Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ice Fishing

Last evening I participated in an opportunity many would have forgone for several legitimate reasons. It was cold, the drive was far, and the activity was, well, not very active, and, oh yeah, it was late at night. Only 3 signed up besides me, we were an intimate group.
I was invited to tag along with the "outdoor experience" group here at the college for the unique outing to the "Baker Smelting Farm", which is what looks like a summer camping and recreation area on the Kennebec River up near Augusta, Maine. For the frozen months it turns into the "smelt farm" which consists of 38 ice huts all lined up in two rows very close together for the purpose of extracting spawning smelt from the depths of the river. The most experienced of our group knew the pertinent question to ask at check in: "How they bitin tonight?". The answer was all we needed to know: "They are pulling lots out and setting their hooks at about ten feet".

Our hut had a small wood stove, 3 bare light bulbs, 2 benches and two troughs cut through the ice so two or four fisherman could fish back-to-back. A bar over each ice hole holds 10 suspended fishing lines and hooks that are baited with "blood worms". When the line starts to do a little zig-zagging dance, you quickly pull the line up as fast as you can to reveal a tiny, thin, silvery 6 to 12 inch fish. They swim together in schools, so when they hit, it is hard to pull them up fast enough. Conversely, when they are not hitting, there is time to do other activities like take pictures, read the graffiti on the hut walls, stoke the fire, change positions, check the lines for bait, and lay out insults to your fellow fishermen (along the lines of "this is so easy, how come you suck at it"). I can easily see why this activity is also known as "ice drinking", although the real "ice drinking" is more prevalent in the privately owned, sparsely scattered huts on lakes where there is just one hole and the object is to catch much larger fish. We could hear lots of whooping and hollering from the other huts, by which one could tell if another run was coming.
By 10:30 and about 100 fish in the bucket we were running low on bait and I could see my opportunity to inquire how much longer we might keep at this "activity" which, for me, had run it's experiential course. I inquired "so when the bait is gone, do we go home?" I got no answer, so I cut the remaining blood worms into larger pieces. Patiently I waited for the bait to disappear and when it did, to my surprise, Ben reached into the fish bucket and grabbed a smelt and tore its lips off and rebaited his hook which, by-the-way, immediately caught another fish. As I am aware young people often stay up late, sometimes all night, I began to realize we might be dipping lines until breakfast, unless swift, subversive action was not taken. Announcing I had to work today and that I was going back to the van to take a nap, I began slowly putting on layer after layer of overkill clothing, carefully listening to the conversation for hints of quitting. I heard none and exited the hut for the trudge up past 50 or 75 cars in the parking lot to the van. This is where it was cold, surely in the lower teens, and I thought I had more than enough clothing. I didn't start the van for warmth because 1. I am tough, 2. Waste of gas, 3. They will be along any minute. Other fishermen were leaving in what looked like a mass exodus closing of the place and the proprietor and children walked past the van to their mobile home for the night. It's over, I thought as car after car shone its lights into my back seat perch wondering if they might stop to check that I was not a frozen body in a parked car.
My fishmates showed up after about an hour ready now for the hour, plus drive back to campus. Apparently most of the insults had been flung because it was relatively quiet on the ride home. Once fish were divvied up we parted ways reassuring each other how fun this was, I drove home, cleaned my fish (some of which contained copious gobs of roe and others had white sperm sacks), and promptly jumped under the electric blanket at about 1:30 AM for a quick nap before work today.
IF YOU GO: $10 per person shack rental, $2 live bloodworms in seaweed. Take snacks, a light heart, and your best insult come-backs.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Helicopter Parents

I'm gaining experience with parents as well as the weather. We temporarily housed a young couple in this residence hall (no longer politically correct to say "dorm") who were burned out of their house at Christmas. One of the two young children caught the apartment on fire with a candle and paper.
Yesterday I had a call from a parent asking why in the world we would allow a family to live on the same floor as her daughter? Her daughter will not get "the full college experience" with them living there. She was sorry that the family was burned out, but thought we should not have let them stay in the hall, even though they are employees of the university and work in the campus police department. I just have no response to that because I might have said things I would regret, and then have to attend an exit interview for my job. Lucky for me I can have the director call this woman. We call these "helicopter parents", the ones who want to "hover" and be in charge of every aspect of their student's college life. They can be annoying.

Batten Down the Hatches

This morning finds the wind howling and wind-chill to about 0 degrees. The snow is so dry and light that the wind picks it up off the ground and blows it off rooftops to produce what looks like a snow storm. I can hardly see across campus the blowing snow is so thick. With the force of wind, it stings any body part that peaks out from from your layers of clothing (like nose and cheeks). This scene is strange to me because the sky is blue and the sun is shining brilliantly, which makes one think this could be a normal day, which it is not (or is it?). There is a bright spot in this condition and that is: "this too will pass". I will be driving the 3 blocks to the gym at lunchtime since I don't wear long johns at work... it would be too hot working inside, and a 3 block walk (and 3 back again) is simply outside my comfort zone for today's conditions. Of course students are going from building to building wearing sweat pants, no gloves, no hat and sometimes coming from the gym still in shorts. If you didn't know it, 18 year olds are still "decision-making challenged" in many ways.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Witch's Tit

I can't believe I keep focusing on the weather, but it just keeps getting colder and colder. It was minus 18 yesterday morning and minus 14 this morning on the way to work. I ask you, "who can quibble over a few degrees when you can't tell the difference?" You can only tell that it's colder when the wind blows. The high for today will be 16 and currently at 10:30 AM it is -2 (but feels like 11 since the sun is shining and there is no wind). I know you all think this is real funny, but now I am really beginning to wonder if the trade-off from 110 to this was worth all the effort. You may not believe this, but it is so cold outside that the spoken word freezes and can't be heard until it thaws out in spring.

Excuse me now while I blow on my fingers.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Snow Show

Happy New Year to all,
It was 2 (two) degrees on my drive to work this AM, but has "warmed" to a tolerable? 17 by noon. The news said January was the coldest month in Maine. The facilities director at the University said "perhaps", but look out for February too! My passenger door lock is hopelessly frozen, and probably will remain so for the duration of winter. Any riders will have to sit in the back seat like a taxi. It will unlock only when temps approach 32. I notice my tires get a "flat spot" on them when sitting overnight in these temperatures. When I start out in the morning, I get a little "thump, thump, thump" for about a mile until they warm up sufficiently to become round again. I am also making it a point not to let my gas tank get below a quarter just in the off chance I get stuck in a snow bank somewhere and need to run the engine to stay warm and I always carry my cell phone. The car slips and slides, but with experience one can keep it to a minimum and even anticipate where it might loose traction. The salt from the roads makes an awful mess on your car and with Stan's good advice, I occasionally have the undercarriage washed at the car wash, something I never knew existed. There are virtually no older cars on the road and I suppose it is because they don't last long from being rusted out from the salt. All this adds to the higher expense of living in Maine.

Snow removal is a minor industry here. There are plows of several different configurations, sanding trucks, and salting trucks. They ply the roads all night and day when snow is falling, and for a long while after too. Ever heard of "snow bans"? Towns (and even the University) have restrictions on street and parking lot parking on snow nights so the plows can clear without the problem of going around cars. They just tow cars that are in the way, so people are very aware of the system to avoid paying for ticketing and towing. All this snow removal infrastructure must be another reason taxes are among the highest in the nation.