Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the end of summer means much the same work as in the suburbs: stacking wood, replacing the mower with the blower, and looking for the stash of gloves and hats and scarves that we may have given away or stored somewhere beyond memory. But we also engage in a number of more exotic activities that I’m pretty sure are unique to country living. One in particular was new to me when I migrated up here in the ‘90s.
When Paul and I moved here from the Twin Cities ‘burbs, we moved into a home with a few faults. One of these was, blessedly, not nailed down or built in… I speak of the coffin-size freezer at the base of our massive wood circular stairway. I find it difficult to part with things that still work. But that thing gave me the willies. Handy, it might be. But I wanted it gone.
So we put an ad in the newspaper: working big freezer, $100, you haul. The response was staggering! The very first of approximately two dozen calls came from a sweet young thing who begged me to save it for her, even though she could not come out to get it right away. She had given birth a few days earlier - her first - and her husband was engaged in work he simply could not abandon until it was finished.
“He’s boiling bear bait,” the woman said. No big deal. No giggling. No explanation. Just, “boiling bear bait.”
“Ahhhh, well then,” I mumbled, searching random access memory for some hint of what exactly she meant by “boiling bear bait.”
I could have asked. But no. Pride pushed me into a corner and I pretended to get it. More than that. I empathized!
“Of course you have to stay with THAT!”
And so before the couple showed up to cart away the huge freezer the next day, I called my few country contacts to find out what the devil bear bait was and what was with the boiling, anyway. This was waaaay before Google, you see. Actual acquaintances were necessary for finding stuff out back then. Primitive, huh?
Well, I got the answer: bear bait, the boiled variety, is pretty much just a mish mash of sweet stuff - sugar, corn syrup, maybe even some Jell-O thrown in - boiled up and poured into a big steel canister where it hardens into a delicious, ginormous lollipop that bears just can’t resist licking and licking and licking. One imagines that they die happy when the hunters who put the bait out for the bears finally show up and shoot them.
I’m not judging, mind you. Just saying....the young couple who came, new baby in tow, to get the freezer were lovely people. Friendly, welcoming to us newbies. So they baited and ate bears. Some of the stuff our friends in the cities call food is far stranger than that!
A few days after the freezer went away with the nice young couple, we had another new house weirdness befall us. Our electric dryer quit and blew out a batch of fuses in the process. So many that we could not figure out how to fix the mess. So we called the nearest electrician, a fellow recommended by a neighbor because, “He’s good, honest and only lives a few miles away, so he probably won’t charge you for mileage.”
Great. Paul called immediately and actually got the electrician on the phone right away. “Could you come over sometime soon and help us out with this problem?” Paul asked after a few minutes of chatting. We were a little concerned that there might be wiring woes that could be dangerous, not just inconvenient.
Well, sure, the fellow said. He could come over that day, but maybe not until after dark. He was busy with something he just couldn’t walk away from until it was finished.
“Oh?” Paul replied. “A big job at home? What’s that you say? Really! Well, sure, first things first, I always say.” Then a quick goodbye and Paul sank onto the sofa, eyes wide, shaking his head and mumbling.
Yeah, that’s right. Our new electrician was busy BOILING BEAR BAIT!
That was 20 years ago this month. Obviously, Paul and I took such hobbies of our new community in stride. Just as the folks who were here first have adjusted to our little peccadilloes, like runaway llamas, geese screaming at midnight, doing chores practically in the altogether....that kind of stuff. Or at the least, they ignore them. That's MY idea of good neighbors!
Airdate: October 11, 2010