Arch Stanton Guest Post: A Sampling of Northern Maine Vernacular and Stories

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Last fall, a bird hunting expedition returned me to my ancestral homeland, Aroostook County, Maine. To the rest of the planet, Aroostook County is only notable as the largest county by land area east of the Mississippi River and for being the place in northern Maine meteorologists point to in order to make the viewer feel better about whatever “blizzard” or cold temperature you are subjected to wherever you are reading this. Outside of the exceptionally cold place on the national map, northern Maine does not border the ocean, which seems to be the only thing the rest of the country things of when they think of Maine. The County (see, everyone in Maine refers to Aroostook as “The County” as a way to make themselves feel important, instead of an American backwater populated by disoriented French-Canadians) is pretty much known for being mostly unpopulated woods and, uhh, potatoes? People get REAL fired up about their potatoes should someone say anything about Idaho.
So my dad and I flew to the blooming metropolis known as Presque Isle. The airport in Presque Isle would best be described as an abandoned middle school in a Scooby Doo mystery. From there, we drive west into the Northern Maine Woods, a 3.5 million square foot plot of land so notorious no one ever bothered to name it. When people say they are “in the middle of fucking nowhere”, clearly they have never been to the Northern Maine Woods. These woods are almost entirely owned by logging companies, but with some beautiful lakes and an endless supply of wildlife to shoot at, they lease out small plots to locals to build cabins. My uncle and his best friend both live and work in Presque Isle, but make the hour or so trip west into the woods at least once a week, if not more, if only to smoke cigars in this cabin and complain about Fox News. OF COURSE, these cabins now have cable, and OF COURSE they are perpetually tuned to Fox News.
I rarely get a chance to visit the County because, if it wasn’t clear, this is not the easiest place to get to. Me going up for my first hunting trip as a drinking adult was a big deal to many of my dad’s friends, many of whom would remark about what a little “pissant” or “anklebitah” I was the last time I met them, assuming you can call it that. Before long, everyone had a solid buzz tied on and the lingo of the woods quickly stood out to me in the sense that I had NO idea what the fuck people were saying or talking about roughly 25% of the time. This a loose recounting of some of the more memorable stories or folksy sayings, all of which are obviously not verbatim and merely my memory. Apologies to anything I got way out of whack, but I assume most of them don’t (can’t?) read so I don’t anticipate many issues.
– “Half-fucked like a fox in a forest fire”  — I’m not going to lie, I immediately rotated this into daily usage. It is down right poetic. That said, I don’t really understand why a fox would only be half-fucked — the fox’s home is being burned down, and he likely needs to scamper immediately to safety or risk becoming another friend Smoky has to bury. Sounds like he’s full-fucked to me, which alliteratively makes WAY more sense as well.
– One of the cabins around the lake my uncle’s cabin is on was owned by two “outsiders”. By “outsiders”, I mean they weren’t originally from the County, but boatbuilders from further south on the coast. This father and son pair has the most impenetrable accents I have ever heard in my life, and I went to an Alabama Crimson Tide home game one time. I DO know whatever they said absolutely killed everyone else. The son, Eric, and the father, Slick, both had brought their dogs and went out separately in their own pick-ups this particular day. Being that we are so far from literally anything (the closest logging factory (is that a thing?) is roughly a 45 minute drive on unpaved dirt roads, assuming you’re at the camps and not in the hills further west), everyone has a radio in their car on the same channel should you get into some shit and need assistance.
So we’re somewhere no one else is, and Slick clicks on the radio, “eh ah Eric I’mma slipped on sum gravel an’ neehd a tow”. Slick proceeds to pinpoint his location. “‘membah when weah wi’ Quarrel an’ when’ wes’ on tha’ split roahd wid the fahlen treehs wi hadtah cut tah go dawhn in da ravine dere, but insteahda goin’ dawhn, I’m uppa wahs but to dah narth passa crick Schooner fishes outta…” This procedure for a few minutes with more arcane and personal records that ensure no one will ever find him; my uncle tells us we are nowhere near him. Eventually Slick finishes with an “ovah.” A long pause ensues for minutes. Eric clicks on the radio and in the most annoyed tone barks: “Slick I havant a fachkin’ clue where ya are.”
