, wondering if you’ll have to go and sit in your car by morning to charge your cell phone. You can’t even make coffee.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way we became the owners of a generator. The Spouse bought it from a coworker who was upgrading to a bigger, better unit, but this one suits our little home just fine. I have no clue how to operate it, so even though the point is that we would have at least some lights and electricity, it is useless if I’m left to take care of it on my own. Thankfully, so far the Spouse has been around each time we’ve really needed it.

I have come to admire how Maine doesn’t let snow stop much of anything. We’ve seen ice sculptures and castles, ice skating rinks in neighboring yards, and sledding hills in the middle of a street. I find it fascinating to drive down Commercial Street in Portland and watch loaders pour tons of snow into dump trucks ready for their fill, like puppies lined up for a treat.

Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice fishing – this is how Maine conquers the winter blues. You can even try dog sledding. If you’re not into any of these activities, you could just sit by the fire at a ski lodge and enjoy watching icicles drip off snowboarders’ helmets.

This year I may just learn how to operate the generator.  It’s an important step in storm preparation.

After all, my first cup of coffee could be on the line.

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