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The people behind the plane

Fly-in in Greenville this weekend–it’s all about planes.

Fly-in  in Greenville, Maine

Gary Norris at the fly-in in Greenville, Maine

FLY_180
Gary and Maureen Norris
The white Cessna 180 bobs and shifts on the sparkling waters of Moosehead Lake. Gary Norris and his wife Maureen pull their canoe off the pontoons and tie the seaplane up at the dock. The announcer checks their time and broadcasts “Second place.” Maureen yells out a resounding “Yes!” then bounces up and down and jumps into her husband’s arms. It is the Greenville Fly-in, and Gary and Maureen have just finished their run at bush pilot’s canoe race. Energy levels are at a bursting point, and this couple is charged up.

“We live and breathe this weekend,” Maureen says.

“We missed a few years ago. And that was really hard,” Gary adds.
The sweet little plane nestled against the shore did not look so pretty four years ago. It was Gary’s first plane and a childhood dream come true. “I always wanted a plane as a kid, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would own one.”

The Cessna had been a vivid orange. “We called it the flying pumpkin.” Maureen says, They flew it at the competition in Greenville but in the second year the engine went.

Fifty- two weeks until the next fly-in, and as long as they were putting in a new engine, they figured they might as well do a complete restoration. This may not be logical to everyone, but for Gary and Maureen it was a natural conclusion. “We devoted every weekend and many a week night for a year to this plane” Gary says. “A new engine, and we gutted the inside and stripped the paint.” They had it repainted white. Why white? There is no answer, but white it had to be. Gary owns a flooring business, and all the company trucks are white. His personal vehicle is white, the Toyota Landcruiser they bought to keep at camp on Moosehead is white, and Maureen‘s Denali is white.

Gary is soft-spoken and resolute, Maureen exuberant and sparkling, and together they get things done. People call them Rooster and co-pilot. Maureen is a convert, though. Although her dad was a pilot, planes were simply not her thing. Gary, however, has been obsessed since he could crawl. And it wasn’t just planes, it was seaplanes. “I’d hear one when I was a kid, and run down to the dock to see it come in. A DeHaviland Beaver. What a plane.” Gary has made most of his dreams come true, but has yet to get a DeHaviland. “We keep buying megabucks” Maureen quips, but if the Dehaviland comes into their lives, chances are it will be bought with hard work and total focus. A brief stint with Amway reinforced Gary’s natural tendency to visualization. “See what you want, pin a picture on your refrigerator, and concentrate on getting it. You will.” For Gary this works. “I buy what I can afford” is his philosophy, and if he needs to work more to afford something, that is just the price you pay.

“I dreamed of planes as a kid, but never even thought for a second I might ever sit in one, and owning one? No. Not a possibility. We were poor, our house burned down, and I lived in a tent. Never had running water. When I was twelve I worked on a farm so I could have a little money.”

Gary is pragmatic about a pretty hard childhood. “When I was 14-15-16 I worked at a flooring company, we didn’t have money, I wanted something, I had to earn the money myself.”

But he still dreamed of flying. High school graduation, it was time to decide what to do with his life. Gary joined the army. He had wanted to join the air force, be a pilot. Fly. But his mother, who had not been able to live her own dreams, thought she was giving good advice when she told him not to bother, “Your grades aren’t good enough, forget being a pilot.” she said. Gary did not try. This is a man who sets a goal and then achieves it. But, as a teenager, he did not have the clear vision he has today. “I didn’t even try, and I regret that.” One of Gary’s few regrets.

When Gary got out of the army he came back to Maine, to his family. He worked for the same flooring company he had worked for as a kid. He might still be an installer for this company, but they went out of business. Gary had always worked extra hours, filled in for other installers, did carpet installation on weekends and evenings. “If you put down a yard a day, you got paid for a yard, if you put down fifty, you got paid for fifty.” Hard work, honest work, and it helped Gary turn from a one-man operation to a respected member of the business community. “There are bigger carpet installers out there, but we have a reputation. Even when it was just me, I was there when I said, I charged what I said.” And that has not changed.

Gary is the American Dream before it went haywire. He is living the life he wants, earning the money he needs, and facing every morning knowing he does not owe anyone anything. Most recent dream? A hunting camp in Alaska. He bought one last year, and the first time he was dropped in he spent a week putting on a new roof. “I worked until midnight more than once.” You know he is not exaggerating. And if he does not have an immediate goal he just works and saves. “He’s like a squirrel” Maureen says, “He doesn’t even know where all his nuts are buried.”

