PURELY BY ACCIDENT I did a bit of camping in Maine this week, on the Stillwater River. I say by accident because it wasn’t the point of my being in Maine, but a much-enjoyed benefit on the side.
A mild wintery outing it was, for the temps never dipped below the mid-teens on the two nights I was there. That’s balmy compared to the subzero weather they’ve had in central Maine for the last two months.
More about that below. First, a few engine-related, fun-in-the-snow pics, which are documented only because Daughter #3 happened to stop in here at the humble manse last Sunday. She grabbed a camera and snapped these shots.
I had enlisted Larry, Guy, and John in a plan to drag an antique truck motor a few hundred feet and put it in the new shed down back. Our neighbor, the late Frank LaFleur, had allowed me to store the motor for years in a shed behind his garage.
It’s the original factory equipment out of the ’49 Ford truck, a flathead six, 215 cubic inches. I wore it out but it’s a good rebuildable core worth keeping. I replaced it with a flathead eight about a decade ago. The 239 eight is also a correct motor for the year; many a ’49 pickup came out of the factory with it.
The big six pulled heavy! Quite a lot of cast iron in it. I have no idea what it weighs. The engine stand is 100 pounds, the crankshaft alone must be at least another 100. Add in the rest of the rotating assembly, the block, the head, anybody’s guess.
Now we’re starting to think about how to stand the motor up onto its wheels on a slippery deck without anyone getting hurt.
It’s all about leverage! We tried several approaches. This one didn’t work.
Here’s the one that did. I appear to be monitoring whether that wheel is going to come down on Larry’s right foot. Crunch! But I don’t remember doing it. Maybe he was minding the clearance.
About camping in Maine… It all started with the news that Daughter #1 and Significant Other #1 were coming through southern New England on the first leg of D1D1’s first road trip ever. She’s 10 weeks old today. The family’s been staying with us the last few days and is leaving this afternoon for the north shore of Massachusetts. There, the new little girl will be introduced to SO1’s siblings and their families.
Happy D1D1 looks as if she loves us in this pic (her dad snapped it in the apartment in Jersey City) but I think she’s mostly looking past us and admiring the light fixtures on the ceiling. She’s completely and hilariously fascinated by them.
OMG, there IS a God! I can see Her Heavenly Celestial Boobs from here! Mmm….
With D1D1 coming through Little Rhody, the bride asked me (told me) to run up to Maine to fetch her mom so she could meet her fifth great-grandchild in transit.
So I’m to drive a car 1,200 miles, 600 up & back, twice. On a motorcycle, that’s a run around the block; in a car, it’s approaching the limits of my interest. So I broke up the driving after the first 300 miles by sneaking in two nights of winter camping.
I hailed our friend Greg Miller via text when I was awarded command of Operation Fetch Nana.
“Ahoy Greg! I expect to be in Penobscot County tomorrow afternoon. Will scout out a place to camp on the Stillwater River, within sight of your house and hopefully on your property and not somebody else’s. Will come up to the house in the evening to visit with you and Julie. Cheers!”
A few inches of fresh snow fell the first night. New snow slides off the tent and banks the foundation nicely. A little extra insulation, much appreciated.
Packed my grub in the bear cans, even though the bears are asleep in their dens.
Even so, I do like to maintain discipline on not stinking up my gear with food odors. I don’t cook in the tent or even near the tent. Made a little cook spot downwind, dug down to the ground so the pan wouldn’t tip over as the stove heated up. This is oatmeal for breakfast on Morning #1. Throw in a handful of dried cranberries and walnuts, tastes pretty good and makes for fine fuel.
The Stillwater River was frozen solid above the dam but a narrow channel had opened up where I was, on the downstream side.
A month from now, when the watershed starts letting go, I wouldn’t dare camp in the floodplain. Once the spring flow starts, the ice can quickly break up, jam up, and suddenly this spot I picked is underwater. I’m guessing it would be ill-advised to be caught snoozing.
I arrived in Bangor around 11 a.m. Tuesday, met up for lunch with Alix Williams, a newspaper colleague from the early 80s. Hadn’t seen Alix since around 1982. File that one under Life Zips By.
The old river house, one of my very favorite places in Maine. When the river comes up in the spring, the house is an island unto itself. Greg and Julie have been known to climb out a window into a boat and paddle for high ground.
When D1 was a little girl, what she remembered most about visiting Greg and Julie was the tree-sheltered lane that leads down to the river. To D1, Julie was “Julie in the woods.” Can we go see Julie in the woods? We call her that to this day.
Door knocker on the river house. I thought you might dig it, so to speak.
I drove north to Old Town after lunch with Alix. Julie in the woods said I was welcome to camp anywhere I liked. If I crossed a stream while walking downriver I’d be on somebody else’s land. It was slow going, and I didn’t walk all that far. The snow was so dry and powdery I sank in up to my knees even with snowshoes. I walked until I was aware of sweating in cold winter air. Looked up, saw no trees that appeared likely to come down on my tent overnight, and thought, Here’s my camp!
I made five trips in & out and didn’t care if I worked up a sweat, an egregious violation of the prime rule of winter camping. So I don’t say this was winter camping all-in; if there’s a house nearby where you can hang your wet shirt by the wood stove, let’s call that pretend winter camping.
Ella the dog having a stretch after snoozing by the fire.
Why five trips from the house to my camp? Because traveling by car leaves you free to take all kinds of stuff you don’t really need. I had two extra blankets I never used. Had enough food for two weeks. Had way more cooking fuel than I needed. On a motorcycle, you can’t afford to haul anything you’re not absolutely going to use. If you need it and don’t have it, consider yourself introduced to cruel deprivation. Packing for two-wheeled travel is unforgiving in a way that sharpens the mind. Traveling by car makes you lazy and soft.
Trudging upriver to the house, on the snowshoe path I made. By my second night on the Stillwater, Julie wouldn’t hear of me squatting in the dark in a snowbank eating rice and lentils. She insisted that I pull up a chair for the chicken stir fry.
My favorite picture of Greg and Julie, back when we were all young and beautiful. Now we’re just older and better looking than ever.
Family elders on both sides said it would never last. Sneaking up on two generations later, Greg and Julie are still proving them wrong. Old farts don’t know everything, you know. Often they’re just too worn out to see anything beyond what they already know, or think they know. That’s why I say Out with the old, In with the new, Wagons Ho, Viva Zapata, all that jazz.
Well, I had a delightful time at the river house, my hours of yakkety yak with Julie by day, yakkety yak with Greg in the evenings. Julie’s an angel, a superhero, a giver, a seer. Greg’s a good man, on the level, high-functioning amid the incomplete and imperfect knowledge that is the human condition. You could trust him with the missile codes. He wouldn’t freak out on you and blow up the world by mistake.
I enjoyed our brief reunion and all manner of interesting blab: history, science, heroism, villainy, various doctrines, assorted dogmas, the wiles of the fates, designs of the gods, the whole ball of wax.
Spied this by the kitchen countertop. It made me glad I was making the most of snow, before it’s gone.
And then the clock spake, and said, Ditto.
Back home in Rhode Island, grubby and fresh from the snowpack, I greet my D1D1 on her wintery way north.
Tony DePaul, March 7, 2015, Cranston, Rhode Island