“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 9

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.

“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 8

When John pulled into the Orman farm there was no one home.  Although he had permission from Les to help himself to anything, he wasn’t comfortable going into the house, but he did get his steel foot locker from the barn and put it in the back of his pickup.  There was still an hour before dark and he wanted to try and catch a trout, something that had eluded him thus far.  Les had told him about a pool up the road that was usually good for at least one, if not two, brookies by the end of the day.  Les referred to the last hour of daylight as the “witching hour;”  if you had a slow day with a client, and found yourself up against the wall, this was the time to redeem yourself as a guide.  Generally, if a person caught a fish at the end of the day, that meant more to them than having a very successful day over all.  When you catch fish all day it appears easy, and seems less significant.  When a person starts at the crack of dawn,  has traipsed all day in hot chest waders, eaten only a soggy sandwich washed down with warm soda, somehow, when the rod bends at dusk, it rejuvenates their soul.  They feel as though they have earned the experience, rather than payed for it. 

When John arrived at the bridge that crossed the river, he pulled off the road and noticed two other fishermen, waist deep in the river, fly fishing.  Their oscillating arms resembled pendulums, working back and forth until the end of their line was exactly where they wanted it.  The tiny fly would land and begin to slowly sink while the current swept the thick line down stream, slowly arching, then straightening out  left to weave back and forth a few times in the swirling water.  Then the line was pulled back through the eyelets of the rod, and the whole process was repeated.  Suddenly, the rod tip bent and the highly visible line went taught.  The other angler retrieved his presentation and fumbled with a net that seemed to be stuck to his back.   After a few minutes, the fish was tired and brought in close enough to be netted.  The fisherman who caught the fish removed a trout from the net, dislodged the small hook, and released the fish.  This process happened four times in 30 minutes and John never left the seat of his truck.  He felt funny about trying to hook a brook trout with his hardware store presentation, and even worse, he was using a live night crawler and a shiny trout spinner.  He doubted he would even get a strike. How could the fish be so anxious to attack these tiny flies made of squirrel hair and not seem to have any interest in a fat juicy night crawler?  It made no sense, but Les had spoken about “matching the hatch”… whatever that meant.

Feeling defeated again, he drove back to Les’s house.  It was getting dark and the kitchen light was on.  When he got out of the truck, he saw Les through the open window, standing at the small cook stove.  The the smell of fried onions filled the air.  “Hey John, I bet your hungry!”  John was always hungry when Les was in the kitchen.  “I guess I could eat,” John said.  “How was New Jersey?”  “It was nice to see the folks and I bought a truck.”  “I see that, four wheel drive too.”  “Yeah, I got it for two grand, an older guy had it and  took good care of it by the looks.” “That’s good, looks solid.”  “Yeah, no rust to speak of,  it made it this far so I guess it will go for a few more years.”  The coffee started boiling in the glass bubble on top of the percolator.  Les grabbed two cups from the dish drainer.  “Coffee?”  “Yes please!” John said as he pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.  For some reason, the coffee pot reminded him of the tent, and the fact he had to tell Les he was planning on spending the winter in it,  maybe tomorrow he would broach that.

“So have you seen Ken?” John asked.  “He was here two days ago, said he was going to have your stuff ready next week.”  “Yeah that is the plan I guess.  I was up at the river tonight and a couple guys caught some nice trout.”  “Did you get any?”  “No, I just watched them catch four nice ones.”  “Are you planning on getting into fly fishing?”  “I would love to, but don’t have a clue.”  Les was flattening out some ground meat and making patties.  “I have an old five weight you can use if you want, needs a reel though, I might have an extra if I dig for it.”  “Whats a five weight?”  “That’s the weight of line the rod is designed for, generally you can go one size up or down, depending on the size of the fish you are going after.  Around here you won’t need more than a six weight.”  “So I need line and some flies?”  ” You need a leader and a tippet also.”  “Why?”  “Because without the leader, which is generally a foot longer than the rod, and a tippet, which you attach the fly, you can’t cast a fly rod.” “Doesn’t the fly have enough weight to cast it?”  “That’s not how it works. The fly has nothing to do with it.  If you are using a very small fly,  like a nymph, you would use a five or six x tippet, so the fly can sink, that’s if your using a wet fly.” John felt more confused now than all his years in calculus and trigonometry combined. “There is a-lot to fly fishing I guess.” John said as he sipped the hot black coffee.  “Sure there is, but it gets to be second nature after awhile.  Don’t over-complicate it and let the rod do the work.  That’e the best advise I could give anyone.” “Okay then, I guess I will grab some fly line at the hardware store tomorrow.”  “Get a five weight, double taper, you won’t be making long casts and the wind isn’t bad in the river for the most part.  I have some leader and tippet in the barn. There are a few knots you’ll need to know how to tie in the dark.  We will get you started on nymphs and later some dry flies.  The suckers are done spawning  so they will be hitting other patterns.”  Les put the burgers on plates along with some fresh green beans and and potatoes.  The two ate supper and drank coffee for an hour, then John washed the dished while Les did some planning at his desk for an upcoming fishing trip the following weekend.

