Letter from Aroostook: We’ll get through this

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Mainers are used to winter being rugged, especially those of us who choose to live in the northernmost and wildest parts of the state. 

We expect heavy snow, below-zero temperatures, days where we are hunkered down and isolated from friends, and we hunker down preparing for the eventual break in the weather that signals spring is coming. 

But this year has been rougher than many, complicated by the insidious virus that is both creeping and rampaging across the country and the world. 

Over the past four weeks, I have sat staring at the computer screen, trying to sort out what to share with the rest of the state. The weight of that responsibility weighs as heavily on me as the wet snow – more than 12 feet – that bends the branches of the trees that surround us. And in some ways, the weight of the virus weighs heavier than the snow. 

By the second week in May, farmers are usually out plowing the fields, preparing to sow potatoes and broccoli, barley and oats, all economic drivers in our sparsely populated part of the state. But snow and rain and sleet have left those fields too wet for plowing, parents busier with children schooling from home, and others with time on their hands, engaging in hijinks that have devastating effects.

Last week, some of those with time on their hands decided to go mudding, probably in a four-wheel-drive truck, across the still fallow fields of a local farmer, creating thousands of dollars of damage. And this week, similarly minded people off-roading up the slopes of Big Rock Mountain ski area left 2-foot deep ruts that will be pricey and hard to repair.  

Most County folks have focused on the positive. There is a Facebook page that connects people with needed resources that range from formula to food to furniture, and farmers who are unable to move the potatoes from last fall’s harvest have been donating them to people struggling with food insecurity because of closed companies and businesses.  Hemphill Farms, which specializes in seed potatoes in Presque Isle, gave away 20,000 pounds of potatoes to County folk, and Pineland Farms, which makes processed potatoes and other food products, gave away hundreds of bags of processed French fries and similar products. This generosity has been echoed by others who, even in this stressful time, share what they have. 

We have been blessed with only half a dozen COVID-19 cases up here, but many families, including ours, have come awfully close. One of our children who lives downstate tested positive and spent four weeks housebound and fighting successfully to overcome the disease. Several businesses have been forced to permanently close, including Sopresso, one of my favorite restaurants, and likely there are others yet unannounced. 

Perhaps worse is that we have not escaped the schism created by Gov. Janet Mills’ decisions on how to reopen the state. There seems to be a disconnect between what is good for society as a whole and one’s individual freedoms. Pro-maskers against No-maskers. Social distancing vs. individual rights. At best it is disheartening. 

But we find ways to keep busy and out of the political posturing. We’ve had more than a few wildlife visitors – deer, a young moose, a fox, porcupine, ravens, and a turkey buzzard, even a bald eagle that paused briefly on the telephone pole out front. A few days ago, we laid out a new herb garden, and yesterday we dug parsnips. We’re walking the dogs at least a mile a day up our dead-end road. And we’ve started seedlings for the garden.

It’s snowing again this morning which pushes back the warming of the soil, and the coming of spring, but a few days ago, after heavy rain, the first rainbow of the year stretched a promise across the sky. We’ll hang on to that promise because that’s what County folks do.

Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.