Snakes in Maine

Did you know that Maine has no venomous snakes? We were informed of this tidbit while house-hunting two summers ago, as if that bit of knowledge would suddenly cause us to say, “Oh, well in that case…we’ll take this house right now!”  Being a natural skeptic, I simply nodded my head at the realtor and smiled real pretty-like, reserving my sarcasm for the privacy of our car.

I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could absolutely know whether or not poisonous snakes exist in a state filled with vast amounts of wilderness. Not only that but, how exactly, does one keep a snake from entering the state? Is there some kind of sentinel standing watch at the border of Maine and New Hampshire? “Can I see your papers please?” The visiting venomous snake pulls out some forged papers claiming that he is a common milk snake and hands it to the snake sentinel. “I’m sorry, sir…your photo looks nothing like you, you’ll have to turn around. We don’t like your kind in Maine.”

I subjected David to a relentless monologue about Maine and snakes after the realtor provided that weird (suspicious) piece of trivia. I have a hard time letting things go and, just as the ride settled into a comfortable silence, I’d ask, “So…do snakes just stop at the state line? Is there some invisible poisonous snake-repelling force field?” or, “Maybe the poisonous ones choose to avoid Maine. So….what? Maine’s not good enough?” I huffed, “Those elitist jerks.” We tend to engage in these types of conversations on road trips. Mostly because we’re slightly twisted and also because we make each other laugh with ridiculous scenarios.

Have you ever visited Maine? The first thing that you see as you cross the state line is a giant sign proclaiming that this is a state that lives life the way it should be lived. Evidently, whoever decided that living “The Way Life Should Be” also decided that life shouldn’t involve venomous snakes.

This morning I walked out of the house to find all three children huddled at the side of the driveway. Upon hearing the screen door shut, they all looked up and began talking simultaneously in a mixture of unintelligible squeals and excited sentences punctuated by high-pitched voice cracking. “Wait…what did you say?” Joe stood and ran toward me holding his hand out, “We found a snake, Mom!” I realized that the hand he was holding out was wrapped in a brown snake and my heart momentarily skipped a beat. Thankfully, I remembered that suspicious claim about Maine having only non-venomous snakes. I’m obsessive enough to have checked the facts and, short of contacting the State Wildlife Agency to confirm, I’m going to proceed living life the way I should…without fear venomous snakes. (The last known sighting of a Timber Rattlesnake in Maine was in 1901.)

Here’s our new (and likely temporary) friend, Mr. Baby Snake a/k/a Bing Bong. I can’t make this shit up.

Of course, after warning that snakes should never be picked up unless you know they aren’t poisonous and even harmless snakes bite, I let Joe hold Mr. Baby Snake who showed no signs of aggression. Plus, his tiny little head wasn’t threatening at all. I suspect that his mouth was too small to get a serious hold on kid fingers. Besides, how could I resist this textbook -boy” moment of exploration? Look at him… I love that smile and his new, too-big-for-his-face front teeth. I’ll think about the orthodontist bills later. For now I’m going to relish his final days as a six-year-old, big crooked teeth and all.

After he’d begrudgingly boarded the school bus and the grumpy bus driver shot me the hairy-eyeball, I realized that I was standing in the driveway in my nightie and a sweater. Whatever… we were having a moment. Besides, she’s pulled up and caught us doing The Robot and playing dead at the end of the driveway, I think it’s safe to assume her opinion of our family has been formed, nightie or no-nightie. (Do people even use the word ‘nightie’ anymore?)

Anywho… Joe was gone and the snake, now renamed Bing Bong, was subject to two inquisitive little girls who proceeded to poke him and decorate him with ornamental leaves. Bing Bong needed to look pretty for his journey home.

 

*Other than a bit of psychological trauma, Bing Bong escaped unharmed.

