Moose and Moxie and Maine, Oh My!
Maine. It's not Southern. In fact, if you look on the map, it's about as far north as you are allowed to go without a passport.
But wait. There's a story to tell.
I keep this crazy blog going on a few themes. Agrarianism, tradition, history, culture, family. You know, you've read it. It's true conservative, not Republican Party conservative.
So Maine has squeezed its way into my Southern perspective on a little bit of everything.Because by "everything" I mean Maine too.
So I'm sitting on Row 6 of the world's smallest commercial airliner, grimacing as I look out the window trying to tell if we are coming in for a nice soft landing with a safe, gentle coast to a reasonable taxi speed to the arrival gate or if we're going to smash into the rocky Atlantic shore and explode in an seemingly oxymoronic eruption of burning jet fuel and frigid salt water, killed...or worse.
Luckily it was somewhere in between. I hear the wheels go down...we're getting closer...I hear the wheels go up again. We gain altitude and the pilot starts complaining about some cross-wind mumbo jumbo like the other grown man wedged into row six and I didn't notice that strobe effect of the opening scene of Newhart and the sky flickering in the window while our stomachs cried out for any possible relief. "We're going to loop around and try that again." He tells us. Good. You try that again. I'm going to pray.
We found the ground safely and I found my ride. And they helped me find my first meal of the day, shortly after 3 pm. Which was not that bad, considering that landing thing and all. And long story short, there was peanuts and Coke. Maine and I were off to a good start.
The road to my destination weaved through small towns, communities founded in the late 1700's and the fall colors were gorgeous.
As I've mentioned before, I was going to see my Grandpa. And that is where this whole odyssey took a turn that wound it up on this blog. Grandpa built things. Houses, parts of houses, furniture, cabinets, things of wood, things of brick. He built stuff for rich folks. He built stuff for not-so-rich folks. Big stuff, small stuff. He built all kinds of stuff. If he had a clear spot and the right parts he could build a house from chert to chimney.
He built his house from the ground up with his own hands. He had finished everything but the floors in three rooms when he got sick and couldn't finish. So my uncle stepped in, assured him that he would complete the task and then went out back and felled three white pines, right behind Grandpa's house. They brought the portable sawmill in and started making lumber.
This is where I came in.
My cousin and I finished making the lumber needed to finish Grandpa's floors, right in the back yard. Another cousin and I hauled that last load of lumber to be kilned and milled into flooring.
And Grandpa passed away.
So my uncle, some of my cousins and I took some of his lumber for his floor (because we had plenty) and we built Grandpa a traditional pine coffin, just like he wanted. And his devoted wife made a beautiful fleece lining for the inside of it. And he'll be buried in it in a family cemetery near people he loved.
And somewhere in that it hit me. My Maine experience was a lot more congruent with my theme here than some of my "Southern" experiences. (I'm looking at you, Hartsfield-Jackson Int'l Airport). I thought about Henry Grady bemoaning the post-reconstruction south and the funeral where the South only provided the deceased and the hole. Here Grandpa had provided everything, except the labor for the coffin - and he had helped produce the laborers (his grandchildren). He died in a house he built with his own hands. His widow will walk on solid floors made from wood on their own property. He will be buried in the coffin, made by his family from that same wood, on a beautiful hillside in rural Maine, And part of me wept because such a thing is the exception instead of the rule.
If that wasn't enough, We walked in the woods on his property, scouting beaver and identifying trees and fungi as we talked and laughed and told old stories. We dined on moose and "whoopie pies" and drank Moxie - all of which are local treats (sound familiar?). And the foliage, the population density, the complete absence of almost any hint of urban sprawl...and the lobster roll from Rick's, the local joint down on the corner. Ok, the lobster roll isn't very Southern but if you can't enjoy it, you might not have a soul.
