Breathe Easy, You’re in Vacationland

The amalgamation of Maine’s slogans that serves as the title of this entry perfectly describes the relationship I have with my foster state.  I call myself a Mainer, and it’s true—well, mostly.  I was born in New Jersey and spent seven years from age 2 to 9 in Baltimore.  In fourth grade I moved to Maine and spent the better part of my developmental years there.  Given the choice, I identify most with Maine.  I think my most productive developing happened in Maine, and it’s certainly the state most in line with my own temperament.  I left for college and grad school and now I only return on holidays and for brief interludes between schooling and employment, in their varied shapes and forms.

In my waning high school years, my dad and I visited 31 colleges and universities from Canada to North Carolina.  One day, as we drove down the highway between Trenton, NJ and Philadelphia, we got caught in terrible, terrible traffic.  We spent three hours trapped between concrete barriers to the sides and steel bumpers to the front and back.  Are cars made of steel?  As I looked out the windows at the poorly camouflaged cell phone towers looming above the highway (Have you seen those suckers?  They look like “trees” but when one tree is nearly branch-less and one hundred feet taller than all the others it kind of sticks out.), I realized that I had ventured far in to the “real world,” leaving my vacationland behind.

Maine license plates boast “Vacationland” under the tag.  This probably refers to the enormous economic and social impact on the state that the countless summer residents and visitors bring to Maine every year.  In summertime the tollbooths only charge one way, to capitalize on the influx of visitors.  Tourists swarm Freeport and the Old Port.  Old Orchard Beach is flooded with pasty Canadian visitors sunning themselves and the campgrounds and coastal hiking trails overflow with families enjoying Maine’s great outdoors.

To me, “Vacationland” has further meaning, ever since I’ve been living away from home.  I only come back to Maine now on school breaks and between jobs, like I mentioned before.  I live full-time in the “real world”—a world full of hustle and bustle and things to do.  At school I spent what little leisure time I had watching trashy television and playing the occasional mindless videogame to give my brain a rest from the constant work out I gave it.  The “real world” is a busy place, brimming with people and activity.  “Vacationland” is the opposite.

Every holiday, as I prepare to go home, the anticipation of relaxation builds with each passing day.  I’m getting a little melodramatic and sappy here, but Maine deserves it!  When I get off the plane in Portland the welcome banner in each of the eleven jetways encourages arrivals to “Breathe Easy, You’re in Maine!”  This is a sly reference to the strict anti-smoking laws that prohibit smoking in basically all public spaces.  As I walk up the ramp I always heave a sigh of relief and begin to breathe easy.  After all, I’m in Maine!

Within a day of arriving home from Georgia, a friend suggested we go sledding.  I hadn’t gone sledding in years, but it sounded like a good plan to me!  Justin, Michelle, and I met up at the Val Halla golf course for a bit of mid-day sledding.  It had been kind of warm lately, so the snow wasn’t too thick on the ground.  What’s worse, the ponds were mostly liquid, which meant that some of the best hills were unavailable for sledding.  We didn’t let that stop us.

We sledded anyway.

Things started off pretty normal.  We careened through the underbrush down the side of the hill that led towards the path.  We might be reckless hooligans sledding despite the sign, but we’re not idiots!  We’re not going to aim for the lake!

You can see the first two paths we made with our sleds. Michelle is already veering off course.

Lots of sticks poked up from under the snow, stabbing at our hands and faces if we went down on our bellies.  On the right-most edge of our sledding area was a jump.  More like a drop–well, actually, “jump” is an appropriate moniker.  For whatever reason, our sleds seemed magically drawn towards it.  Not always disastrous…

Pictured here: Justin hitting the jump.

But often disastrous.

Pictured here: Justin wiped out.

After bombing down the hill and into the woods for a good long while, we got a little ambitious.  We decided to have a less haphazard time of it and so we built ourselves a snowman.  A snowman target.  To kill.

For this photo I told Justin that we should make it look like a family photo. I think we succeeded.

We each took turns sledding towards the snowman, but we had purposefully built him in such a location that it would be nearly impossible to take him down.  After trying it singly for a while, we realized that to overcome the natural inclines of the slope, we needed more mass.  Our first attempt at adding mass resulted in the three of us tied together screaming past the snowman and into the woods.  I was at the front of the train of people and got thrown over a fallen tree.  I could’ve been seriously hurt, but I got away with some bruised ribs.  The snowman laughed.

Ha, ha, haaaa!

We regrouped and decided upon a new plan of attack.  Two-person tandem sideways with a twist.  It wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped.

This lady showed up walking two dogs. One of them was petrified by our snow creation. He couldn't bring himself to approach the man. Now, in all fairness, we had put the snowman in the middle of the path and it was pretty terrifying. The dog barked and barked at our insidious creation. Eventually I had to stand in front of the snow man, blocking his mean visage with my coat so the dog could be wrangled past him.

We needed a new plan, so we changed things up a little and rode two sleds side-by-side.  With this extra width, we couldn’t possibly miss, could we?

I don't think this could possibly go wrong...
Right on the edge of the path was a short but steep drop-off that led directly into the woods. Brilliant planning by us.

The snowman looked on as we developed a new plan.

"What could they be planning?" the snowman asked himself.

One of the sleds had a handy rope by which to drag it.  We realized that it would be really easy to just clothesline the snowman and take his legs out from under him!  Brilliance!

Of course, we failed in this endeavor as well.

Realizing that they were going to miss the snowman entirely, Justin tried to whip Michelle around into the snowman, but it was too little, too late.  Undaunted, we set up for another run.

This time me and Michelle would take a crack at it together.
Bring it.

Having learned from watching Justin’s experience, I noticed that we had started veering to one side quite early.  I was therefore able to start compensating early and begun swinging Michelle around like a giant mace.  With devastating effects.

And so ended the reign of the menacing snowman.

We had taken down that threatening figure–removing him forever from the paths of frightened dogs everywhere.  War Trophies in hand, we moved on to greener pastures.

Michelle made that snowman her bitch! A more fearsome sight has never since been seen at Val Halla.

Of course, green pastures are nowhere to be found in Maine this time of year.  What I really meant was that we found another hill and a new set of obstacles to destroy!

But what's that in the background!? It's Poachers! We'd better take them out!

One by one we managed to take down the poachers and protect our elephant.  After all, we couldn’t let any harm come to our baby!

Look at this fella!
Justin and Michelle are true artists! I mostly supervised and took photos.

Of course, as with any war on poaching, we lost a lot of good men. 

Ultimately, we prevailed.

One down.
Two down.

With the poachers finally out of the way, we could commence on our main mission of the sled-session: Poaching the elephant. Just as before, Michelle was the first one who managed to take down the beastly snowcreature.  Justin and I may have skimmed off an ear or a tusk here or there, but Michelle really nailed it.  Or maybe she grazed it enough that it collapsed, I can’t recall.  Either way, she struck a triumphal pose once more.

That's the elephant's face that Michelle is standing on top of. She's that badass.

With the daylight fading, bruised ribs, one punctured sled, and soaking feet, we trudged back across the snow-strewn golf course towards our cars.  It wasn’t the last I saw of Justin and Michelle this vacation (but wouldn’t it have been more poetic if it had been?), but it was indeed the perfect way to have spent my first full day back from Georgia.  I drove myself off to the dentist’s office (ruining the day’s perfection) and smiled as my toes squished happily in my shoes.


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