FYI – Slick painted a mellow picture of what had happened when he “slipped”. He had rolled his pickup onto its side. Slick was in his late 80s, and just climbed out the other side. Slick is far more of a badass than anyone you know.
– “Since Christ was a cowboy” — this was frequently used in reference to the last time I had seen most of these guys, which made me feel disorientingly old. Also, I’m no Old Testament expert – Disillusioned Dilettante may want to weigh in here – I don’t recall any stories of Jesus roping cattle.
– Someone punctuated a story with, “and that’s a thing my old man taught me – don’t jerk it more than once a week.” I have no recollection of the context or what the fuck this story could have possibly entailed, but I do remember spitting out beer laughing.
– Bird hunting season is the last week of October into early November and, as noted above, it gets very cold very early in the North Maine Woods. A way the more familiar hunters would assuage me of my supposedly obvious guilt over shooting a grouse (think a fatter, dumber, less aeronautically-gifted pheasant) was by telling me “you did him a favor”, or “he was about to be up to his tits in snow, he didn’t want to be out here any longer anyway.” I laughed most of the times because the infliction and accent really sells it, but one guy told me this in the most straightforward and serious tone as if this bird really was appreciative of being blasted by a shotgun.
– Another Eric and Slick story: a bunch of us were crowded into someone’s cabin, and Eric was telling a story about something or other, and Slick kept chiming in to clarify details. Eventually Eric snapped, “SLICK STAHP FACHKIN INTURRUPTIN’ ME”. Slick responded to this indignity by scowling at Eric, standing up, and making his way out of the cabin. Eric called out to him meekly, “well fachk I dihdn’t say ya hahdta leave.” This was also met with riotously laughter.
– These cabins were all cozy and well-furnished, but still cabins isolated miles from the conveniences of modern life, even by north Maine standards, so a common question to fellow hunters is asking what the first thing they’d do when they got home. The answer is typically shower, or shave, or eat something they had a taste for but were unable to due to their location. Someone lobbed this question to a neighbor, who smoothed out his handle-bar mustache and responded, “gonna fuck the old lady. After that, probably take off my backpack.”
– The cabin I stayed at sits on a secluded lake full of any type of wildlife Maine has to offer, including moose. One of the cabins nearby was partly owned by a guy who had been married most of his life but had been widowed. He recently remarried and much to the derision of the other guys there, had brought his new wife into the woods. I didn’t hear the comment preceding his response of “smarten up, you’re an Arlo now – start acting like it!” This was also met with a chorus of laughs. Don’t act shocked when a bunch of guys who hang out in the woods all time don’t meet the modern expectation of social tolerance.
– As mentioned before, all the “roads” are really just frequently traveled dirt roads carved out by logging companies to transport wood, with many of them narrowed due to overgrowth, if not completely overgrown. Driving a pick-up is not a status symbol, it is an absolute necessity. If you go often, you WILL get your pick-up stuck, regardless of the horsepower or control or how careful you.
Despite these conditions, there are hundreds of miles of traversed paths where you can drive to hunting spots. Obviously, you are very secluded once you remove yourself from the main drag leading in and out of the woods. This didn’t not stop people from bitching ENDLESSLY about the “GODDAMN TRAFFIC” like its the 405 in Los Angeles. This incredible traffic was identified as more than two logging trucks and any sighting of other hunters in their trucks.
I look forward to returning, assuming they never find this (seeing as how NO ONE finds this, I should be okay) and don’t banish me for life. This is only a sampling of the stories I am comfortable even attempting to recount – one night I was told a story that was almost certainly mostly fabricated but with enough details to be realistic, involving a Canadian strip club, a bar fight at said strip club, accidentally smuggling a gun into Canada and liquor in America (or vice versa) through the high security checkpoint mostly consisting of a piece of twine, being lost in 3.5 million square miles of woods drunk in the middle of the night, and a long, surprisingly well-written letter to the editor of Penthouse. Go ahead and add your own flavor to that framework; I promise it does not even come close to what I heard.
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