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Dear Spring Bringer,

Last spring, our first in Maine, we visited Mackworth Island in Falmouth for a hike with the children and my mother. Mackworth Island is part of the Portland Trails system and connected to Falmouth by a causeway over the Presumpscot River. The 1.25 mile hike is perfect for children and offers a bit of everything – flowers, sea, forest, bird watching, beautiful scenery and fairies.

The trails are flat and wide, offering sweeping views of Casco Bay and its islands as well as, Portland and Falmouth. Along the way several smaller paths lead to the shoreline offering a bit of adventurous climbing and exploration for the children. Maybe it was just because it was the first truly summery day of the season but there was something magical about that place with its paths lined in flowers and remnants of architecture being swallowed by the forest. My curiosity about the island and the people who once lived there led to a bit of research.
Mackworth Island, the former summer residence of Governor Percival Baxter (1876-1969), is a bird sanctuary and also houses the Baxter School for the Deaf. An active conservationist, Governor Baxter deeded the island to the state of Maine in 1943. He fought to protect and maintain Maine’s natural resources, many of which are still enjoyed today by both residents and the tourists who visit this beautiful state. Like the Adirondack State Park in my native New York state, Governor Baxter led the campaign to keep Mt. Katahdin “forever wild” by purchasing the mountain and surrounding wilderness then donating the land to the state of Maine.

Sadly, as I researched Mackworth Island’s past I stumbled across a dark chapter in its recent history. Not being from Maine I was, until today, unaware of the scandal surrounding what was formerly known as the Maine School for the Deaf. The criminologist in me is interested in doing a bit more research about the men who inflicted such deep scars on this beautiful place and the students who attended the school. From the information that I quickly perused this morning, it appears that Dr. Robert E. Kelly and Dr. Joseph Youngs were truly monsters.

On the day of our hike, the sun was shining and the breeze was just beginning to carry the humid warmth of summer. The view of the bay was so beautifully framed by evergreens and a jungle of lush deciduous trees and shrubs. The Canadian wild fires provided us with a smoggy view while the smell of smoke mixed with the briny scent of the ocean. Our climb down to the shoreline offered up a treasure trove of crabs, sea glass and snails.

Nearing the end of the hike, we rounded a bend in the trail and located the site of the Mackworth Island fairy houses. Using only natural items, visitors are encouraged to build a house for the fairies that are rumored to inhabit the island and, as a result, that section of the forest resembles a booming metropolis for fairy folk. We spent some time carefully building a sturdy and inviting home fit for Tinkerbell herself, complete with a cozy moss-covered bed, a fence built from mussel shells and a birch bark roof to keep her warm and dry.

It was a beautiful day filled with exploration, discovery and creativity. We ate sandwiches overlooking Casco Bay. We investigated tide pools and walked magical pathways leading to the land of fairies. We got wet and dirty and hot and tired and it was good.

At the end of our walk I found a letter tacked to a small sign in the flowers on the side of the trail.

Mackworth Spring Bringer

Dear Spring Bringer,

For the air we breathe here

For the trees that breathe with us and give us beauty…the pine and the birch and the oak

For the waters we see… the river, the bay and the fantastic ocean

For the animals here… the elders and the geese, the turkeys and the fox, the gulls and the squirrels and the chipmunks

For the dew and the rain

For the moon and the tides

For the sun and the light

Spring Bringer,

We thank you.

I also took a picture of grandma in the port-o-potty, but if I post that picture she might actually drive to Maine and kill me.
Grandma – Not in the Port-o-Potty





Out, Out Damn Tick…

It was right around this time last year when I rounded the kids up for a picnic on the lawn. We had lived here for just over four months and most of those months were coated with snow and ice. When the weather finally warmed enough for us to actually see what the yard looked like, we were excited. We ate lunch on a big blanket on the lawn and soaked up the sun. It was nice. Maine is teeeer-rific, I thought, while I ecstatically warmed myself in the sun and took picture upon the exact same picture of my children in our new country habitat.

