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There was a time here in Maine when you could say with conviction that a man's home (or trailer or camp or ice-fishing shack or pickup with cap) was his 'castle' - if that's what he believed. Local officials - according to tradition - took a mostly hands-off attitude toward the whole question, they respected those long-held beliefs and left the home - or trailer- or camp - or ice-fishing shack- or pickup owner alone, mostly. But over the years selectmen and other officials of the locally grown variety have begun to nibble around the edges of the old "home is a castle" tenet, and with each nibble - it seems - another Maine tradition disappears.
In case you're wondering, I'm talking about the 'Maine door-yard,' that unique space, that special bit of land just outside a man's castle, or trailer or...
For as long as any one can remember the Maine door-yard has been an ideal place to store those vital things that won't quite fit in the house or castle. A man could store things Mother refused to let in the house, but he just can't bear to part with. You know that as soon as you get rid of such things - guaranteed - you're going to need them.
A recent example of this 'nibbling' or encroachment on the rights extended to the traditional Maine door-yard comes from western Maine where - according to a newspaper article - home owners judged to have too much 'junk' in their yards will receive a special invitation to have a little sit-down with selectmen about the issue. Following an executive session with a code enforcement officer, the board decided to give the junkyard violators (owners of classic, historic spaces traditionally known as door-yards) a final opportunity to explain themselves; to discuss the 'condition' of their yards with town officials before those officials decide to take further action. The article didn't say what some of those further actions might be but, hey, use your imagination. "There are four or five locations that the code enforcement officer has decided to crack down on," said a town official.
What appears to be the problem with these particular locations, you might ask?
Well, according to those appointed to keep track of such things these suspect 'locations' have traditional door-yard items like: old washers, dryers, stoves, air conditioners, scrap metal, several engine blocks and other vital car parts like belts, hoses, clamps and mufflers, empty oil barrels with outboards hanging on them, cannibalized snowmobiles, sofas, rusted-out chainsaws, piles of new and used lumber and - to complete the effect - just plain garbage. Officials say the items in question can present health risks and possible rodent problems for anyone unfortunate enough to live in the immediate area.
But wait a minute. How do town officials know what the owners intend to do with these particular items? Each item may have been chosen and carefully stored in the yard for use at some future time. As for the garbage, well, we all know that one man's "garbage pile" is another man's "organic, free-range compost pile." To their credit, rather than ordering an immediate clean-up, or an order to leave town before sundown, board members say they will invite each landowner to a public meeting to see if there is way to resolve the 'junk' issue. ?What the board wants to avoid is a scenario where town employees clean up the yards and then bills owners for the work.
What happens if those costs aren't paid? You got it - a lien will be attached to the property, which the town claims it wants to avoid. This western Maine town, which shall remain un-named, has dealt with some of these property owners before. Their yard conditions are said to violate the town's zoning ordinances, a town official said.
According to state law, two unregistered vehicles can be considered an illegal “junk yard.” To me, with or without the popular cinder block option, it'll always be a part of a traditional Maine door-yard, to me.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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