Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18, 2016--Midcoast: Skunk Patrol

We had just dropped off a load at the dump, and with windows open to let the smell dissipate, we turned up the Bristol Road, heading for the diner where we hoped to run into a friend or two.

About a quarter mile north, half off the road on the right side, a car had pulled over and its four-way flashers were winking. Not unusual as there are some mailboxes there and people frequently pull over to empty them. But what was unusual was the sight of what looked like quite an old man seemingly staggering in the middle of the road, straddling both lanes.

For as far as I could see in the rearview mirror, there were no cars in sight so I moved toward the center of the road to provide at least some protection. Cars along that stretch often race along at 60 mph or more.

As we crept closer, not wanting to startle him, I saw he was carrying what looked like a long-handled tool. Perhaps a rake or shovel. Strange, I thought. Perhaps to use as a sort of crutch to steady himself as he was clearly wobbling.

"I wonder if he's sick or something," I said.

"Slow down even more," Rona said, "And watch out for oncoming traffic. Maybe pass him and pull over to the left side so with your flashers on there'll be warning lights on both sides of the road. Maybe we can help him get to the other side where he'll be safer than wandering in the middle of the highway."

"And we'll see what's going on with him. Maybe help get him to the hospital if he's having some sort of medical or neurological problem."

So I drove past him, going very slowly, and as we did I saw that he was pulling a shovel behind him. Still moving slowly with effort.

We got out of the car and approached carefully since he was not paying attention to us and we didn't want to startle him.

When ten feet away, I asked, "You OK?" He didn't respond so again I called out to him, "Are you all right?"

"Be with you in a minute," he said, sounding fully compos mentis and formal. "Just doin' what I have to."

We then noticed he was shoveling up a dead animal, roadkill, that had been squashed flat. "Looks like a skunk," Rona said. She is hypersensitive to smells in general and dead skunks are among her least  favorite. Seeing he was not in danger and didn't need any form of help, she turned toward the car but hesitated, thinking, as I was, that something unusual was going on with him and the dead skunk.

"I think we saw him in the diner yesterday," Rona whispered, "We were sitting with Ken and he came over to say hello."

That occurred to him at the same moment. "You're the New York folks from the diner."

"We were there yesterday and you introduced yourself. When we saw your car pulled over and you on the road we though to stop to see if you were OK."

"That was nice of you folks. I 'preciate that."

Traffic in both directions was light so we stepped fully off the road to talk with him. "You said you were doing what you 'have to' do," I said.

"That's what I said," he said with a shrug.

"I don't mean to pry," I said, "But you have to do this?"

"Not exactly," he said, laughing.

"Do you mind my . . . ?"

"Perfectly fine. Understandable," he said. "It's what I do. Don't really have to so I guess I mislead you. Didn't mean to. But I take care of the road. This part of it anyways. North from the dump up far as the diner. 'Bout three miles. Other folks work the road down to the lighthouse and others all the way into town. To Damariscota. Do it every morning. Lots of roadkill this time of year. Days getting shorter so animals are thinking where to settle in when it gets cold and there's less for them to forage. And there's more traffic as we get closer to Labor Day. Makes more for me to do," he smiled, "I mean taking care of the road. Keeping things here the way they should be."

"You just do this?" Rona asked.

"Don't get paid for, if that's what you mean. Just do it. I don't know how I got started but I've been doin' it for long as I can remember. My father before me."

"I have trouble with skunk odors," Rona said, "So I really appreciate you're doing this."

"I get used to it. Come to sort of like the stink, tell you the truth. So . . ."

Clearly he was ready to move on. To see what he would find further along on his was up to Bristol.

"My name's Bob by the way. Maybe," he winked, "I'll see you later at the diner."

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