FARMINGTON – Lee Sharkey scraped her shovel across the pavement in front of the post office, making a noise reminiscent of, but much louder than, the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.

A few of the people standing near her – many of whom were also holding shovels – covered their ears.

Sharkey kept scraping the shovel.

The University of Maine at Farmington professor, along with other members of the Western Mountains Peace Action Workshop, had gathered Thursday to protest President Bush’s plan for a troop-surge in Iraq, unveiled during a Wednesday night presidential address.

The protest hadn’t taken long to plan, Sharkey said. The contents of the speech didn’t really get out until Wednesday. But by 2 p.m. Thursday there was a crowd of nearly 20.

They held the shovels, co-organizer Tom Bulger said, to echo the words of columnist Molly Ivins, which were also written in block lettering on a sign Bulger held. “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging,” the sign stated.

“I was wicked disappointed,” Bulger said of the speech.

“It’s pretty obvious,” Bill Carhart of Farmington, said when asked why he had come. “I’m here because of what that idiot said last night.”

Protesters came from as far as Korea, Maine – by way of Sugarloaf – and Mexico. As they shivered, shovels in hand, some people in cars driving by honked. Others waved. One man yelled “get a job.”

The protesters’ opinions might make some mad, but for the head of the local Republican Party, Fred Smith, the protest was a good thing.

“I do think it’s healthy in this case to have a group out there. This is what this country’s all about – people being able to state their viewpoint,” Smith said.

The Iraq war is divisive even among Republicans, he said, especially the president’s new surge plan. Both Maine’s Republican U.S. senators have come out against it, Smith said.

“It’s a very good question, and I don’t know the real answer. I would be inclined not to increase the troops, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say we shouldn’t,” he said.