Feeling overwhelmed with the mornings business of writing a check for another fifteen thousand dollars to close the deal on his land, John decided to hang around Bangor for the day and get a hotel room. Ken had mentioned The Penobscot Woods and Water Association (PWWA), located across the river in Brewer, had many programs during the summer including canoe paddling, fly fishing, and even trapping. John felt the need to learn all three, but was starting to think that a trap line was in his future to provide food for the upcoming winter. The Clubhouse was located beside a pond that the state stocked with brook trout, and this is where club members would hold demonstrations on fly fishing. After John reserved a room for the night, he made the twenty minute ride to the PWWA and was delighted to see a canoe safety course in progress. An instructor informed him that he was welcome to observe and check out the clubhouse and goings on. The participants in the canoe program were learning how to perform the “catamaran” canoe rescue technique. This involved an over turned canoe and two stranded paddlers. The object was for the two stranded canoeists to point one end of the upside down canoe perpendicular into the side of the upright canoe carrying two passengers. The end of the capsized canoe is pushed up onto the gunwale of the upright canoe and slid, by the two passengers, half way across and then flipped upright and returned into the water, keel side down. The idea then was to get the floating passengers back into their canoe. It was a great example of how important a PFD was in the event of an overturned canoe. The stranded passengers were able to assist in the rescue instead of having to tread water, or possibly drown.
When he walked into the club house the smell of American chop suey was filling the room. Several aluminium covered trays were put out on the table. It was the leftovers from lunch, and a man in the kitchen informed John he could help himself because there was too much to go around. He ate two bowls and felt very full. After eating canned beans and cold bread, mixed with the occasional dinner with Les, the meal was very comforting.
The walls of the dining area were covered with taxidermy. Many deer heads, a big moose head, and several large fish, mostly salmon and brook trout. The back wall held wild turkey tails fanned out to reveal the maturity of the bird. Hundreds of scattered pictures, ranging from the nineteen forties to present, filled empty spots on the rest of the walls. John found the equipment and clothing interesting in some of the early hunting photos, mostly red plaid shirts and lever action rifles. Old fishing pictures displayed bamboo rods and woven creels accompanied by very dark and thick trout. In the lobby there was a list of upcoming events and classes. Among them was a trappers introduction and safety course that was mandatory to obtain a trappers license; it started in three weeks. The following weekend was a hunter’s safety course, also mandatory for acquiring a hunting license, which he needed desperately.
In addition to needing the required courses and licensing for hunting and trapping, John had another issue he had just become aware of during the closing of his property. He had planned on becoming a Maine resident and obtaining licenses and vehicle registrations. However, he needed to have a residence in Maine to prove he lived in the state. He wasn’t going to be able to claim his property as a residence because it didn’t have an established dwelling, and he had no intention of building a conventional house with modern amenities. He was permitted to “camp” on his land as long as he wished, as a nonresident; not exactly what he had in mind, but for now, it would have to suffice. It was “legal” to have an outhouse or composting toilet, but that required a plumbing permit. A plumbing permit required adjusting the tax structure on his land. This meant taking a portion of his property out of timber tax, so he would appear to be “in the process” of building a house, and not be in any violation with the state or forest service. The state of Maine has what is known as a timber tax. It was introduced as a tax incentive to counter the over development of land, while still making it possible to remove a small portion of that land to build a home. The remaining portion, if undisturbed, is taxed at a lower rate. The land John had purchased was in timber tax and had been for decades. It had never been logged off because the trees never had enough value to harvest. The hardwood across the river would have been gone if it were not in the National Forest. The land beside him, luckily, was part of the nature conservancy. Les had told him that he thought John’s land would have been developed sooner than later because it had no other value. There had been a group of investors who almost purchased over one thousand acres on the same road. They had plans of putting in hundreds of house lots over the next ten or twenty years. That plan had been derailed when the banks shut off their line of credit due to a country wide housing market crash. Before the economy could get its footing back, much of the land had been acquired by, or donated to, the nature conservancy.
