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Since we bought the camp up in Oxford County I've been doing a lot of lake swimming, but I still recall, from the last time I immersed my foot into the Gulf of Maine, the ocean's bone-numbing quality. As a kid growing up on the coast, I'd swim everyday. All the kids did. Our parents always said: “If your lips and hands start turning blue you'll have to get out of the water for a while.”
What we didn't know at the time was that our parents were describing the signs of onset hypothermia.
It says something that even on a beautiful August afternoon the waters off the coast of Maine can still cause hypothermia!
I was thinking of all this the other day as I sat drinking designer coffee down at the store and Harold - one of our certified know-it-alls - started in about recent shark sightings off the coast.
My first thought was what a nice change of topics that was from the other subjects our resident scholars had been kicking around recently: the Red Sox, tourists, gasoline prices, Mel Gibson.
Carlton, who had been sitting quietly in a booth nursing his thirteenth refill, challenged Harold's statements, saying that Maine waters were much too cold for sharks, which makes them better suited for things like lobsters and crabs. Harold said in case Carlton hadn't noticed our waters were getting warmer what with all the business about global warming.
I remember years ago there were reports of shark sightings off some of our southern beaches and people back then were talking about how Maine's waters were getting warmer. At the time I thought no water I'd been swimming in felt like it was warming up. And like I said before, the last time I checked, our ocean waters still felt pretty darned cold to me.
It's always amused me the way people - even people here in Maine - get all worked up about sharks and the supposed danger they pose to all living things.
I suppose if I lived in Florida and spent a lot of time in the ocean down there I'd be concerned about shark sightings and shark attacks. But I can't get too worked up about it living here in Maine.
Sharks have 6,533,384,576 people on earth to choose from when they feel the urge to munch on someone of the human persuasion. Yet, only about 75 of all those billions and billions are attacked each year by sharks. Of those 75 unlucky individuals only about eight to 10 receive fatal wounds.
I know it wouldn't mean much to me if I were one of the 75 people attacked by a shark, but those who keep track of such things say more of our fellow earthlings are killed each year by elephants or bees or crocodiles or lightning than are killed by sharks.
As far as I know we don't have many elephants or crocodiles here, but I'm certain you'll see more bees and lighting bolts in a lifetime here in Maine than you'll see sharks.
But I can tell you this much; the next time I walk by a beehive I'll be a bit nervous.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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