The Old Heave Ho

What is it about “Groundhog Day” that is most offensive? Is it that the garden-destroying rodent is elevated to Zeus-like status for poking his ugly head out of a burrow on the second day of February? Or is it that Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania’s economy now subsists on a hope that people will flock to the town to see a rodent? Once upon a time, the Pennsylvania town had factories, foundries, and mills. Now, they’ve only got Phil.

Could it be possible that Peyton Manning was distracted by the shadow puppetry of a groundhog yesterday as the Seattle Seahawks soundly defeated the Denver Broncos in the American spectacle called The Super Bowl?

There are other ways to know which way the wind blows when it comes to weather and seasonal prognostications. Here in New England, one need only drive around on secondary roads for a few minutes. Sometimes the “groundhogs” are advertised by a sign on a telephone pole.


New Hampshire, a state more economically prosperous than Maine, is always prompt in posting their “groundhogs” in February.

Frost HEAVE.

I’m not a scientist or a weather puppet, but my observations are sometimes accurate. So I propose experts and marketers use frost heaving and secondary road speed decreases as a way to predict winter’s end. Small towns could have competitions to see which ones had the most frost heaves and bumps. Unemployed men and women could park lawn chairs by particularly heinous heaves and measure vehicle speeds with radar guns provided by local police departments. The results, telegraphed in staccato-like reports over radio, Tee Vee, and social media, would be part pseudo-science, part entertainment, and part economic development.

There would be tee-shirts and commercials and…MONEY!

Meanwhile, in the little village of Head Tide, Maine, I saw very few frost heaves. I went there on Saturday to see Edwin Arlington Robinson’s birth home and complete the “research” from last Sunday.

The house, located at 66 Head Tide Road, is currently for sale for a cool $225,000. It sits pleasantly along the Sheepscot River, only a short walk from what remains of the old Head Tide Dam and the former general store, now The Wizard of Odds and Ends and Antiques.

There aren’t many frost heaves in Head Tide and there isn’t much traffic. No groundhogs, either. I parked my Jeep by the old dam and walked around the village. I walked up one hill and peeked in the windows at The Old Head Tide Church. Then I walked over the bridge, around the corner, and made my pilgrimage to the Robinson house.

The weather being pleasant, I turned around and headed north up Head Tide Road, climbing a steep hill for about half a mile. No sidewalks, but since there were no frost heaves, no traffic, and no groundhogs, it was no problem. Halfway to the top of the road sat a stately brick home.

No signs of life.

I wondered if anyone lived in this house. There were summer sheers in the windows, aged but with only one obviously disintegrating. Someone had placed an artificial Christmas wreath on the front door. Was it this year or five years ago? It was a house built for stories, afternoon tea, and horse-drawn carriages. A house for another time.

I wondered what it might be like to live in such a large house on a hill. Edwin Arlington Robinson wrote a poem about this once.

When I got back to the dam, I smelled something fresh. It smelled like ice, dirt, and grass. It was refreshing and I wondered if this, too, was a harbinger of spring. Walking around and smelling it was much lovelier than watching a big old brown rat crawl out of a hole.

The funniest thing was I smelled that same smell again when I got home, right in my own driveway. I hadn’t needed to go anywhere or do anything to observe the signals of the seasons in the natural world. I didn’t need to travel to Head Tide or Punxsutawney at all.

Can anyone make a commercial and a tee-shirt out of that?

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8 Responses to The Old Heave Ho

  1. Loosehead Prop says:

    Well, yeah, but did you have a big old brown rat crawl out of a hole in your own driveway?

    Maybe if you did, you could make tee-shirts and have tourists and rejuvenate your economy.

  2. jbomb62 says:

    If you were in Head Tide, you weren’t far from Cow Shit Corner; did you manage to make over that way?

    As I mentioned last week, getting off the fast lanes of the Happy Motoring thoroughfares offer travelers a view of Maine (and elsewhere) that’s often rewarding, and surprisingly unknown by even longtime Mainers. What’s sad is that the only places that ever get written up by lazy journalists and trendy travel writers filling the tired tourist guides and AAA TripTiks® are the same old cast of characters. The old wha wha wha wha about Maine.

    I had a couple of interesting exchanges last week during the evening that became my Yelp post on Friday. Both of them were with people that insisted they knew Maine and also were adamant that my contrarian opinions about barbeque, lobster rolls, and that there was culture far beyond the hallowed hipster enclaves of Exchange, Market and Fore Streets in Portland, were wrong and carping of a crank.

    If anyone can read a Maine Gazeteer and is willing to do some research off the interwebs, there are still lots of nuggets to unearth, or better, rediscover. Of course, to get these published and out to the masses will require a DIY ethic that bypasses the usual arbiters and gatekeepers of taste.

    • I love your comment. Indeed, in researching just one poet, I’ve discovered several interesting locales rich in history. The Alna tour does require a car, so when “Happy Motoring” ends, the open road will be limited to only very serious and dedicated travelers.

      Sadly, I missed Cow Shit Corner. I’ll return when it’s in full “bloom.”

    • Loosehead Prop says:

      Back in the very late 80s, I worked a job that had me drive all over a lot of Maine every afternoon. For a while I had a route that took me up the valley to Farmington, and then back and over to Monmouth before returning to Lewiston. Later I had a southern route that took me out and about as far as Kennebunk. Maine on those “back” roads was glorious, especially in high summer of August and September.

      Maybe the simplest way to get off the beaten path is to take the east-west roads, the ones the truckers and tourists never take.

      • I’ve been studying the maps a bit. There is a hidden Maine that is glorious and it requires a certain type of eye to see it. Somerset County holds promise, but then that’s “down the road a spell.”

  3. Gina Mason says:

    The postings of “Bump” or “Frost Heave” are a dreaded display of what is to come, “Posted Roads”, more than a mere warning for those in the construction industry. Very early morning “runs” are common at that time of year. A word of warning!

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