In any case, it looked like John was going to be keeping his New Jersey address for the time being, and would have to pay the extra cost of an out-of-state license. He signed up for both courses, and paid the forty five dollar fee for the hunters safety course and the five dollar fee for the trapping course. Ken had told him about a store in Brewer that sold all kinds of hand tools and equipment. John knew that he would need a new cross cut saw and a bigger ax to cut the fire wood for the upcoming winter. When he arrived at the store the owner was in the process of closing, but encouraged John to have a look around and he would stay open as long as he needed. The walls were filled with all kinds of old steel tools including, saws, axes, chisels, draw knives, hand drills, and some fancy tools for what they called mortise and tenon. John bought a one man cross cut saw that was made in Seneca Falls, New York. The shop owner explained to him that if he was cutting mostly hardwood he would need what’s known as a “tuttle tooth” blade design, but he could also cut softwood with it if necessary. John also bought two axes and a splitting maul made by the Snow and Neally Company in Smyrna, Maine. The axes felt good when he picked them up, and he decided on a Penobscot Bay and a bigger felling ax. While the shop owner was putting a good edge on the axes for him, he offered to show him how to sharpen the cross cut saw as well, something he would have to do eventually. John was starting to get used to feeling foolish. Everything was more complex than he thought it would be, and all the nuances of being a woodsman seemed to be a trade in and of itself. Even the best cross cut saw or the most expensive ax was useless if a person couldn’t take care of it. Feeling guilty about holding up this kind merchant from his evening at home, John settled up with cash and managed to lighten his wallet by two hundred and seventy dollars. He shook the man’s hand, and promised to return as soon as he learned how to use the tools he purchased. It seemed that this particular store was going to be a staple in his new lifestyle.
The hotel was comfortable, but John was ready to hit the road as soon as the sun came up. He was back at the steel bridge catching small mouth bass by ten o’clock. He had made his usual stop at the hardware store for just a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, but while there, he found a new lantern that ran on the same fuel as his stove, and a small buck saw for cutting small spruce trees and saplings. The new cross cut saw would be too big for these little jobs, and he wanted to preserve its sharp edge. He caught a few nice bass and decided to keep two for dinner. He also caught and released some big creek chubs and smaller bass.
When he got to the property he had a sense of comfort, now that he owned it, and could start clearing a place for his future home. He took a minute to appreciate what he had, and gave a silent thanks to his late grandfather. It was his forethought, and money, that had made this whole thing possible. When he started walking down to the river in the thick spruce trees he noticed he had actually started a trail with his previous walks. Now he would start cutting low limbs and making it easier to navigate, especially in the dark. It was almost noon, so he wanted to clear an area and set up his new tent before dark. The spot he had chosen seemed to make sense because the land was reasonably flat and somewhat clear with patches of sun coming through. The little buck saw worked amazingly well cutting the small conifers and low branches from bigger trees. After a couple hours of hard work he managed to have an area about twenty feet by twenty feet cleared out, and a couple of the trees he cut should make good main poles for the tent.
When he spoke with the tent manufacturer, they had told him a couple different ways he could set up the tent. Some people build tripods about twenty feet apart which supported a long, stout ridge pole, then run four poles down at an angle in each corner to support the gable ends. Then, two more poles in the same direction as the ridge pole to support the top of the walls. This was the strongest way to set up this tent to prevent it from blowing over in high winds. Some outfitters even had fire pits built into the tripods for cooking. They fashioned racks to hold pots and kettles on the poles and it made for an efficient hunting camp. There was also the usual warning about cooking food near your tent in bear country. Although John wasn’t in grizzly country, he didn’t want any black bears visiting in the middle of the night either.
Les had offered the use of spruce bean poles that would have made good tripods, but John had so many trees he decided to make his own. He cut down six trees about two inches in diameter for the tripods, and one fifteen footer for the ridge pole around three inches thick. It was at this point he realized he didn’t have any rope for lashing them together. He decided a run back to the hardware store would be worth while because in addition to the rope he really needed a couple bottles of biodegradable camp soap to wash up with. After handling the spruce trees, cutting off the limbs and pulling roots out of the ground his hands were black. He had also run out of drinking water having drank almost a gallon just clearing the spot for his tent. He made the trip and was back with a few hours left before the sun went down. The tent was heavy. it took three rest breaks before it was down to the clearing. After unfolding and spreading it out on the ground, it was bigger than he had anticipated. The smell of new canvas filled the air, and the whiteness of the material was stark by comparison to the surrounding evergreens. John lashed the poles in groups of three at one end and stood them up like a tee pee. The structure of it was surprisingly stable. He dragged the tent in between the pyramids and slid the longer ridge pole through the openings in each gable end, then placed one end of the ridge pole on the top of a tripod. Getting the other end up proved to be quite difficult due to the height and weight of the canvas tent. After some struggling, he had the ridge pole in place, and the canvas tent resembled a hanging sheet. He cut four more trees for the gable ends. These would run to the ground and support the roof line. After the new poles were in place, it was obvious the ridge pole was too high because the bottom of the tent walls weren’t touching the ground. This was remedied by spreading out the bottom of the tripods, hence, lowering the ridgepole. Now it at least looked like a tent with the four corners tied up in place. Now he had to cut two more trees for the top of each wall and then lash it all together. After every tie was secured inside and out, and the bottom of the walls were staked, it actually looked like an outfitters tent in a magazine. John was delighted with how much it resembled the picture on the box it came in.
