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Since we bought the camp up in Oxford County I've been doing a lot of lake swimming. But I can still recall the last time I immersed my feet into the cool waters of the Gulf of Maine, and still remember the ocean's body-numbing quality.
As a kid growing up on the coast, I'd swim every day in the summer. All the kids did. Our parents would always say: “If your lips and hands start turning blue you'll have to get out of the water for a while.”
What us kids didn't know at the time was that our parents were describing the signs of onset hypothermia.
It says something that even on a beautiful, warm August afternoon the waters off the coast of Maine can still cause hypothermia!
I was thinking of all this the other day as I sat drinking one of the many “designer coffees” down at the store in town where Harold - one of our certified town scholars - started in about recent shark sightings off Maine’s southern coast.
My first thought was what a nice change of topics that was from the other subjects our resident scholars had been kicking around recently: the Red Sox, tourists, gasoline prices, politics.
Carlton, who had been sitting quietly in a booth nursing his fifteenth or sixteenth refill, challenged Harold's statements, saying that Maine waters were much too cold for sharks, which makes them better suited for things like lobsters and crabs. Harold said in case Carlton hadn't noticed our Maine waters were getting warmer, what with all the business about climate change and global warming.
I remember years ago there were reports of shark sightings off some of our southern beaches and people back then were talking about how Maine's waters were getting warmer. At the time I thought no water I'd been swimming in felt like it was warming up. And like I said before, the last time I checked, our coastal waters still felt pretty cold.
It's always amused me the way people - even people here in Maine - get all worked up about sharks and the supposed danger they pose to all living things.
I suppose if I lived in Florida and spent a lot of time in their warm tropical waters, I'd be concerned about shark sightings and shark attacks. But I can't get too worked up about it living here in Maine.
Sharks have over seven billion people on earth to choose from when they feel the urge to munch on someone of the human variety. Yet, only about 75 of all those billions and billions of people are attacked each year by sharks. Of those 75 unlucky individuals only about eight to 10 receive fatal wounds.
I know all this wouldn't mean much to me if I were one of the 75 people attacked by a shark, but those who keep track of such things say more of our fellow earthlings are killed each year by elephants or bees or crocodiles or lightning than are killed by sharks.
As far as I know we don't have many elephants or crocodiles here, but I'm certain you'll see more bees and lightning bolts in a lifetime here in Maine than you'll see a hungery shark.
But I can tell you this much; the next time I walk by a beehive, or hear the rumble of thunder, I'll be a bit nervous from now on.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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