My mother’s side of our family arrived in Maine’s midcoast over 250 years ago. My father’s folks were from Providence, R.I. and he didn’t arrive in Maine until 1935. Dad was a dentist and after they were married it was decided that they would live in Rhode Island and spend summers on the coast of Maine. We would be “summer complaints.”
To that end, Mother saw to it that we were packed and ready to leave for Maine early in the morning on the day after school let out. We didn’t return to Rhode Island until the day before school began.
During the family’s long summer’s in Maine dad would often tell stories about his summers on Rhode Island’s Kickemuit River. The main difference was the water – the cool, sparkling waters of the Gulf of Maine vs. the not-so-cool waters of the little Kickemuit – known as Narraganset Bay’s smallest tributary.
Dad like to tell about the first time he immersed his foot into Maine waters and experienced its numbing effect. As a kids on the coast, we would swim every chance we got. All the kids did.
But dad would often say: “Remember kids, if your lips or hands start turning blue you'll have to get out of the water for a while.”
How were we to know that Dad was describing the signs of onset hypothermia. 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 barely drinkable coffee down at the store and Harold - one of our town’s 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.
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 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 keep my wits about me.