“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 2

When John returned to the car he was over-heated and very thirsty.  His wool shirt was half unbuttoned before he reached the safety of the vehicle, out of the black flies.  As soon as he finished the rest of his water he squished a dozen of the pesky man-eating bugs that followed him into his personal space. He sat wondering how anyone could possibly deal with these bugs on a daily basis.  He had read about life in the northern Maine woods for years, and heard mention of them, but he had no idea just how severe they really were until now.  It was still June, so he figured they must start to thin out at some point, but when would that be?

The sound of the approaching automobile broke his concentration,  he realized he had to get back into the swarm of vampires to meet his realtor who was right on time. The car came to a stop just behind John’s rented Chevrolet.  A tall thin man in a brown suit got out as soon as the wheels stopped turning.  He was a well dressed and freshly shaven gentleman  appearing to be close to retirement age.  “Hello, you must be John,” the man said with a welcoming smile.  “My name is Ken Orman, were you able to find the property okay”? “Actually I drove right to it without getting lost and I have already found the river’ John replied.   “So what is your first impression?” John noticed that Ken wasn’t getting eaten alive and he had at least six black flies biting the back of his neck. “I absolutely love the river and these woods are incredibly beautiful.” “Are you looking to build a vacation home?”  “Well, actually I am thinking more like a year round type of place.”  Ken smiled and turned his head in the direction of the river. “Have you ever spent a winter in Maine?” he asked. “Well, actually no, I haven’t”. “I don’t want to discourage you before we get off the ground, but I’m pretty sure we are standing on a class six road.” John turned his head towards the bridge “what is a class six road?” he asked. “That means un-maintained, not plowed in the winter.  The good news is you can shoot from the road during hunting season; the bad news is you need a snowmobile or a dog sled to get here in the winter.”

John thought about that while Ken was spreading out listings of other properties on the hood of his car.  Ken pulled out two pieces of paper that had the words “sub-development” on the description and john’s heart sank a bit. “You know we have a bunch of lots in the next county that are already approved for building and the electricity is on-sight”.    “I really don’t want to live in a sub-development.   I have been reading about homesteading and living off-grid.   I am looking to build in an area that is more rural.”  Ken looked at him with a big grin.  “I have lived here my whole life and have seen many people come from the cities and try to cope with whatever nature deals them.  This is a beautiful part of the world, no question.”   Ken set his paperwork down and crossed his arms over his chest.  “How do you like the black flies?”   By now John had blood running down his face. “I knew the flies were considered thick up here but honestly had no idea they were this bad.”   Ken’s smile got even wider,  “This is almost the end of the fly season,  you should be here in May!  The winters are colder than you could possibly imagine.  We have snow well before Thanksgiving which is great for deer hunting, but it makes the season that much longer”  Ken unconsciously slid his hands into his front pockets just thinking about it.

John had read stories of people going stir crazy from being stuck inside for long periods of time over the winter months.  He recalled stories of Maine guides living all winter in seclusion;  with nothing but an ax and all the hard cider they could possibly carry back to “winter camp”.  The stories of falling through the ice, pulling yourself to safety in sub zero temperatures,  barley being able to get a fire going to save yourself from hypothermia, were in fact true events that led to best selling novels. The woodsman of old had an unwritten code to help each other, but all of them knew that ultimately you had to help yourself.  Being unable to do so made for a short stay in the big woods of Maine.  Anything could happen to a person out here, as well as nothing could happen at all.  John had run all those thoughts through his head and decided the best way to deal with anything is as it happens, in front of you.  A person can plan for anything, but until the situation presents itself, there is no way anyone can know the outcome… until it is hindsight.

“I will look at some other properties but I really am not interested  in anything  close to town or in any kind of association.”  Ken had three other parcels that were twenty acres and one that was forty-five acres, but nothing else on a river or even close to water.  ” Okay,  lets walk  the road and find the pin so you actually see how much road frontage you have,”  Ken suggested.  The land had five-hundred  feet of road frontage and almost six-hundred feet of river frontage. The land to the right was wet-land,  considered by the forest service to be unbuildable.  This was a bonus because it meant he would never have neighbors except the local critters, but it also meant a nesting ground for bugs.  The land to left was in the process of becoming a conservation area for wildlife.  This was exactly what John was looking for.

