At twenty-eight, Ed sold his farm in Massachusetts and moved to Maine in search of cheap land, large woods and ample pasture for his cows. Over the last fifty-nine years, Maine has changed a lot, and Ed little. Measuring time not by decades but by eras of women, Ed's twice divorced and currently lives with a special lady friend of ten years. He has grown to love his adopted home and developed a thick accent. Since bottling his first jar of milk in 1952, one year after moving to Maine, 34 dairy farmers on his street have boarded up shop, sold off their stock and left for the convenience of the suburbs. Ed stays fast, feeding his deep love for Maine with all of the food he can muster.
Driving down a frost heaved road a half hour north of Skowhegan, I stared blindly out the window of a Subaru Outback, watching the treeline cut the sky like a band saw. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a short, bearded man, sawing small a small tree. Pushing my face up against the window to get a better look, I blurted, "Spencer, did you see that guy? We may have to turn around..."
Over the whirring of a Stihl chainsaw, I gingerly approached the old man. To make the interaction more transparent, and avoid an, "Are you lost?" I held my camera in plain view. Muffled by 87 year-old ears and fixated on making precise cuts in the downed limb like an ADD thirteen year-old dissecting a video game level, Ed didn't hear me until the third time.
"Hello Foster, nice to meet you, I'm Ed. You can take my picture, but is it okay if I sit for a while and rest?" his mouth moved like a nutcracker, masked by a 25 year-old beard. Stiffly, but with the look of familiarity in his movements, he set down the chain saw and walked towards the half-filled tractor bucket. For the next thirty minutes, we talked cows, Maine's beauty, and beards.
Ed fighting the good fight after 59 years, two wives, hundreds of cows, multiple chainsaws and a handful of safety pins in Maine.
"I let it grow wild, like me" he said as if informing a waitress at a diner about how he likes his eggs cooked. 25 years ago, Ed stopped shaving his beard. "I was hoping by now it would be down to here," he motioned to the bottom of his sternum with a chop of his hand, "but it just stopped growing a while ago." Impressed by his commitment, I pointed out that his was far more impressive than mine.
Ed's chief means of transportation, other than his slew of mid-century tractors, is this late sixties VW Bug.
After hundreds of cows and nearly six decades of making milk, Ed sold his last cow a year ago.
When his second wife wanted to move closer to her children in Virginia, he stayed with his cows and happily signed the divorce papers. Ed has conviction. Favoring the harsh idealistic life over the compromised, he wears old clothes and works with his hands.
As I walked towards the car after shaking Ed's hand one last time, he yelled, "You should move to Alaska, even though they have that woman senator that killed that moose. It sounds like a good place."
Inspired by his wild beard and commitment to the land he loves, I responded, "Maybe I will, Ed, but I don't think you can make milk there," with a smile.