He felt like he had met a milestone, and was very hungry. He built a makeshift fire pit and got a fire going with all the spruce bows he had cut. The sparks were flying up from them and crackling in the air. This concerned him, as he didn’t want to start a forest fire, so he decided to make a spruce bow bed, rather than burn them. He still had his two fish to clean and cook, and it was nearly dark. John made three trips back and forth from the truck to the tent, and on the last trip he drank half a gallon jug of water. The stove was hissing and the lantern was finally glowing after a frustrating lesson in mantle tying. He realized his source of light should have been figured out before dark, but managed to get it operating. After he ate the fish and almost half a loaf of bread, he spread the sleeping bag out on the spruce bows he had arranged. As soon as he laid down he was being poked in multiple places. It felt more like a bed of nails than anything else. It seemed that making a comfortable bed out of branches was another skill he had not yet mastered. For tonight, he would cover it with every piece of extra clothing he had with him, and even the tent bag would become a thin layer of protection from the sharp spears he intended to sleep on. The fire was still going and there was no shortage of dead wood to throw on it. He constructed a seat out of an old log and sat admiring his new tent. The soft yellow light of the lantern glowing inside it gave it a sense of warmth, like home.
John was filthy from the days work and felt the need to wash his clothes. He had four pairs of pants total and half a dozen shirts, not counting his new wool shirt that was moonlighting as a pillow. He figured he would clean up in the morning down at the river, and maybe wash his clothes letting them dry on the rocks in the sun. He drank the remaining water in the half empty jug and decided to call it a night. The fire had died down and he managed to get reasonably comfortable in his sleeping bag. The coyotes were starting to yip across the river. The sound of the river replaced the hissing lantern as it faded out. Lying there in the dark, John started thinking about where to stack wood, how he would store his clothes, how to keep food from going bad or freezing, and where he would keep his tools to protect them from rusting. These were all things that seemed easier to figure out tomorrow, and slowly he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning brought clouds and the promise of rain leaving it quite cool in the tent. John made coffee on the Coleman stove. It was reassuring to him that if this little camp stove could heat up his tent that quickly, then a wood stove should be quite effective. As the coffee revived him he started attacking the questions he had posed the night before. The bare ground was going to be an issue when it got colder and it made keeping things clean seem impossible; he might need a floor. He had only spent one night and already his clean clothes were filthy. It was obvious he needed a table and means of storing kitchen items like cooking oil, coffee and other staples. He would use the steel footlocker for whatever food he had, protecting it from animals while he was away. The wooden box from his parents garage would make a dry place to keep clothes. Maybe he would get some rough cut lumber and construct floor, along with some shelves and a table for cooking and eating. The list of needs was going to be bigger than John had expected.
John decided to walk to the river and get cleaned up. The combination of campfire smoke, sweat, and his blackened hands made him feel like jumping in the river and scrubbing. He grabbed a clean t shirt and fresh pants before he left his tent. Standing outside, looking at his campsite after the first night, and the smell of the burned spruce seemed to rejuvenate him. There is a certain smell that fills the air when dried conifer is burned in a fire. He warmed up quickly walking to the river, but the air was still cool and the water was frigid. John stripped naked and plunged in all at once to get it over with quickly. The water felt like ice at first but he slowly got used to it. He scrubbed his hands with a combination of camp soap and sand. Eventually most of the black dirt was removed and he actually felt clean. He decided to wash his dirty clothes from yesterday and bring them back to the tent as it looked like the weather was going to be overcast and sunshine didn’t look promising. After putting on clean clothes and wringing out the jeans and t shirt from yesterday he walked back up to his campsite and poured another cup of coffee. John thought he should start a list of priorities, starting with some means of washing clothes. He needed to see about buying lumber to build an outhouse and hopefully a floor for his tent. The fact he was using a wood stove made it a bit tricky because obviously it couldn’t be placed directly on a wooden floor. Maybe that was a question for Les, since he had some experience with building things. He thought about an ad he had seen in that magazine, the one he threw away, it featured a hand-operated washing machine, it was small but it would probably handle a pair of pants and a couple dirty t shirts. The idea of jumping in the river in December didn’t impress him anymore that his first night on that spruce bow bed. Staying clean and healthy was going to be a challenge. Any infection could be life threatening and the slightest cut could turn septic. These are all things that needed to be figured out before winter, but maybe now was a good time to find a place for that outhouse.