A few hours later we were sitting in the family room watching cartoons when Joe, who had been scratching and fidgeting for quite awhile, complained, “Mom, I’m super itchy on my head.” Of course, I nearly flew across the family room to inspect his head because my first thought was HEAD LICE! But the thing I picked from his scalp was a cootie of a different variety. I found a tick. By the end of my inspection that afternoon I had removed exactly seven of them from Joe’s body and four from Gwen’s.

You know how as a parent you’re supposed to act calm, cool and collected in situations where your children are coated in things like blood sucking disease carriers? Well, I wasn’t.

To be fair, when I saw the first tick I simply said, “eeeeew…you have a tick” and I removed it. Then came tick number two, three, four and five. By tick number six I was in full blown freak-out mode. I inspected those kids like a gorilla grooms it’s mate. I made them strip down to their birthday suits and lined them up in the bathroom where I scanned every crack and crevice of their bodies which, by the way, wasn’t a pleasurable experience for any of us. It paid off though because the tick that had crawled into Joe’s underwear and attached to his balls was removed before it was able to suck the life out of my future grandchildren. I’m hoping that, over time, his memory of that extraction will fade into oblivion because I imagine that the recollection of his mother picking at his nuts isn’t going to be one he cherishes.

photo courtesy of moviesplanet.com

I put the kids in the bathtub and watched more ticks rise to the surface of the water. If you only knew the level of disgust that was coursing through my body that day… In a state of cootie-induced panic, I pitched their clothes out of second floor bathroom window and left them in the driveway for dramatic effect. I then became overly preoccupied with the thought of ticks crawling through the house. I found myself scanning the vast expanse of hardwood floors, attempting to spot any sign of movement and shuddered at the thought of ticks lying in wait for a host and a moist arm pit.

After I talked myself down off the roof, I took a moment to call my husband at his very important job and provided him with a play by play of my disgust and disappointment with his having chosen a house smack in the middle of a tick infested field. Then I repeatedly shared my disgust with all 227 people who had friended me on Facebook. Finally, I spent the afternoon researching companies that would come and remove said ticks from our yard.

As is typical behavior for me, I was consumed by the thought of millions of tiny brown vampires crawling through the grass in our yard, patiently waiting to attach themselves to my children. My ranting made David so insane that he called a service to give us a quote for tick spraying. It turned out that it would cost us nearly $1,000 for treatment which would be required through fall.

After I talked David down off the roof, I presented him with some cheaper options. In keeping with the essence of me, I spent a large portion of an afternoon researching possible ways to completely annihilate ticks. What I found was an all natural product that is basically super-concentrated garlic extract that  reportedly keeps the ‘squiters and ticks at bay. Well, I can’t rave about the mosquito deterrent part, but the ticks sure don’t like it! I think we payed $24 for a 32 ounce bottle that lasted the entire summer and treated our acre and a half yard about four times. We still have enough left over to get a few more treatments this year.

The downside of the spray is that after treating the yard you tend to smell like you rolled in a giant vat of minced garlic. Thankfully I like garlic so I just put on a pair of wellies and joyfully coat my yard in pungent garlic juice, all the while imagining those nasty little critters recoiling in distaste as they are pummeled with foul smelling garlic bombs. I’m sure that if the breeze is just right, the neighbors might catch a whiff of garlic in air and wonder what in the hell I’m doing up here at Chez Crazy.

In all seriousness, coming from Westchester County/Connecticut area where Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis are a huge risk, I’m very careful about knowing what each species of tick looks like and we perform daily tick checks on the children and the dog.  I’d love to stay and chat, but David suspects there’s a tick on his nuts…I’m not sure he’ll have the same distaste as Joe will for when he recalls my inspection.* For tips and more information on ticks click here.

courtesy of CDC

*calm down, I’m totally joking.

I’ll be away this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If you are interested in guest posting at Narragansett Number 7 please e-mail me at narragansettno7@yahoo.com. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Chuck

Summer ended today. Well, not technically, but when Joe boarded that big yellow school bus this morning, his schedule sure put the kibosh on our lazy days. Don’t get me wrong, he was more than ready to start first grade, but Gwen and I floundered when he left . We wandered around the house like a couple of zombies. I threw myself into cleaning and, in the process vacuumed away the sand that we carried home from the beach yesterday. It was our final hurrah. A farewell to sunshine and giggles.

We’re so lucky to live where we do. Its Vacationland, man! Who doesn’t like Maine? We live exactly 10 miles from the ocean. We have a parking pass that ensures our ability to stake a claim in the beach lot whenever we want. We have a beach shack that sells toys and hot dogs and crappy over-priced ice cream. We can buy lobster at five different places on the way home. Maine. The epitome of summah. It’s been wicked hot, but for me…this is nature’s antidepressant. What a magical place for our children to spend their youth.

There was a time when my family had a summer house at Lake George. The magical location of my childhood summer days. I vaguely remember the beach, our boat and feeding the end of my sugar cone to sunfish at the “Old Beach”. Then we moved on to our renovated farm house and let’s just say that summer became a bit more of a solitary existence. No lake and no neighbors, unless you count the kids who lived a mile away in every direction. We did have a tiny little stream running through the horse paddock though. On blazing hot days, we swam in the pool at Hebron Camp. My best friend, Chrissy had a pond and some giant inner-tubes that provided hours of fun.

Mostly, as the youngest of three, I was foisted off on my siblings while my parents went off to work. As a parent, I can’t even begin to fathom leaving my three children alone in the middle of nowhere for hours on end. Yet, it was the 70’s, my sister was teenage-ish and my brother was pre-pubescent, so back then it was A-Okay. Besides, we were really good at coming up with ways to entertain ourselves. For example, that extra “farm car”, otherwise known as the green El Ranchero, was normally reserved for carrying hay bales to horses. But…when grownups weren’t around, it had the magical ability to morph into the General Lee.

Two kids, aged 13 and 8, could easily drive around for hours pretending to be Luke and Daisy in that old beater. And why the hell not? There was no adult supervision!

I clearly remember my brother, his braces throwing off glints of sunshine, turning donuts in the dirt driveway and sending plumes of dust into the air. He’d stop and yell, “Get in, Daisy! Boss Hog is on our tail!” This was my cue to gracefully climb (scratch the shit out of the door) through the window Daisy Duke style, land on the passenger seat and scream, “YEEEEEEE-HAW!” Good times were had by all.

Now that I think about it, I really don’t recall being watched very closely at all. This might explain that time I played with the carcass of a dead woodchuck. I think I saw it get hit by a car…or maybe I just tell myself that it was fresh road kill because that’s just a little less gross than playing with an old dead animal. Either was, it was just wrong. On so many levels. I do recall having the bright idea to prop Chuck up on the side of the road with his “thumb” sticking out. He had places to go.

As I posed him, It struck me that he’d look more authentic with a sign. Within minutes, Chuck was holding a placard emblazoned with the words “California or Bust”. He still wasn’t complete. As I was tying a red bandana to the end of a stick, a la Bugs Bunny, my brother happened along. Was he disgusted? Absolutely not. He helped me get Chuck situated. We artfully arranged Chuck with his new bindlestick slung over one shoulder. He then sat with me, hidden by the lilac bushes, and we spent the afternoon watching random cars slow down to read the sign and ogle at our weird dead play-thing.

Is it wrong that the thought of that day still makes me laugh? Perhaps. Am I thankful that I am able to stay home with my children? Yes. I would prefer that they don’t play with road kill and drive the farm equipment unattended. I prefer spending my days with them building sand castles and body surfing. I prefer buying a lobster and letting the kids play with it before we kill it…okay, that’s still a bit “off”, but it happens. I prefer spending family time with each other while we can.

We are a lucky bunch, aren’t we?