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Maine, the Way Gifts Should Be

By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development

I may have mentioned a few times in previous posts that I used to work here. I was a member of the UMaine State 4-H Staff from 1992-1999. It was the chance of a lifetime. But an opportunity to coordinate an Air Force and USDA collaborative effort to put 4-H Clubs on Air Force Bases got me to head south out of Maine in 1999. After that, and a few other experiences “away,” I was again given the chance, a chance of a lifetime, to return and once again become a member of the UMaine State 4-H Staff. My first day back was August 24, 2015.

Perhaps “chance” is the wrong word. Perhaps “honor” or “privilege” would be better. It is both an honor and a privilege to work for this university, in this state, with this 4-H program, and with the good people of Maine. But the best word, I think, is “gift.” It is a GIFT, one I’ve been given TWICE!

Since this is the time of year when gifts are usually on many people’s minds, I thought I’d let you know.

It is a gift that keeps on giving! It was here that I learned what the phrase “it took my breath away” really means. It was summer, probably 1993 or 1994, and I was driving from Bangor to Machias on Route 9 for some sort of meeting or other. It was a beautiful, sunny day; hardly a cloud could be found in the deep, clear, blue sky. As I rounded a curve, the landscape dropped off on my left revealing a lush, rich green valley below. A stream meandered back and forth across this valley’s floor, reflecting the deep blue sky, as it cut through the rich green meadow.

It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever been granted the privilege to see. It actually caused me to expel the air I had in my lungs as I gasped, “wow!” Then I gasped “wow” again when it struck me that the beauty of that valley had actually taken my breath away.

Bald eagle in pine tree

Photo by C. Eves-Thomas

It happened again when I first saw Mt. Katahdan, the waves crash into Schoodic Point, the loons dive into Moosehead Lake, the autumn foliage almost anywhere in Maine, my first bald eagle, my first osprey, and my first moose.

Harold “Brownie” Brown showed me the moose.

One morning Brownie came into my office and asked me if I had ever seen a moose before. Outside of zoos, TV shows, or pictures, I said no. “Come on!” he said, “Let’s go find a moose!” First we found a day that we both could take off and then off we went for a tour of the Allagash, dodging logging trucks all the way! We found a moose. Actually, we lost count of the moose we found that day. I think it was 21! One bull we found was found a bit too close for my comfort! As we came over a crest in one of the dirt logging roads, Brownie suddenly slammed on the brakes because there, standing squarely in the middle of the road right in front of us, and not budging one bit, was my first “up close” MOOSE! The ones we’d seen earlier were across ponds or some distance off in a field. This one was staring me right in the face! I could almost feel his breath! “Uh, oh,” I heard Brownie murmur as he shifted the car into reverse, getting ready, not that it would have helped, to “floor it” if the moose charged. He didn’t. There we sat, looking at each other. After some passage of time, which was probably quite short but seemed like a lifetime at the time, a logging truck approached from the opposite direction and the old moose, I guess figuring the community was getting a bit overcrowded, meandered off the road and we continued on our way. Maine is a beautiful place.

Ron Drum with newborn son Philip in 1995.

Me and my newborn son Philip, August 1995.

Maine’s beauty, for me, however, is not all in the landscape. Some is in memories. It was here, for example, that our son, Philip, was born. The first part of Maine he ever saw, or would have if newborn babies could see that far the day they are born, was the Penobscot River through the window of Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center hospital room August 10, 1995. Beautiful.

ice on trees

Photo by C. Eves-Thomas

And talk about beauty, even the weather is beautiful! I was here for the ice storm of 1998. That storm was a beauty! It began quietly, late on January 4. Hardly anyone foresaw what was about to happen. It didn’t take long, however, for it to turn half of Maine into a world of crystal. It was wondrous to see! But the beauty faded more and more each day the electricity stayed off, and it stayed off, for many people, for weeks! On January 14, Lavon Bartel, Extension Director at the time, wrote me saying, “The storm has about worn me out! No power, running water, little heat, etc., and no lantern fluid to be found in the four major outlets I went to yesterday. Whew, will I be glad when our home has electricity someday again.” With no way to get their milk to the cooperatives, dairy farmers had to pour it into the fields. Food spoiled. Emergency vehicles couldn’t get to emergencies. For a while, it wasn’t pretty at all, but it sure was beautiful.

4-Hers fish off the dock at Bryant Pond

Photo by Edwin Remsberg

I also find beauty in Maine’s people. These people are some of the nicest, friendliest, most trusting people around. In fact, one of my greatest concerns chaperoning Maine 4-H delegations to places like Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, and Washington, D.C. was how much trust “my” Mainer’s exhibited! Always kind. Always friendly. Always wanting to help others. Always getting themselves into NEAR trouble when they trusted and/or were kind to individuals who were, let’s just say less kind and trustworthy than “my” Mainers were. Sometimes I had my hands full. However, compared to some of the issues other chaperones faced with THEIR delegations, I always felt the balance was in my favor with a Maine 4-H delegation.

And Mainers are smart, too, although you don’t often catch that at first meeting. Mainers have an “aw-shucks” — or should I say an “A-yuh” — approach to things that often is perceived by others as a lack of intelligence. And Mainers know this. And Mainers use this. It is their advantage. One day, while chaperoning a Maine delegation to Citizenship Washington Focus, I overheard a conversation between some of “my” boys and some very attractive girls from Alabama. In all the time I’d been with this group — we rode a bus together all the way from Orono to Washington, D.C. — I never heard as much “A-yuh-ing” or dropped “R’s” as I did during that “convehsation.” So later on I asked one of them what that was all about. “The Downeast thing?” he asked. “Oh we do that all the time! It causes people to expect less from us so they are more impressed with us later on!” I asked him, “Is that fair to do to people?” “No less than what those girls were trying to do to us with all that extra ‘Ya’ll’ stuff!” Now that’s smart.

The Mainers I’ve met and worked with are folks you can count on. If they say they will get a job done, it’s done. While I was here “the first time,” we did more things that hadn’t been done before or, at least, not for a while, in 4-H than one would have thought possible! It sometimes took a bit of talking to get them to agree to try, but once on board with the idea, it was done. For example, in the 90s we started a State 4-H Teen Council, which planned and implemented a State 4-H Teen Conference; a Regional 4-H Teen Council, which planned and implemented a Regional 4-H Teen Conference; Maine 4‑H Days; a Dog Team for Eastern States; a State 4-H Volunteer Forum; the 1999 Regional 4-H Volunteer Forum; and more, all of which, when the idea was first proposed, were considered impossible. Mainers will put their minds to the task, their backs to the work, and make Maine 4-H history.

What a joy it is to work here. What a joy it is to live here.

As I said above, and have repeated often, it is a privilege.

Indeed, it is a gift, the way gifts should be.

Return to 4-H Fix on January 13, 2017 to read about some of Maine’s 4-H Firsts!

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University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.

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