Winter has been unkind to southern Piscataquis County, a part of Maine facing so many other challenges you’d think Mother Nature might be more sympathetic.
Perhaps that’s just seasonal affective disorder talking, but it’s as hardened on the brain this year as the frozen ground atop Boarstone Mountain.
There were signs of this global cooling even before it arrived, namely the lack of an October thaw.
Snow fell way too early, too, but not enough to make it valuable. No cross-country skiing, no snowmobiling, just boring. Until Christmas, not only did you have to drive to Bangor to go shopping – the demise of the local Ames store saw to that – but also to find real snowbanks.
Since then, there has been no respite, only a cold spell so enduring that January never saw 32 degrees – above zero, at least – and a day in the 20s has been sufficient cause to peel off layers of clothing in celebration.
And with the coming of March came, finally, snow. Wonderful.
But there has been a bright side, specifically a couple of guys named Woodrow and The Big Show who are taking the chill out of the air and defying the grip of cabin fever.
For at least half of each year, Woodrow sits alone in a corner of the home office, a reminder of the cold times to come.
The same goes for The Big Show, a hulking menace that while relegated to the cellar serves as merely a subterranean ornament while the sun is high in the sky and shovels are used for gardening, not snow removal.
But these days, the guys are as much a cure for any late-winter malaise as special lights, vitamin C and the high school basketball tournaments.
Woodrow and The Big Show are wood stoves, named for no other reason than the guy who owns them names his cars and trucks and, yes, his wood stoves.
Woodrow is an old Dover stove that fills the home office and nearby living room with crackling warmth throughout the day. The Big Show is an old Dover furnace whose heat rises from below ground level to fill the upper stories with the ultimate antidote for the chilling winds that have converged on the house from the wide-open spaces nearby.
Woodrow is essentially a space heater, which combined with the light in the well-windowed house, keep it comfortable until the sun goes down.
The Big Show, by contrast, means big business. When temperatures get really cold, as they have too often lately, The old Dover not only heats the entire home but occasionally rubs it in, forcing the homeowner to open his doors to the outside in search of some natural air conditioning.
Woodrow offers the calming sound of a wood stove fan when the heat is right; The Big Show announces his arrival through the surround-sound of a forced hot-air system.
Together, they consume about six cords of wood each winter.
The Big Show has the larger appetite, preferring huge servings to heat the night away. Woodrow fancies himself more of a connoisseur, opting for smaller doses more often.
While The Big Show gets the supersized pieces of wood, Woodrow thrives on the smaller sticks, the ones you look at after splitting them and wonder, “Why did I go through the trouble of splitting that one again?”
Woodrow has been voted most popular wood stove in the household. He’s developed myriad friendships, often at the expense of his owner. When visitors enter the house, they typically go straight to Woodrow for a warm reception. Who needs warm words?
The Big Show, meanwhile, lurks in the darkness below, a solitary figure waiting his turn.
He harbors no jealousy, though, because ultimately both wood stoves are treated well, thanks partly to a neighbor who supplies quality kindling at the right price and a brother who demands nothing less than spotless chimneys.
Cabin fever is an endurance test not sought out but eventually outlasted, thanks to the likes of Woodrow and The Big Show. They provide a comfortable setting for all sorts of things, including discussions of all the world’s controversies, such as what to do about the vacant Ames building, or the local official who recently suggested trying to lure a proposed missile defense interceptor site to the area in the interest of “economic development.”
Talk about bringing Target to town. Even Woodrow laughed about that one.