Click Here To Learn More About John McDonald
There are many things listed among “the first signs of spring,” here in Maine. Out west they await the return of the swallows to the Capistrano Mission in California. Elsewhere, folks are equally anxious about the return of the buzzards to Hinkley, Ohio. Some know that spring close when teams in Major League Baseball start spring training, and some are thrilled just to see the first crocus poke through the dead blades of grass on their brown lawn.
All those things are important signs of the spring season and warmer weather but I look for a more local sign – an authentic Maine sign.
As mounds of snow melt around the state, one of our great, great cultural icons begins to slowly emerge. I am referring, of course, to The Maine Dooryard. Covered under snow since January, Maine's dooryards are being unveiled in all their rough, unvarnished glory.
For those new arrivals from away and even some former country folk with short memories who now dwell in one of Maine's trendier cities or manicured suburbs, I'll give a quick explanation.
In Maine a dooryard is a place right outside a humble dwelling's backdoor (there are no dooryards outside front doors) where a male Mainer stores all those things that he can't fit inside his already cluttered house, but items that are much too important to his quality of life to just be thrown on the dump or hauled to a smart, new-age transfer station.
We're not talking about piles of junk here, as some snobs from away would describe them. We’re talking about important items like roughed-up furniture, old stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, used couches, bed springs, engine blocks, outboard motors, snow blowers, slightly dysfunctional lawn mowers, tires, chains, a transmission or two and chicken wire. For some reason there's always lots of chicken wire in your well-stocked dooryard.
As our snow begins to melt away, our state's dooryards slowly emerge and many husbands rediscover important repair projects that were suddenly interrupted a few months ago. There are those electric stoves that just needed a little tinkering with, and right in the middle of a late-winter tinkering session those stoves were suddenly buried under two or three feet of snow.
For as long as I can remember that's the way things have always worked here in Maine.
But, you know as well as I do that things here in Maine are changing. The reemergence of Maine's dooryards reminds us of some of the legal problems experienced by the curators of some of our dooryards.
Some folks from away – those who fled congestion and problems and congestion of places to the south and west – start complaining about some of our local customs and traditions. Before they've even finished unpacking their U-Hauls the were finding fault. And we all know that no tradition or custom is more revered in rural Maine than the tradition of acquiring and carefully storing important items just outside your backdoor in a place traditionally known in Maine as a dooryard.
In recent years, stories have appeared in local papers telling about the complaints of some neighbors. They “have issues” with the essential items some Mainers might have neatly stored. Some towns – mostly in southern Maine – have even passed ordinances trying to outlaw the traditional Maine dooryard, saying they are, in effect, dumps.
It just shows how little some of these town officials know. If the items were just junk and ready for the dump it wouldn't be in a dooryard in the first place, now would it?
So, as you drive around Maine this spring, I hope you'll pay attention as our dooryards emerge from underneath their wintry blankets. If you have a camera you might ask a dooryard curator if you can snap a picture of his landmark that is such an important part of Maine's rural landscape. What with the increased call for local ordinances, who knows how long our dooryards will last?
As they say Down East, not all change is always for the best.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
Would you like to read past issues of Numb As A Pounded Thumb?
Click Here