But he knows what makes him happy, and that is flying. And working hard. He is flying a 180 today, working hard everyday, and if that Dehaviland Beaver is off the refrigerator door and on the strip it will not be such a surprise.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

community Festivals Maine Otter Creek

It Takes a Pig

Not much different from 1500

The coals in the pig cooker were snapping, the bonfire hissed and spit, our host cocked his head and said “shhhh, coyotes!” Conversations stilled, and we all smiled. It wasn’t coyotes, it was the kids by the apple tree hooing and calling, in some child game that we were not privy to.

We were at a pig party, orchestrated by a few Otter Creek residents including Farmer Chris Brown who contributed and prepared the pigs. Yes, pigs.Two pigs, one inside the other, and stuffed with apples, sausage, and bacon and rubbed with herbs before slow cooking over the coals. Tim Smith admits to going for coffee around two am, and sitting down to wait for it to drip. He woke an hour later. Kevin Walls, manning the cooker, looked at Tim knowingly when he returned and said, “You sat down, didn’t you? You can’t sit down.”

Naps or not, this team roasted a tender and flavorful pork roast. But they did more than that. They brought the members of this tiny village together to share food, and remember that we are neighbors. Cole slaw, casseroles, home baked breads, cakes and cookies, jugs of cider, and bottles of wine and beer. Plates were loaded and bellies filled.

We met the couple from a neighboring house, I asked if they had moved in recently. Nine years ago was the answer. It took a pigfest for us to meet. There were introductory conversations, kid story swapping, recipe exchanges, but a common subject was the village. Some guests had been involved in our small community events, others said they never knew when they were happening but would like to help.

We munched savory pork, and marveled at the hinged pork roaster with its motorized spit. Bones were wrapped in butcher paper and given to those who wanted them for their dogs.We listened to tales of the beginning of the roast, the efficient dispatching of the pigs, the seasoning and stuffing, and the gift of the roaster just a few days before the event. The pig meister, the farmer, and the host who hauled the firewood all worked hard, and were pumped up with their success. “Try some pig” one would urge if he saw an empty plate.

Smoke drifted among the clusters of people, a dog ran through our legs, a boy tugged at a little girl’s hat. The scene was reminiscent of an Hieronymus Bosch painting with figures scattered about, each involved in their own small piece of the scene. Or perhaps it was more like Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games, which portrays a village populated with small groups playing an assortment of games. Aptly, for many years, this was part of Otter Creek’s annual Christmas celebration, pinned to the wall for people to guess all the games.

Bonfires bond, may they never be illegal.

Day became night and a toddler slept deeply, his head back and mouth open, in his stroller. A circle of older women settled into sturdy lawn chairs around the fire for cake and coffee. The older children came from the field to be close to the bonfire, tossing in small branches and logs. People continued to arrive bearing dishes of food. “We have to make this an annual event,” I heard more than once.

When we left there was still a lot of pork, and party, to go. But we had gotten the best of it–we made friends, met neighbors, and felt connected by village and pig.


Chris Brown, Kevin Walls and Tim Smith. Thank you.

For more pig roast pictures go to the roasters Facebook page, Otter Creek P pig Roast.
Photos by Sue Cullen

Day to day Day trips Festivals Maine Maine destinations Otter Creek

Spring snow, sweet syrup

Boots and shovels then tee shirts and rakes, stoke the stove and open the window, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, spring, winter, winter, spring—March in Maine is neither fish nor fowl.

“I’m ready for spring,” even the devoted winter fans have been heard to say as March shifts from cold to warm and back. Spring is a tease, revealing the creamy blooms of snowdrops one day, and then hiding them again under six inches of snow. The winter coats and mittens were boxed and ready for storage, but a recent snow flurry caused us to pull them out and bundle up. For those of us who really love winter, this on-again, off-again is a needed weaning period. We are happy to have one more chance to don our fur hats and feel snow on our faces. The hats were boxed up, but we really weren’t quite ready to stow them in the attic and admit winter was over.