My experience was very agrarian, traditional, local, and family-oriented. It was everything I try to celebrate and support here. If I'm honest, when my new found friends dropped me off at the airport, I went inside and felt a grieving in my gut. Obviously Grandpa being gone played a large role in this feeling. But part of it was sadness that this time was coming to an end. I was anxious to see my family and my Georgia but I also felt like I was leaving something behind. I sat with a few mementos and I wept. A surge of emotion washed over me and I did, I wept.
Finally, the man at the check-in counter at the Portland airport saw my name on my ticket, "Burnham is an old Maine name." "Yes sir" I replied, "I'm an old Maine Burnham from Georgia." He laughed and told me the story of Burnham Hill, "It's the reason Maine doesn't have a death penalty. They hung a man named Burnham and then found out he was innocent. His case overturned the death penalty in the state. They have a monument for him up there.
I decided, if they hang innocent Burnhams up there, that it was high time that I got going.
And so I will...until next time.
The Unstung Hero
By Sam Burnham
Having recently survived encounters with local wildlife, I feel compelled to share a few important points (no pun intended) to introduce those who may be uninformed to the variety of flying stingy type insects that are known to inhabit Georgia and the surrounding region.
First I give you the dirt dauber. These insects build pipe organ type structures where they feed spiders to their larvae and build more structures for more larvae and spiders and on and on. A serious insect scientist could share with you the myriad reasons that these bugs are beneficial. We always liked them because they looked like wasps but won't sting you. The only real detriment they pose is their occasional poor choice of structure locations. Like on the brickwork above my front door. And of course the nasty looking grub-like larvae that fall out when you remove the structures.
Other then that, they're harmless.
The hornet. Also known as the harnet (rhymes with garnet). Much maligned as vicious and dangerous, my experience with these bugs is that they are really hermits and so long as you don't go messing with them, they'll stay in their remote fortresses and do whatever it is that they do in their little paper cone.
The cone thing is the problem. Many a Jim Bob sees the mighty funnel and wishes to make it his own, which breaks the unwritten law of the hornet, "Leave them alone". Once you break this law, you are indeed on your own and the hornets will do with you what they wish. So, just let them bee...er...be.
The wasp. Also known as the warst. Ok, these are a bit meaner than the dirt dauber and maybe not quite as mean as the hornet but they tend to come a bit closer to civilization than their paper cone cousins. A stray baseball or maybe a misguided stream from a Super Soaker water gun might dislodge a few that come to seek you out. But, for the most part, they are the grouchy old men of the group. They don't want goof balls playing around their porch but they aren't very motivated to chase interlopers very far. Just run a bit and you will be ok.
The honey bee. My personal favorite of this bunch. They make honey and besides being tasty on biscuits or cornbread or in your morning coffee, raw honey is a natural remedy for seasonal allergies.
Honeybees pollinate everything. and they are incredibly busy. they don't have time to be bothered by you and you really have to freak one out to get stung. Let them work because I don't want to sneeze and you don't want to get stung.
Then there is this poor twisted soul. The casual glance says honey bee. The first close up might communicate wasp or hornet. This however is wrath incarnate. This is the yellow jacket. Georgia Tech chose this little booger to be it's mascot because both these animals and the GT football team tend to be bad this time of year. (thank you, I'll be here all week).
The yellow jacket lives where it wants to. Because forget you, that's why. If you venture anywhere near their abode, even for something so benign as to offer them chocolate cake or invite them to a dinner party, they will spring from their little portal of punishment by the millions and unleash havoc on everything in a 1 square mile radius.
Oh you can escape. But you'll go inside, enjoy dinner, read to your children, get a good night sleep, wake, shower, eat breakfast, shave, brush your teeth, kiss your spouse good bye and once you go outside, there they are. "Remember us? We've been waiting for you all night." and BAM! the violence continues.
Legend has it that if you kill one, its dead body emits a pheromone that tells its friends, "hey that dude in the red shirt just killed me" and then 5 or 10 will appear seeking a reckoning for what you have done. And there's more of them than there are of you. So run. Faster.
So there's a few tips for surviving encounters with flying insect in Georgia. Keep an eye out and you'll be fine.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire