MAINE TALES. TOURNAMENT WEEK SNOWSTORM. MEDWAY, MAINE. Circa 2002.
Thinking back, it would have been a better idea just to pull off and grab a piece of Blueberry pie at the diner and read the paper.
Maine does have its quirks. Elsewhere, folks may call it “President’s Week,” but here in Maine that holiday week which contains Washington’s Birthday is known by everyone as “Tournament Week.”
With the piles of snow Maine receives for practical reasons the outside game of Football never caught on. However, Basketball is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. For many generations Mainers have developed an extreme affection towards High School Basketball. Truth be told, it’s more mania than moderation.
Boys and Girls teams play a packed schedule of well-attended Basketball games against other area High School teams for a couple of months during the early portion of Winter. Then, come Tournament Week, top local teams travel down to Bangor, one-hundred-fifty miles south, to compete in Quarterfinals and Semifinals. Local enthusiasts, family and friends make the long trek to Bangor to cheer their team on.
Way back decades ago, Jim was a cooper and made Potato barrels at Bridgewater Barrel Company. Ken was a co-worker, kind, easy-going, quick-to-pull-out-his-pipe-and-commence-to-setting-and-telling-stories. He was also pushing retirement age. During his high school years at ‘Bridgewater Classical Academy’ Ken had been the Basketball star who led his team to miraculously win the State Championship. Blockbuster Potato crops and Spelling Bees aside, that one State Basketball Championship was acknowledged to be the most fame to ever grace our little farming Town of Bridgewater. As a result of his achievement, for the rest of his life Ken was revered by townspeople. Basketball had allowed Ken to peak while still a teenager living at home with his parents. Amidst our small and proud community Ken was able to rest on those laurels for the rest of his life.
Now, for a string of years two decades ago, USDA’s locally-directed ‘Heart of Maine’ RC&D (Resource Conservation & Development) demonstrated vision and would hold inexpensive, intensive, three-day-long Soils Schools in Bangor. They were always held during Tournament Week. Each year world class Soil Health experts from all over the USA, including legends Neal Kinsey, Arden Anderson and Gary Zimmer, were brought in to see if they could teach fortunate Maine farmers a thing or two.
One Winter, our three-day-Soil-School concluded on a Tournament Weekday about mid-afternoon. Outside it was snowing at a good clip. Because there were still a couple of hours of daylight left, it made sense to hit the road and head up the interstate towards Aroostook County while we still enjoyed the benefit of light of day.
It was snowing hard on I-95 and the snow was getting ahead of the snowplows. After about thirty miles of making good progress we came up behind the red tail lights of a veritable convoy of turtle-speed homeward-bound Tournament goers. It turns out our talented local Central Aroostook High School Basketball team had completed their playoff game ahead of when our Soil School got let out. Apparently, rusty at driving long distances under snowy conditions, the CA convoy was traveling en masse at an overly-cautious 30 mph through the hundred miles of woods between Bangor and Houlton.
With the slow lane decently free of snow thanks to the work of State plow trucks, there really was no need to creep along so slowly. However, any attempt to pass meant switching over to the unplowed passing lane which contained four inches of untouched sticky snow. Trying to pass the slow-moving horde meant changing lanes and speeding up in treacherous snow which grabbed at the tires and made any effort to pass a potentially careening and risky proposition. We tried to pass several times then gave up.
In the end it became clear that trying to pass the entire turtle-convoy was not going to be possible until a State plow truck with a driver’s side left-wing-plow would take at the snow-covered passing lane. However, in the middle of a snowstorm clearing that passing lane was a low priority. High priority was keeping open the single slow lane our wagon train was proceeding upon.
So, we settled back and acted as caboose at the end of the long turtle-train in the snow-plowed and very, very, very slow lane. In hindsight, had we pulled into the diner in Medway for a piece of pie and plenty of refills of hot tea, we could have let the slow-traveling convoy gain many miles on us. In the end we would have gotten home no later than we actually did and with a lot less exasperation.
Lesson learned. Blueberry pie is often the right answer. But it helps when you have figured out what the question is.
Caleb, Jim & Megan