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As Boston shudders, Maine townspeople shrug off cold

Usually, Troy Bouchard said, he goes without gloves at his job pumping gas.

Joel Page for The Boston Globe

Usually, Troy Bouchard said, he goes without gloves at his job pumping gas.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — It’s cold outside. Maybe you’ve heard.

But there is cold, and there is cold cold. And while some in Boston rush to social media to post pictures of thermometers — It’s in the single digits! — here in timber country, the wind chills plunged past bone-chilling to dangerous and people think a little differently.

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“We call that a heat wave,” Steve Campbell, a public works employee in East Millinocket, said of Boston’s temperatures.

Temperatures in this town dipped into the double digits below zero this week, with a wind chill that makes it feel closer to -30. Rivers are frozen solid, the town is encrusted with a seemingly permanent casing of snow, and a wind that feels like a blast of needles whips off nearby Mount Katahdin.

“You don’t survive up here if you’re a wimpy Bostoner,” said Barry Davis, the owner of Two Rivers Canoe & Tackle, a favorite supply spot for the ice fishermen who frequent Millinocket Lake. “The only ones that even talk about the temperature are the imports from Massachusetts.”

The temperature in Millinocket on Thursday afternoon was nothing to get excited about for Maine residents.

Joel Page for The Boston Globe

The temperature in Millinocket on Thursday afternoon was nothing to get excited about for Maine residents.

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Just like in Boston, where so few people were out Thursday that Back Bay parking spaces were ample, most here seemed to find a way to stay indoors and out of the deep freeze.

But then there are people like the crossing guard at Stearns High School, out with nothing on her head but a baseball hat and earmuffs.

“It’s no big deal,” she shrugged.

Few will even concede discomfort. There are few things as tough as a Maine winter. The people of Maine would be one of them.

“It’s not even that cold,” Davis deadpanned. “It was only -15 this morning, with a 15 or 20 mile-per-hour wind. It doesn’t get cold like it used to.”

But, Davis conceded, it all comes down to what you’re used to. He said he went to visit his son in South Carolina recently. The temperature was 45 degrees. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. The locals were wearing parkas.

Here, everyone interviewed seemed to not even understand the question, “How do you live somewhere so cold?” If anything, the question seemed to be a launching point for people to talk about all the reasons they could never live anywhere else, like Boston.

“Do you have to be crazy to live here? Probably. But it’s just part of life, like dealing with the heat in Florida,” said Jeff Campbell, who was standing next to a screen at the Millinocket Municipal Airport that was displaying the horrific readout from the weather station outside.

Campbell was at least willing to admit it was cold enough that he would “not want to be outside in my skivvies.” But he held to the local attitude, which is essentially: The cold is not a big deal; you’re a wimp if you think it is; and at least it’s not black fly season.

Wrapping up her afternoon shift, the crossing guard, Denise Pelkey, said the cold “doesn’t bother me at all.” She has been doing this job for 19 years and spends more time outside than just about anyone else in town.

Pelkey said she’ll take winter shifts over summer shifts any time.

“I don’t like the humidity,” she said.

Sure, some would concede, it’s colder than it has been yet this winter — but not cold cold. Troy Bouchard, who has been pumping gas at the Shell station in East Millinocket for 13 winters, went so far as to do the unthinkable: He put on gloves. Usually, he’s happy to go without them.

“People think I’m crazy, but I’m just used to it. They offer them to me out their windows,” he said, as he squeezed the pump with gloves emblazoned with a Red Sox logo. “But they’re a pain to take off and on.”

The idea that any human can get used to temperatures like this seems impossible, but the locals here repeatedly insisted that it was so.

Sure, they leave the vehicle running when they go into the diner to eat, and remote starters are considered more of a necessity than a luxury, but most recreation involves going directly into the coldest of the cold, whether it’s fishing on a frozen lake or ripping down one of the many snowmobile tracks around town.

But it’s all relative. What seems normal to some sends others running into a Dunkin’ Donuts with their body seemingly turned in on itself, like a frightened turtle.

And there, finally, was a sane person.

“No, this is ridiculously cold,” said Jessica Harvey, a 22-year-old serving hot coffee and wisdom. “This is crazy.”

She chatted about it for a bit, said all of her customers were complaining about the temperature — Liars! — but when the talk turned to Boston and its single-digit temperatures, her face changed.

“Oh,” she said, looking amused to hear that people in Boston thought that was cold. “That’s OK. That’s normal. That’s just winter.”

It’s the negative stuff that’s awful, she said. That’s the cold cold.

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.
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