A favorite volume at our house is the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. In it are the histories of phrases like “cool as a cucumber,” “nosy Parker,” and many, many others. Among these are “it’s the pits.”

This phrase, our good book says, has nothing to do with peach or cherry or any other fruit pits. Neither — and this should cheer any sand and gravel owners mildly offended that I find their product sources ugly — does it have anything to do with sand and gravel pits. Nope. “It’s the pits,” it doesn’t get worse — is Needle Park junkie language — grisly, sad stuff.

What’s really the pits then? Having a bad cold in this pre-wintertime? Driving along Route 232 and seeing that the remains of Jonathan Keyes’ small 18th century dwelling — probably the earliest in the River Valley region — having been reduced to a heap of rubble. Is that the pits?

Or could it be the stark, ugly appearance of sand and gravel pits along well-traveled roads, stripped of their covers of foliage and grass in late fall until the snows and snow plow conceal them once more? Don’t think so. Downers maybe, but hardly the worst of anything.

Sand and and gravel mines, a different sort of pit, are positives: supplying contractors, towns, and other entities, the products that make strong foundations, dams, sidewalks and so on. The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of sand and gravel products; but Maine’s mines are fewer than other states and their sales are mainly local.

Even though a ride along Route 26, 108 or 4 might suggest that our region has a corner on the sand and gravel pit scenery, it’s not so. Maine State Geologist Bob Marvinney explained: Valleys, along rivers, are the most likely mining sites and here in the foothills and mountains of Western Maine, therefore, there are fewer than in southern Maine. Our geologists examine the potential negative effects of mining on aquifers and the DEP’s mining expert Mark Stebbins ensures protective regulations are respected.

Uppers: Terrific Christmas parade last Friday evening in Rumford. Also in Rumford, Thursday’s town meeting vote to impose a moratorium on wind power development. Dixfield’s establishment of a wind power education committee, also on the upside. Learn first, decide later.

Upper or downer? As overheard in Rite Aid a few days ago: “Do you realize that the temperature at 4 p.m. yesterday was higher than the temperature at 4 p.m. on the 4th of July?!” Can’t decide, but I’m certain it wasn’t the pits.

Linda Farr Macgregor is a feelance writer; contact her: [email protected]

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