Ken walked at an extremely fast pace for an elderly gentleman.  “This is the corner right here.  You have walked to the river, you said, did the ground look fairly level?”   John was still swatting flies.  After spitting a few out of his mouth John was able to speak, ” It seemed like level ground except for a big mound of earth and some large rocks about one-hundred feet in.”  Ken, still seeming to be in exile from the swarms of flesh eating insects, chatted on  “I have a brother who guides canoe and fly fishing trips every summer down this river.”  “Your brother is a Maine Guide?”    “Yup, he’s been at it almost forty years now,” Ken said as he slicked his thin hair back.  John got his second wind now and wondered how he could meet up with Ken’s brother.

At Kens insistence  they looked at two more pieces of land that afternoon.  One of them was almost two hours away.  It had been logged off two years prior leaving waist deep slash making it almost impossible to navigate. The other was not as bad, but the closest lake was seven miles away and offered little or no canoeing in any of the small rivers.  John knew he wanted to be able to launch a canoe at a moments notice and be able to fish every day if he wished. The first property he looked at also had both hard and soft wood. The hardwood was great for fire wood and possibly carving projects. He could build a cabin or get a portable sawmill to process the softwood into lumber for a more conventional home.  All these thoughts raced through his head as he followed Ken’s olive green sedan from one place to the next.

At the end of the day John decided he wanted to proceed with the first parcel he looked at by the river that morning.  He did feel better that he at least looked at some other land, not just jumping at the first place he found.  He had made a few big decisions in the last twenty-four hours, and felt a little nervous about the next step,  filling out paperwork and committing to the whole idea of living in a place he was not at all familiar with. The price was right, but it was a big percentage of the actual funds he had available after investing half of his inheritance into the stock market.  He still didn’t own a vehicle and had absolutely no tools to work with.  He had a choice, he would either have to hire some expensive equipment to move dirt quickly, or do everything by hand which would take him a long time. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it did mean he would have to stay somewhere else over the first winter, and that would cost even more money. 

It was almost dark when the two men made it back to the main office of the real estate company.  Ken was used to working odd hours as an agent and didn’t seem to mind.  He had all the paperwork in order, and John wrote a check in the amount of five thousand dollars to be put in escrow to hold the property for thirty days.  Ken leaned back in his chair and locked his long fingers behind his head  “So your really going to do it…”.   John set the pen down and put his elbows on the arms of the Naugahyde chair, “Yes I am, and in fact I can’t wait to get back and start this project”.   Ken was smiling, as he had been all day, leaned forward and crossed his arms on the desk , “I think its going to be a great experience for you.   Even if you don’t like it, and want to go back down south, you have a great piece of land there that is only going to appreciate in the next few years. There is a big trend of folks like yourself who want to get away from it all and live a peaceful life.  Some even want to build businesses up there that incorporate the wilderness into a paying job.”  John was glad to hear he wasn’t alone in thinking that the world has gotten a bit out of hand with technology, and that things were moving at a rate that was unsustainable, but he didn’t want too many people around either.

“Do you think it will get overpopulated?” Ken let out a big laugh and said, “oh not in your lifetime…  Some day civilization will catch up to us but that is a long ways off.  These are big woods and not everyone can make it up here.”  John felt like he was keeping Ken from his family and realized he still hadn’t gotten a hotel for the night.  “Well I guess I will see you in a couple weeks, and is there anything else you need from me?”  Ken put the papers in a folder and slid them aside reaching out for a handshake at the same time. “No, that’s all for now.  Oh, by the way, if you were ever interested, my brother is getting older and talks about hiring an apprentice for his guide service.”   John nearly jumped out of his seat, “Oh I would love to meet him and discuss any options he has for employment.” Ken stood up and placed the folder in the top of his file cabinet. “You know being a guide means you never get to do those things you love to do anymore. You spend all your time cooking, carrying loads, and untangling fishing lines… and that’s on a good day.”  John was still trying to compose himself, but the excitement  was getting the best of him. “Oh I have read about the horror stories, I would just love a chance at helping out.  I would be very grateful if you mentioned my name to him.”  Ken grabbed his coat and was walking to the door, “I reserved a room for you at the hotel across the street, your in room 101,  In the morning you can look out the window and see the mountains by your new piece of land.”


Leave a Reply