While roaming the roads of Monroe in search of people in need of help, Monroe fire chief Dan Lawson stops to talk to Lloyd Stevens to make sure he is keeping warm and has all the supplies he needs Credit: Bridget Besaw | BDN

In January 1998, Maine was walloped with a series of ice storms that shut down schools for weeks, left thousands without power or heat, and killed six people. In October 2017, a windstorm hit Maine with 70 mile per hour winds, cutting power to half the state, knocking down trees and causing widespread damage. And nearly every year, at least one massive snow storm temporarily shuts down life for Mainers from Fort Kent to Kittery.

Even now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a snow storm on Thursday night dropped up to 20 inches across much of the state, knocking out power to more than 250,000 households. For the most part, those affected can’t rush to family or friend’s houses or workplaces in order to stay warm and charge devices, since nearly the entire state is in lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.

Mainers may be asking themselves on this unexpectedly snowy weekend: what fresh hell is this? Why, a month into one of the most disruptive and terrifying times in contemporary history, did we get hit with a destructive winter storm? Why is the power out, when we’re stuck at home and need it most? Why now, of all times?

Cara Pelletier awoke Friday morning to find that the enormous old tree on the front lawn of her home on Bangor’s West Side had cracked straight down the middle — a tree she and her wife, Kerrie, adored. It was one of the house’s major selling points when they bought it last year.

“I know it could have been much worse. It didn’t hit the house, we’re safe and dry and warm. I’m lucky to still be working and so many are not,” said Pelletier, who has been working from home for the past month. “But I’d love it if the universe would space out the calamity a bit, you know? A little breather would be much appreciated at this point.”

Despite the demoralizing effect of a big snowstorm on a state already experiencing a great deal of stress, there’s one thing that can get us all through. Mainers of every stripe — young and old, haves and have-nots, city folk and country people — are uncommonly good at hunkering down and riding out the storm, whether it be inclement weather or a pandemic.

We know how to entertain ourselves during long days spent indoors. We know how to stock up on supplies and fend for ourselves, on our own. And when we do need help, our communities spring into action. There’s always seeds to be planted, things to be built, bread to be baked, kids to be taught, stuff to be done.

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Sure, there are some folks who panic-buy toilet paper, or toss commonsense out the window and continue to gather in crowds. But most of us know that when the going gets tough, the tough get smart.

“This is a tough place, and it’s been that way since the first people came here thousands of years ago,” said Maine Sen. Angus King. “You have to be self-reliant, whether it’s a blizzard, an ice storm or a pandemic. The first Europeans to come here were foresters, farmers and fishermen. Those are tough, individualistic pursuits. That’s come down to us through the years.”

The most famous portrayals of Maine in literature, film and TV portray us as practical, scrappy and no-nonsense. Olive Kittredge, the title character of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, takes no guff from anyone. The members of the Loser’s Club in Stephen King’s “It” had the common Maine sensibility to know how to defeat Pennywise. Reality TV shows like “Maine Cabin Masters” or “Down East Dickering” celebrate our ingenuity and thriftiness. And Mainer Bob Crowley became the oldest winner of the long-running series “Survivor,” with his survival skills coming in as handy as his compassion for his fellow contestants.

Self-reliance and compassion go hand in hand, and help create the sense of community that so much of Maine relies on in times of crisis. Sen. King saw that compassion first-hand as governor of Maine during the ice storm of 1998. He thinks it’s bearing out again, as Maine grapples with the coronavirus.

King recalled that during the ice storm, by the third day after the initial storm struck, temperatures had started to drop into the single digits. With tens of thousands of Mainers without power — and therefore, without a working oil burner — people were in serious danger of freezing. And there simply weren’t enough police, fire and national guard members to go around and knock on every door.

“We started a campaign asking everyone to make sure their neighbors were OK. We kind of deputized all Mainers to take care of themselves and others. In that sense, this crisis is similar,” said King. “The government can only do so much. The only way we’re going to beat this is if everyone follows the advice to wash your hands, not assemble in groups, not go out if you don’t absolutely need to.”

All those traits are what will see us through this crisis. It’s our individuality, our self-reliance, and our tight-knit communities that help us through — now, and whenever a storm hits.

“Individual action is critical,” King said. “And I think Mainers are very, very good at that sort of thing.”

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.