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Quaking aspens, loose moose and bears at the dump

In the late 1960s, my brother, [an Episcopal priest) took a church in the mountains of northwestern Maine. The church was modern and situated 75 yards from Rangeley Lake. The town of Rangeley was very small with just a population of about 900 year-round citizens. Bucolic and very New England-ish, my parents, sister and I delighted in taking a few vacations there in the early 1970s.
Rangeley Lake is a large glacier lake. The town is known for its fly-fishing, beautiful fall foliage and family skiing on Saddleback Mountain.
We began renting a small rustic cottage at one end of Rangeley Lake around 1970, when I was a teenager. Being city girls, my sister and I excitedly embraced the outdoorsy things we could do, canoeing, fishing, swimming, boating and going to the dump to see the bears. We had a lot of fun, though at times I’m sure we gave the locals a lot to chortle over.
The first time we went canoeing, we headed out on the lake toward one of the small tributaries. We canoed for quite a long time, thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet until one of us mentioned the fact that there were probably moose in the woods. As if on cue, we heard one crashing through the trees and in a panic, we tried to turn our canoe around in a very narrow section of the stream, in about a foot of water. We spent a fair amount of seriously silly time trying to do this, until we realized we merely had to turn ourselves around in order to paddle out. I don’t know who was more scared – us or the big old moose, who just wanted a quiet drink of water.
Another time, we took the canoe in the other direction from our camp. We stayed about 50 feet from shore and headed toward town. We enjoyed viewing the beautiful camps we passed, and the clear clean water. We had a great time until we came upon a large group of abandoned cabins surrounded by tall aspens. The water became still, the birds had stopped singing and the aspens suddenly began to quake and shake for no apparent reason. We looked at each other in disbelief.
We never did figure out the cause of the aspens shaking as they did. But we sure learned how to paddle really fast in a canoe that day.
Since Rangeley was such a small town, there wasn’t much to do. One night, when looking for something to do, my mother, sister and I were told to go to the dump on the other side of the lake to see the bears. Hmm… that sounded like fun. So, we set our alarms for midnight, ostensibly the best time to view the bears, and headed out to the dump.
To our great delight, the dump was full of mama bears and their cubs, happily sorting through the garbage. To our great consternation, we weren’t the only ones who thought to go to the dump that night. We had to fight to find a parking space.
Once we parked, we sat back and enjoyed the show – watching the mama bears and cubs romping around, apparently oblivious to the spectators enjoying their antics. One car after another turned their headlights on, which didn’t seem to disturb the bears. So, my mother got bold and opened the car window and stuck her head out, camera in hand.
Suddenly, a car came up the road, the bears began to scatter and run – quite a few of them straight for our car. My sister, who was the driver, panicked, turned the car on and tried to close the power windows, all at the same time, while my mother had her head hanging out the window, determined to get a really good shot of the bears charging the car. I was in the backseat laughing so hard I couldn’t see a thing. Eventually, my sister got the car windows up only to discover my mother’s head was still sticking out of hers and I was laughing even harder because the bears were still coming and mom, head stuck in the window, was valiantly trying to get a shot of them.
We had a blast. Needless to say, it wasn’t the only time we went to the dump.
Forty-plus years later, we still remember the great fun of our vacations and memorable family times. My mom passed on in November of 1982 and we miss all the adventures we had with her. My sister and I often reminisce about our Mom’s sense of adventure as the anniversary of her death comes around.
Family time is important and the memories created during moments like these are priceless. As we head into the last two months of this momentous year, I hope and pray that we all are able to enjoy the upcoming holiday season and continue creating the memories that will resurface for many years to come.

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