Perhaps some readers can relate to the fact that, as a thirteen year old, I felt safe in Rangeley. I was experiencing things, one after another, that I had never known before.  The quietude of the forest,the feeling that time was somehow slowing down here, with people being concerned with things that really mattered. Unbeknownst to me at that time, Thoreau had summed it up very nicely:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
One of the things that struck me, and still does to this day, was the clarity of the night sky in Rangeley. The first time I experienced it, I was totally in awe.  Due to light pollution, one just cannot be aware  ofthe vastness and magnificence of the heavens, when viewed anywhere near even moderately populated areas.  The numbers of stars and planets are mind boggling, especially when it seems as if someone had somehow removed a cloudy lens through which one had always been looking. Johnny was a big star gazer, and he knew a lot of the constellations, which he pointed out to me, along with my first shooting star.  And I was introduced to other nighttime fancies, maybe less poignant, but equally fascinating.
After a nice dinner at Yorks one evening, they told me that we were going to the dump. “The DUMP?,” I thought.  Why would they possibly want to take me to the dump, at night?  From the Loon Lake Road, we turned right on Route 4, then headed north a little ways until we turned left onto the dump road.  It was dusk, it smelled pretty bad, and we backed into a spot next to a few other cars.  We all had our lights off, and sat and waited.   For what, I had no idea.   After a half hour or so, some people started turning their headlights on and off, until the entertainment finally arrived- the bears.  I had never seen a bear before, and I was amazed!   Eventually, there were four or five of them, who couldn’t care less about the headlights shining on them, or the presence of humans. It was hilarious to
watch them methodically pawing through the garbage, frequently scoring the remnants of a restaurant sized can of whatever, or some other choice tidbit discarded by the humans. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had looked forward to the days when Karl Oakes disposed of the trimmings from his meat market!  The dump is long gone, and yes, I suppose that is a good thing in most respects; but young people today will never experience that rural pastime of watching the bears dining at the dump.
As I have said, my aunt and uncle were doers, and we were constantly going on trips.  I can’t always remember what trip occurred in what year, but one day we set out for Canada.  Can you imagine, given today’s issues of terrorists and illegal aliens, that the U.S./ Canadian border of the late 1950’s was completely open?  They may have asked to see a driver’s license, but that was about it. We crossed the border at Coburn Gore, and headed for the town of Lac Megantic, where we had lunch.  Everyone was friendly, although it was so different for me to hear folks only speaking French, which Johnny spoke fluently. He never let on that he knew the language, and he told me years later that he was always amused by the comments he heard from waitstaff and others who thought we couldn’t understand them.  Still, it was a very far cry from the outright hostility I encountered there in the 1970’s, when Rene Levesque and his Parti Quebecois sought to secede from Canada. Language can be an ultimate dividing force, as humans tend to not like that which they don’t understand.
A buddy of mine and I drove to Montreal from Rangeley in the early 1970’s, just to check the place out. We wound up in a bar on St. Catherine Street, and it just so happened that the Boston Bruins were playing their arch rivals, the Canadiens, in Montreal.  Now, these folks were obsessed hockey fanatics, to put in mildly, so all eyes in that bar were on the TV.  I warned my friend under no circumstances should he root for the Bruins, or we would have a big problem.  We were drinking away in separate parts of the bar, as I tried to avoid mentioning to a girl that I was from Boston.  A fight broke out on the ice, and Terry O’Reilly was working over Pierre Bouchard, a Canadiens tough guy. Soon enough, I heard my buddy yelling, “GET HIM, TERRY,”  and he was promptly accosted.  I went to help him, but none of this went well, and we wound up dumped on the sidewalk outside the bar.  I remember laying there, saying to him, “YOU IDIOT!!” A couple of Montreal policemen came over to help us up, and asked
what happened. When they heard the story, they just smiled and walked away.
Back to that earlier trip, the four of us left Lac Megantic, which is named for the beautiful lake it abuts, and headed for Thetford Mines. That town was the home of the world’s largest open pit asbestos mine, that they wanted to see.  Viewed from an overlook, this pit was immense, many miles across, with a long, long  road spiraling down to the bottom. There, they blasted the asbestos bearing rock, then loaded it onto huge trucks for the haul to the top. These operations threw up vast clouds of dust- asbestos dust-  its deadly effects yet to be known. One can only wonder as to the fates of the workers who were exposed to it for decades. By the time we left, Johnny’s Ford Fairlane 500 was sporting a thin layer of that dust.  I understand  that those open pits are now filled with water that has taken on a most beautiful turquoise hue, while the town of Thetford Mines seeks to reinvent itself. Just as fire, which asbestos was unequaled in controlling, can be of such benefit to humans, it can also devastate them. Ironically, so it is with asbestos.
We crossed the border and headed back to Cabin 14.  Wherever our travels took us, it was always great to be back in Rangeley.


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