This morning the world was white again. Knowing this may be the last snowfall of the year, we don’t wait, but get up and head right out to play before going to work. But while the flakes are wet and real, there is no threat behind this snow. The winter lion has been declawed. We laugh fearlessly in its face, coats on, but not zipped. We know, too, that the snowdrops and hellebores will come to no harm. This is spring snow, saying a gay farewell. It lacks the seriousness of storms at the start of winter, which bring their cold breath and warnings of long nights and a frozen world. It is wet, and even though it covers the ground, it will soon be gone.

Alternate freezes and thaws are also what makes the sap run. Collecting maple sap and boiling it down for syrup is a tradition for many Maine families. It requires little investment, just a tap, a jug, a pot and a fire.

Syruping fits smoothly into daily life here in the Creek. Half an hour or so to set taps for a few days, then collecting now and then between hiking and dinner, and then boiling in the back yard. When there was more family around, it was done on a larger scale. Now, we tend the fire while making a few starts at cleaning up the yard. An old burlap back is stuffed with the weeds we pull off the garden and becomes a target for a few rounds of archery practice. We swap stories. I tell of my dad boiling sap in the kitchen, and peeling the wallpaper off the walls. I hear of my husband at eight or nine years of age using quart canning jars, the ones that had wire hoop handles, to collect sap, and how he had to collect many times a day. His grandfather helped him make homemade taps from discarded bits of tongue and groove planks. They whittled a slice of the groove side, giving it a point to pound into the tree, and the sap would run down the groove into the quart jars.

While things have improved–we now use plastic hose that fits into an opening cut in the caps of recycled milk jugs–it is still very low-tech. That is part of its appeal. It is also a way to be outside and moving around. Snowshoeing is over, ice is not safe, and biking is only possible on particularly warm days and even then many of the roads in the park are still covered in snow. Tapping trees, hauling heavy buckets of sap, bringing in spruce to keep the fire going, these are all ways to keep from stagnating.

The season is short, too. It is over just before you get tired of emptying buckets and smelling like smoke. These are all perfectly acceptable reasons to tap trees and make syrup. We might do it just for them. The jars of deep gold, thick, sweet syrup are just fringe benefits. Otter Creek Gold is maply, more flavor than sweet, slightly smoky because we boil it over wood, and the best maple syrup on this planet. Sugar, or rock maple trees have more branches and a greater surface area to produce sap. They also have a higher sugar content. Their syrup is sweet, and maply. Our syrup is maply, and then sweet.

But how sweet it all is. How satisfying to make flavorful syrup to pour on flapjacks, drizzle on ice cream, use in salad dressings, meat glazes and baking. We bottle some in tall elegant bottles, make Otter Creek Gold labels, and give them as gifts.

Syrup time is sweet. If you cannot tap and boil, you can certainly taste. Sunday is Maine Maple Syrup Day, and many sugar houses are giving tours and tastes. Go sample, then get yourself some taps.

www.mainemapleproducers.com

Festivals Otter Creek

May Day, May Day

May baskets are still given (and kisses stolen) in Otter Creek, Maine

May baskets are still given (and kisses stolen) in Otter Creek, Maine

May Day (May 1st) is celebrated in many places around the world. One of the most popularly known May Day traditions is to hang a basket full of flowers and small gifts on a neighbor’s doorknob. The trick is you don’t want the neighbor to see you! If spotted, they will chase you, and steal a kiss.

In Otter Creek, several generations ago, George Davis was courting Nettie Grover. He was intimidated by Nettie’s father, and decided to leave her basket on the door knob while it was still dark, so he would not be seen. While he may have liked a kiss from Nettie, a lecture from her father was another matter! George hung the little May basket up, and dashed off into the night. What he did not know was that the Grovers had moved their outhouse, and had yet to fill in the hole. In he went. Not a sweet offering for Nettie, but he must have cleaned up quite nicely, because she married him soon after.

(story from Debbie Rechholtz)

Day trips Destinations Festivals

Maine Maple Sunday Syrup. Sweet!

or maple syrup sunday, or sappy Maine syrup, whatever you call it, it is sweet.

We burned our evaporator, and so are not boiling today. But they were evaporating at the Painted Pepper Farm in Steuben, Maine. Fiddlers, baby goats, a self-guided tour through the woods, explaining the sap to syrup process.

Nature Log

Woodcock are back, we heard them a few days ago. Big fat snowflakes in a flurry on Sunday.