Over the years I've often wondered how there can be so many very different responses to something. Writing for various newspapers over the years, I've done lots of stories on all kinds of subjects. In the process of writing these stories I've asked witnesses to describe simply in their own words what they saw or heard. You would not believe the responses. Well, maybe you’d believe them, but I often don't. You'd think these people were in different time zones instead of standing right next to each other, watching as a single event unfolded before their eyes.
When it comes to the columns I write for this space each week, it's the same thing. You'd never know that two readers reading the same column could come up with such different responses. But I suppose that's what makes life worth reading about in the first place. And that's what eventually feeds things like the giant "emails to the editor" industry.
Don't get me wrong; I enjoy getting your emails each week and reading your comments and critiques. As you know, each week, at the end of this column is my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All that having been said, I want to tell you about the response I got from my column several weeks back. I wrote about how things have been changing here in Maine over the years. Specifically I wrote of how we've gone from a place where you never had to lock your doors and protect your private property (even in tourist season) to the present state of affairs where people go driving around the state stealing things like snowplows and shovels.
Not more than a few days after the column ran I received two emails about it; one from Camden and one from Monmouth. Those two writers differed from each other by about 180 degrees.
Anita wrote: "Your column this week, about taking what isn't yours, made me laugh. We've been having a problem with a small ditch that we've been filling over the years with rocks from our fields. Three times now we have had cars or trucks back right up to the ditch to help themselves to all the rocks. It's like they don't have a clue that maybe they were put there for a reason. With our suggestion that they put them back, they move on. The good Lord willing, we'll fill that ditch some day – if people will leave our rocks alone."
I hear you, Anita! Not only did she agree with me wholeheartedly about how private property isn't as safe as it used to be, she provided a startling example. And I don't know about you, but when a pile of rocks in a ditch can't be safe anymore, what is our beautiful state coming to? Not that this excuses anybody, Anita, but I have noticed a lot of beautiful stonewalls around Monmouth, lately.
Feeling pretty good about myself I then opened the email from Dianne in Cambridge. Like I said, she read the same column but managed to come up with a different view. Unlike Anita she was not amused with the column. She began:
"Generally, I enjoy your column, but this one about nailing things down really got me. How do you think we recycle things here in Maine? Ask any Mainer about some of his favorite lawn pieces and chances are you'll find he “appropriated” them from some other lawn somewhere. Isn't there enough to complain about, enough to share, without you adding another straw to the camel's back? Don't stir up the hornet's nest, huh?"
How about stirring up the hornet's nest with a straw from the camel's back? Or would that be burning the midnight oil at both ends – to use my favorite mixed metaphor.
Now that column may not have solved the problem of people going around snitching things, but I sure got people like Anita and Dianne thinking about the problem. And that's all I set out to do in the first place.