How are you holding up during these “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” challenges that have disrupted our lives (for very good health reasons), some much more than for others?  By the time this issue of The Highlander hits the streets, we will have been into it for 5 weeks.

And if you were like us, you also lost electrical power for a couple of days last weekend, with the added potential for wind-related power outages on Monday into Tuesday.  We know what to do physically about all of this by now….staying home except that weekly (masked) trip to the IGA and almost daily trips to the post office.  But what about the increasing mental challenges amid the unknowns about how long this will all last?

We humans are social animals, and abruptly ceasing social interactions, except for our own household inhabitants, is hard to do.  The longer this goes on, the harder it gets.  By doing the right things, we are all in this fight together against the very contagious Conid-19 virus.

Healthcare workers are becoming our inspiration through their selfless efforts to save the increasing numbers requiring hospitalization and even intubation, getting connected to those limited ventilators we have been hearing about.

Those on the front lines are getting stressed out for very good reason, in cities like New York and Boston…and even small Maine cities such Portland and Augusta.  And let’s face it, we are all dealing with stresses as well.  Perhaps mostly financial at this point…but also with the concern about others who travel to Rangeley from elsewhere,…and the possibility that they may not be self-quarantining for two weeks as directed.  Will they bring this viral scourge to Rangeley?

Many unknowns, and the stresses keep mounting.  The good news is:  There are some things we can do to lessen all those concerns that are traveling around in our minds these days.

Even though the fitness center is closed, we have a lot of other options thanks to our remoteness.  Physical activity is one of the best antidotes for stress…and we have lots of places to take a good walk each day, with very few challenges to our efforts to maintain that “social distance” from others.

It hasn’t been a big change to our lifestyle, but Judy and I have been taking daily walks on the plowed roads near us on and around Gull Pond, and when the snow cooperated, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, were added enjoyable options.

First bit of advice:  Take that hour-long walk each day, especially now that the snow is finally disappearing and yielding walking options on those many trails around here in addition to the ice-free roads and town streets.

We have been taking walks on the streets of Rangeley and Oquossoc to break up the repetition of the limited plowed roads that are walkable from our cabin on Gull Pond.  Soon we will be adding the walkable/hikable trails…and continuing to check for those earliest of plants pushing up from the thawed earth in addition to always carrying binoculars to help identify those bird species who are starting to pass through or sticking around the Rangeley Region for that summer breeding season that is sure to show up at some point.  Tuning in to the small wonders of our beautiful environment is good for us…both physically and mentally.

But what about those other 23 hours each day?  I have always found humor to be a good salve for enhancing mental well-being.  Let me share one thing that has worked for us.  If it isn’t exactly what works for you, perhaps you can think of similar techniques or activities that might better fit your mindset.

I would like to direct your attention to the first photo accompanying this column.  The table is fully set for breakfast in our home.  The photo, however, warrants explanation.

Our table is set for breakfast. If you notice a couple of items worthy of explanation, I refer you to the accompanying column Allen Wicken

I have for decades enjoyed the humor and quirkiness of Garrison Keillor.  Initially, in the late ‘70s, by listening to his weekly radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, sent out on the radio waves from Minnesota, the state I grew up in starting in the 3rd grade and continuing on through a couple of years after I graduated from college when the U.S. Army graciously, and fortunately, stationed me in New England in 1970.

Garrison Keillor’s radio show kept me connected with the quirky humor of Minnesota…much like Marshall Dodge and Bob Bryan did for Maine with their “Bert and I” routines, followed by Tim Sample, and in recent years, the hilarious Bob Marley.  Garrison Keillor continued his radio show for decades well into the 21st century…. I tuned on Saturday evenings as often as possible.  He has also written books, many books.  As I look up on the packed book shelves next to where I am writing this column, I count eleven (no kidding) books by Garrison, each packed with that humorous Minnesota quirkiness that I have always fully appreciated.

However, I digress.  Notice in the photo, my MacBook Air laptop.  It is at the ready to play Garrison’s daily email when we sit down for breakfast.  It is an email  that I have received for years; The Writer’s Almanac.

It is a daily discussion by Mr. Keillor, of births of, and a story about, writers and/or poets who were born on that date.  It also includes significant events in history that happened on that date….always including facts that one might not know about otherwise.  The five-minute (maximum) recording always ends with a poem by any of many significant, and not so significant, poets.  All of them are thought-provoking.  If interested, go to to sign up for the daily email for The Writer’s Almanac.  One can read it all…but I like to click on the choice whereby you hear his familiar baritone voice reading it.  It is not usually very humorous, but it is a great way to set the tone for the day.  Once a week, usually Tuesday or Wednesday, one can also click on “Writing” to read that week’s syndicated column by Garrison.  It is printed in many newspapers around the country.  That column is always infused with his muted humorous tone and attitude.  I absolutely love them.  I read them out loud during breakfast to my very accommodating wife (she has grown over the years to, (having grown up in Pennsylvania) appreciate Keillor’s humor as well.

Then we move on to the humorous “Maine Course” after we have finished our actual breakfast together….because there is always the danger of choking while reading the

hilarious columns of Dave Barry, who the New York Times Book Review once called “The funniest man in America”.  That is high praise, and in our opinion, very accurate.

I started this breakfast feast of belly laughs about a year ago by clicking on his website and read individual columns he wrote for The Miami Herald back in the ‘80s.  Hilarity is always assured.  I recommend you check it out.

Then, when I ran out of columns on his site, I remembered that I had at least one of his books somewhere.  After pouring over my many bookshelves, (I love books and reading), I found the one in the photo.  “Dave Barry Talks Back”.  I started reading one column each morning a couple of months ago….well before the coronavirus showed up.

My wife’s insistence in recent weeks has resulted in her reading that last 2-3 paragraphs.  I just had to share the wealth that infuses the reading of these hilarious columns.  We are almost half-way through the book.  I had better start my search soon for the other one I think I have….otherwise I will have to check the library’s online “card catalog” or resort to purchasing another.  I don’t think we can do without a daily reading of Dave Barry’s humorous take on the world.

So, that is my second Bit of Advice:  Include humor into your day, on a regular basis.  There is ample reason to escape reality for a few minutes during these times…and good humor is a great way to put that much needed smile on your face, and perhaps continue that positive affect throughout the day, or at least most of it.

The handsome antique backgammon board painstakingly made of multi-colored wood veneers. I found it at a yard sale a couple of years ago…it is now being pressed into service to help us get through our Covid-19 induced “sheltering in place” period that is sure to last a few more weeks. Allen Wicken

Finally, I direct your attention to the photo of our beautiful backgammon board.  It is elaborately made from wood veneer from many species of trees.  I bought it for a song a couple of years ago at a yard sale in Oquossoc. However, we have yet to play a game on this beauty.  We used to avidly play backgammon back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but enough years have now passed that I had to find our old “Beginning Backgammon” book to review the rules.  Please note that I have gotten as far as how to set up the pieces for a a game to commence.  By the time you read this column, we will have played at least our first of many.  We will most assuredly get back into it during our “sheltering in place” period.

So, my last Bit of Advice is:  Find a board game, or a jigsaw puzzle (I personally do not have the patience required to finish them), and get into it with your family…if you are sheltering with at least one family member or friend.  It will surely elicit fun interactions, if not semi-serious arguments along the way.  Positive social interactions at home helps to tolerate that “social distancing” that we social animals are asked to do for the near future, at least.


We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

                                                                   Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone….


Per usual, your thoughts and comments are encouraged.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card, attach it to a Dave Barry book, and slip both inside our log door on our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond….or simply fire off an email to [email protected]

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