September 23, 2020

Beech Hill Pond man making best of his days without furnace, lights

OTIS — Rufus Merrill lives alone on the remote western shore of Beech Hill Pond — one of the rural areas hardest hit by last week’s ice storm. But the 88-year-old man is doing just fine even though he’s been without power for more than a week now.

When the electricity went out nine days ago, and his furnace stopped running, Merritt fired up his century-old Ideal Clarion wood stove and lit the equally old kerosene lamp. He cut a hole in the lake and hauled water to do his washing. Foodwise, he was well-stocked with all the tomatoes, string beans and other vegetables he canned from his garden last summer.

Then, the octogenarian settled into the cozy, wood-frame cottage he built overlooking the pond. During the seige, he has kept busy stoking the cast-iron stove with firewood, venturing out, with steel crampons he fashioned, on the ice to fetch water. He’s also done crossword puzzles and read “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier.

Merrill was among scores of people still without power Friday in northern Hancock County towns like Otis. In recent days, tree and utility crews have been working flat-out there, but lights have been slow to come on due to the widespread damage.

Earlier this week, Otis and neighboring towns resembled a crystal palace, but Friday’s snowfall made the rural roads layered with ice and snow even more treacherous. It was tough going on West Shore Road leading to Merrill’s home. Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. was due to close the road from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in an effort to restore light to the more than a dozen homes inhabited year-round there.

A rosy-cheeked man clad in jeans and a plaid wool shirt, Merrill offered his most comfortable easy chair facing the pond. The retired welder who worked for Eastern Fine Paper Inc. in Brewer has three children and six grandchildren, none of whom live in Hancock County. His wife is deceased. His phone has been ringing regularly from relatives checking on his well-being.

But Merrill seemed completely self-sufficient. He has a gas stove and cooks for himself, making from scratch his speciality — green tomato minced meat pie. He ventures out in his white Chevrolet S10 pickup truck to get some groceries, storing perishables in his unheated shop.

Merrill grew up in an era when people living in rural areas didn’t have electricity. His family had a farm in Exeter, N.H.

“When I was a kid, we used to lug water from the spring. Sunday night, we’d fill the washtub so my mother could wash Monday,” he recalled Friday.

In the winter, Merrill went to school in a horse-drawn sleigh.

“We never had electricity. Never ever had a radio. Course, TV wasn’t invented,” he said.

Merrill and his late wife, Dolly, made their Beech Hill camp their permanent home after he retired in 1971. They were the first to live year-round on the lake’s west shore. The couple often ate their supper at the end of the small dock he welded. They’d go snowmobiling on the pond.

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