Swampfront Real Estate
Editor’s note: For the past five years, Crash Barry has pursued the neo-homesteading lifestyle in eastern Oxford County. This is the third of a dozen essays about his attempts to live closer to nature.
“Super-Pine, you are fine,” I say to the 100-foot-tall white pine, at least once a day, while wrapping my arms around his/her massive trunk. It’s over 100 inches in circumference, so I can only reach two-thirds of the way. “I love you,” I always say before kissing the bark at the same lip-worn spot each time. Then I wait for a millisecond, maybe two, for the word. I stand there, in the middle of the woods, at the edge of the swamp, patiently awaiting wisdom from a tree.
The advice is always direct and usually very appropriate. Relax. Surrender. Persevere. Peace. Love. Laugh. Breath. Forgive. Let go. Chill out. Get high. Have a glass of wine. Or bourbon.
Super Pine is the midway point to my daily winter’s walk’s ultimate destination: a certain spot in the middle of the swamp where, looking to the northeast, I have a perfect view of the rockface of a nearby mountain — a foothill, really, in terms of Maine’s landscape. It’s a mere thousand feet tall, but still towers high enough to remind me how tiny I actually am. And how lucky I am to be standing in the middle of an empty frozen swamp, drink in hand and weed at the ready.
Swamps get a bad rap. Sure, during the spring, summer and fall, swamps are relatively inhospitable. Once, four years ago, shirtless and barefoot, I learned the hard way. The swampgrass lashed me with some weird poison, leaving raised welts on my back and legs that lingered for weeks. There’s a reason for the swamp to be protective against clumsy invaders like myself, because during the warm months the place is consecrated ground for nesting birds and sleeping deer. The swamp acts as an almost impenetrable barrier to our land, keeping marauders and developers at bay.
The swamp’s rich biodiversity creates a thriving ecosystem of flora and fauna, including deer flies, moose flies, black flies and mosquitoes — all key components of nature’s food chain. Oddly, bug season isn’t that bad even around the wettest wetlands, thanks to the gazillion dragonflies, along with birds and bats, who feed on the biting critters. That should be a lesson to suburban America, addicted to Big Chem’s expensive insecticides. Instead of buying chemical poisons, people should have simple houses for bats and tree swallows in their backyard.
Winter in the swamp is the best. Once frozen, the bog beckons me to explore. The trail, trampled into hardpack by my snowshoes, looks so well-trodden you’d think I’d snowblown a path.
My most rejuvenating swamp visits occur in the dusky minutes late in the day, as the sun sinks behind the rows of spruce bunched on the marsh’s western end. In the middle of the swamp, I sit on a stump or lean against a sagging tree, sipping my drink and medicating as the twilight hues the snow blue. A precious quiet descends, accompanying the approaching darkness, shrouding the swamp in a stillness that silently vibrates and calms, muting the ring of my nearly constant tinnitus and instilling a feeling almost equal to the restorative power of Vitamin D capsules, gentle yoga and meditation.
This swamp-time is akin to meditation, an exercise in mindfulness, of being in the moment. When I’m in the swamp, I tend to think of nothing but the swamp. Or the mountain. Or the hares, the deer, the porcupines, the weasels and the grouse whose tracks are freshly imprinted on the snowy terrain, reminding me how alive this place is, even during the darkest days of winter.
The quiet never lasts. Chainsaws or gunfire or rednecks or the whine of trucks downshifting to handle the curve of a road a thousand feet to the south inevitably disrupt the solitude. Just as often, though, a roar from above will shatter the silence as a wind suddenly rises, barreling down from the peaks of the seven neighboring mountains, rumbling like a train behind schedule and rushing to gain lost time.
I always embrace that cold breeze and welcome the frigid blast. As the wind wails, I lean into the gust, ready and eager to be purified. Perhaps even hearing what the wind is trying to say.
Congrats and good luck to my comrades over at Legalize Maine as they begin their bid to collect enough signatures for a citizen initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana as an agricultural product. In mid-February, the group of Maine-grown activists initiated the referendum process with the Secretary of State’s office. Visit LegalizeMaine.net for more info or to volunteer.
This fall, just before the marijuana harvest, my pal Dave Gutter and I will be presenting our new film, Sex, Drugs and Blueberries, at various theaters and other venues across Maine. I fully intend to use the tour as a bully pulpit to collect signatures from slightly stoned moviegoers.
Beware, friends, of out-of-state marijuana activists who are making noises about their own plans for a referendum to legalize weed — namely, the suits from the Marijuana Policy Project, whose goal is to destroy Maine’s marijuana economy, replacing our industry with bad weed grown by corporations eager to cash in on the decades of local marijuana horticulture and activism. To those who’ve come to Maine to lobby on behalf of Big Cannabis, I say this: Go find another state to peddle your seedy politics. We’ve got it under control here. Thanks for your service, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Also beware of efforts by politicians intent on using the Legislature to circumvent the citizen initiative and favor the corporatist cannabis cartels. Lawmakers need to wake up and smell the ganja. Maine’s marijuana economy has a substantial trickle-down impact on our rural communities. Usurping local green bud and allowing industrialists to profit would encourage the already booming black market and keep tons of weed sales tax-free, thus derailing “Maine’s Great Marijuana Awakening,” which has the potential to deliver dramatic job creation and massive tax revenues while simultaneously cornering New England’s cannabis tourism market and eliminating a wasteful prohibition on a sacred gift from Mother Earth.