Any New Englander worth his salted cod knows that the key to beating seasonal hibernation-induced depression is adherence to one simple motto: Leave The House. I stuck to this mantra last winter, and ended up having some of the most fun I had all year. Here's a recap of some of my adventures, and a checklist of some new ones I'm hoping to have once the snow starts falling (check out our comprehensive ski listings).
In January, I CAUGHT SMELTS:
"Smelting, of course, is a fancy word for a certain kind of ice fishing, in which the desired catch is the aquatic species known as smelt. Smelt are silvery fish that measure, on average, between 5 and 8 inches long. They congregate in brackish, salty-fresh waters, like those in Merrymeeting Bay, near Bowdoinham. They are akin to salmon, but smaller (and less pink).
"Smelting, though, is also shorthand for initiation into a part of authentic Maine culture. It's been called 'one of the most popular rites of winter' by the Portland Press Herald, and 'a deep and dependable tradition on the state's coast' by the New York Times. The silly and charming Smelt Fishing In America won director David Camlin the Best Documentary award in the Portland Phoenix's 2007 Maine Short Film Festival mostly because it captured how special this ordinary activity could be. But the most important endorsement came by way of the true Maine outdoorsmen I know — almost all of whom count smelting as one of their favorite, and most fondly remembered, winter pastime.
"I can see why. From the moment I arrived at the wooden-floored, tin-walled shack atop the icy river, I felt enveloped by warmth, and not just that emanating from the rusty, rickety, wood-burning stove against one wall. It was also the feeling of camaraderie that comes from sharing a 10-by-10 space with four other people for several hours, all while cracking beers and jokes, and — oh yeah, catching fish."
I went to Jim's, on Route 24 in Bowdoinham (207.666.3049). Find your own favorite smelting spot at maine.gov/dmr/recreational/smeltcamps.
The following month, I SLEPT IN A YURT:
"Safe to say, we weren't exactly roughing it. The yurt might have been in the middle of the Western Maine woods, surrounded on all sides by two feet of snow, but we ate like queens, slept in tank tops, and were able to update our Facebook statuses between fire-roasted hot dogs. Still, the two days I spent at the Frost Mountain Yurts with six other women were decidedly more reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie than my daily life in Portland.
"Not many people know what a yurt is. In fact, several of us who made the journey were unsure exactly what we were in for until we arrived in Brownfield. . . . What we found, once we trekked down the snowy path leading to our accommodations, was a circular structure with a raised wooden floor and latticed walls, covered on the top and sides by heavy-duty canvas. In shape and general function, the yurts are similar to the flexible, portable homes of Central Asian nomads. (The word 'yurt' is derived from the Turkic word for 'dwelling place.')