Tuesday marked six weeks since I stepped off the coach at the Augusta bus terminal into the chilly December evening air.
And in that six weeks, with winter arriving hard, fast and early, the question on the lips of everyone I meet (the cherry on top of a facial expression of sheer bewilderment) is, “Why?”
You see, I’m from away, as the saying goes. And not just New Hampshire, or northern Massachusetts. I’m from Brisbane, on the east coast of Australia, where the mercury rarely dips below 45 degrees in the coldest months.
Yet here I am, in the midst of what almost everyone I talk to tells me is the coldest winter central Maine has experienced for awhile.
For the record, I promise I didn’t bring it with me.
For a guy whose only experience with ice in 28 years has been in fast-food soda cups or a cooler (back home we call it an “esky”) at summer barbecues, this past month and a half has had quite a steep learning curve.
I came to the speedy realization that all the warm clothing I brought with me, purchased back home with Australian “winters” in mind, doesn’t quite cut the mustard. I’ve since bought my first pair of heavy-duty boots, creepers and snow pants … and those are just for getting to my mailbox.
I learned that a wintry mix isn’t a delicious assortment of holiday snacks as the name suggests to a perpetually hungry 28-year-old male, but a brutal combination of all the cold-weather favorites I’ve never experienced before.
But to be fair, I’m already amazed at how quickly human beings can acclimatize. After a solid week of cloud cover and various types of precipitation, the weather Monday almost had me wearing shorts to work — as much for the amusement of my workmates as my own personal comfort.
As I waited for my ride to work, I sat on the front steps of my apartment building lapping up sunlight in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced back home, where solar rays will peel the skin right off you if you’re not careful.
For the first time since mid-November in Australia, I was wearing jeans without longjohns underneath and only two layers on my torso, and it felt unbelievable. Give me one of those days every couple of weeks, Maine, and I’ll brave the winter without flinching (much).
I’ve also discovered that clear sidewalks are luxury items when it comes to snow and ice removal, which means I’ve had to learn to tread carefully on my daily walks to the gym and the grocery store (and the local public house at Hallowell after work on a Friday). I’m on foot because after over a decade of being a licensed driver in Australia, I’m basically a 16-year-old kid in Maine’s eyes when it comes to piloting an automobile, but that’s a story for another column.
My most pleasant discovery so far, though, is that many of the Mainers I’ve met have bent over backwards to help me get settled here.
Perhaps it’s due to the bemusement at how much of a fish out of water I am, or maybe it’s because I cut a truly pitiful figure sloshing my way along unshoveled sidewalks on Sewall Street with the mercury in the low teens. A stranger even offered me an unsolicited ride home from the grocery store as I waited for a cab the Sunday of the ice storm.
My editor at the Kennebec Journal jokes that any day now I’ll pack my bags and escape for warmer climes. But strangely enough, I’m glad things have been kinda tough since I arrived in Maine. I know that if I can survive a winter this ugly here, I can survive anywhere else I might land.
And from what everyone has told me, the summer months are so beautiful here that they make every minute of the bleak winter worth it.
But weather isn’t the only reason I’m determined to see out the season and make it through to spring — ego is. My famous countrymen Crocodile Dundee and Russell Crowe have set the bar pretty high for toughness.
I don’t want my weather-hardened “Mainah” colleagues, and the rest of Augusta, to think the rest of us Aussies aren’t tough enough to handle whatever Maine throws at us.
Adrian Crawford is a Web editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]. Maine Walkabout is published the third Sunday of the month.