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Spring is on the way and the evidence is all around us. Some folks consider the emergence of spring peepers as their “first sign of spring.” Others watch for robins on the lawn, the bizarre, buzzing call of mating woodcock in overgrown fields or the appearance of crocus blooms. Mud, of course, is a common though rarely popular sign of spring, and those adorable little red “Bump!” signs along the road are another wry favorite. Hit one of those “bumps” going too fast in the wrong direction and your hubcaps, muffler or other vital auto parts may get there ahead of you!
Back in my homesteading days on Philpot Ridge in Orneville, I made the mistake of trading a perfectly good souped-up Torino for a Jeep pickup with a plow and winch. Granted, a working vehicle like that is just the thing for a backwoods survivalist who needs to haul wood, plow roads or get himself out of places he should never have gone in the first place, but that same vehicle seems to be a magnet for folks who take chances with nature without a contingency plan of their own.
If I had a dollar for every time I was awakened at midnight (or 3 a.m.) by some hapless traveler who thought a nighttime run down a dirt road in mud season was a good idea, I could have paved that road10 times over. If they weren't out of gas they were stuck in the mud, and if they didn't lock themselves out of the car they had a dead battery, a broken “foot feed” (a.k.a. gas pedal linkage) or some sort of engine trouble that had been plaguing them for months and “just now” quit on them!
One night I was awakened well after midnight by a woman and two men, soaking-wet visitors who had obviously had more than their share of good things to drink. From what I could gather they had gotten stuck in the mud on the Atkinson side of Alder Stream and had walked the two miles (at night, in the rain) to my door. Perhaps most amusing was that, without the benefit of moonlight, stars or streetlights, the trio had walked right off the road into a flooded beaver pond! I knew the place well - a low spot in the road that flooded often and was always full of water.
I knew I'd never be able to drive across the swampy area in mud season, so I offered to drive them around to the other side so they could retrieve their vehicle. They preferred, however, to simply go home, which meant I had to drive them all the way around on paved roads through Milo, East Dover and Atkinson . . . not the sort of trip I was interested in late on a Sunday night in March. But, it was that or let them stay overnight, so off we went. I recall dropping them off at a farmhouse somewhere out that way. They never turned around, said “thanks” or even waved, but I figured they were safe at home and I was rid of them, so we were all winners!
To be fair, I suffered as much as anyone with the glorious coming of “spring.” It's wet no matter where you are in Maine at this time of year, but I had the inglorious luck to have chosen a home site that was eyeball-to-eyeball with one of the biggest beaver flowages in the region. Most years the “back yard” was a pond, at least till the frost went out and the soil could handle a little seepage. Though I did my best to keep the dooryard high and dry, most days I'd have to rearrange a collection of muddy boards, logs and beams in order to have a place I could get a my vehicle off the main road (which was already as muddy and rutted as a road could be in spring).
One weekend as I fought with heavy boards and mud-caked cedar logs, I heard a rattle and rumble in the distance. As the creak and groan of a big truck became louder, I recognized the black, battered dump truck of Parker Willinski, the well-known vagabond of Milo, who had the habit of showing up at the right time with the right stuff to solve your problem. Parker was known to deliver firewood, gravel dressed pigs and more than a few deer or moose to needy neighbors. This time it was a load of rocks - big, round rocks the size of melons, exactly what I needed to create a dry, stable parking place for my imbedded truck. How he knew I needed them or where he got them is anyone's guess, and in most cases it was better if you didn't know!
Parker backed in, dumped his load of rocks and drove off without a word. I ran beside him and offered him all the money I had ($20 in small, crinkled bills) but he just laughed, hoisted a beer and drove on. He was just that way, an angel in a hardhat, never holding a job yet always on the go, and despite all his faults was the neighborhood go-to guy for problems ranging from dead batteries to lost sheep.
The only way to deal with Parker was in kind, so on occasion I would leave a pie, a basket of apples or a case of beer on his doorstep, and one year I was able to put that $20 into his truck while he was out doing something to help someone else.
Parker was my sign of spring for many years, and even now, when the mud is deep, the peepers are loud and the frost heaves are calling my name, I think of his lop-sided old dump truck coming around the corner with God-knows-what in the back.
Those days, and Parker, are but memories now. You can have your geese, your robins and your pussy willows, but I'd give anything to see him come rumbling down the road again. It just doesn't seem like spring without him!
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