The next morning both John and Les were up with the sun and drinking more black coffee.  John was making a trip to the hardware store for some fly line and a few groceries to help out Les.  He had stayed there enough that he felt obligated to pitch in.  Before he left he took some mental notes of what Les had for canned goods in the pantry and he looked low on coffee.  Les didn’t use many spices to cook with outside of salt and pepper, and the occasional splash of garlic powder.  Les was in the driveway looking at John’s new truck. “Looks pretty solid.”  “It runs good too, uses a little more gasoline than I like, but it will do the trick.”  John was actually quite happy with his new acquisition. The truck ran great and had a certain squareness to it that looked tough.  The sparkling brown paint was in good shape and the chrome was still shiny.  It had a big diamond plate bumper on the back with a trailer ball built into it.  The front bumper was shiny chrome to match the big mirrors.  It also had chrome window trim and a sliding rear window he could stick long poles through for transporting, it was perfect.

When he got to the store he gassed up and bought some groceries.  He pretended to know what he was talking about when he asked the location of fly line in the store, and was relieved no one asked anything that revealed his lack of knowledge of the sport.  He bought a long handled shovel to dig a hole where he thought there might be a natural spring on his property.  The thought of fresh fish for lunch sounded good,  so he stopped at the steel bridge where he caught his first two small mouth bass.  On the second cast he connected with a nice bronze back and decided to keep it and try for a second, that would give him enough for lunch after he dug a hole.  He made several more casts and caught another bass almost exactly the same size.  Happy with his fish, he drove back to the property and blazed a trail to the area he thought would be the best place to set up camp.  It was reasonably flat, seemed dry, and the sun seemed to shine in for most of the day.  He knew he would have to cut some trees and pull stumps if he was eventually going to grow food.  He located a good place for the outhouse, in the opposite direction of the water to avoid contamination.  When he got to the spot he had dug by hand it was full of clear water.  It had filled up overnight….. This was good….. John started digging with the shovel and piling up the wet soil off to the side. There were many roots and some jagged rocks that he had to pry out, but after an hour of digging he had a hole three feet deep and four feet wide that already had twelve inches of muddy water in it.  His next task was to ferry some rocks up from the river bed to line the sides of the hole to keep the earth from falling back in. This would take many trips, and he was looking forward to lunch, so he went back to the truck to get his two bass and start cleaning them.  Within minutes they were cleaned, skinned, and sizzling in the cast iron pan that was sitting on his new camp stove.  He was impressed by how much faster he could enjoy a meal by using the stove verses having to build a fire and wait for the hot coals to form.  There was a definite advantage to modern conveniences when your had chores to be done and time was limited, not to mention he had worked up a good appetite digging his new well.

After lunch he walked down to the river and started piling up round, flat stones from the stream bed.  If he adequately lined the hole he had dug, and kept it from caving in,  it should be possible to fill a bucket of water.  If it was a natural spring it would provide him with water all summer.  He spent the rest of the afternoon carrying stones up to the new well and managed to find a route that wasn’t overgrown with thick spruce trees.  He liked the shapes of the stones and thought about building a ring for his campfire, but then remembered the stories of exploding rocks from the moisture inside river stones.  When the rocks heat up, if there is water trapped in them, they explode like a hand grenade and many campers have been seriously injured by this. There were plenty of rocks around the property so he could build a fire pit without the risk of bodily harm.

By late afternoon he was heading back to the farm and thinking about how he was going to set up his tent.   He needed some poles for the tent, as he had passed on the metal frame that was available from the manufacturer.  Many outfitters out west use the same poles every year,  leaving them at the camp site, so they only had to transport the tent and supplies on horse back.   However, some places where they camped forbade the cutting of trees so a metal frame was available.  John had plenty of trees and the black spruce was ideal for making poles.

Les had gone into town and stocked up on the food and other items he needed for the weekend.  He would be guiding the grandson of one of his oldest clients. The weekend fishing trip consisted of a canoe trip and fly fishing.  He insisted on making a traditional meal for this trip;  t-bone steaks with carrots and potatoes in the dutch oven along with peach cobbler.   Les put a-lot of emphasis on food and its preparation.  He cooked everything in cast iron or over the open flame of the fire. These were the nuances that made river trips so memorable.  Many of the old traditions of guiding were being replaced with modern techniques.   Prepackaged freeze dried meals in foil bags, cooked over titanium stoves seemed to be the new trend.   Carbon fiber was replacing the warmth of ash canoe paddles.  The old canvas paintings of men sleeping under a canoe on a river bank told of a different time that was alluring and romantic. These were the images that brought John to the north woods of Maine.  Now he was here and had the opportunity to try and adapt to the surrounding environment in any fashion he chose.  He could easily build a comfortable home that would completely isolate him from the elements.  Or, he could sleep on the ground and wash up in ice water like the woodsman of old….  Maybe something in between.

Les owned a canoe made by the E. M. White Company that was made of ceder and canvas.  It was long and heavy making it stable and capable of carrying very heavy loads.  He had used it on moose hunts and camping trips for many years.  He had removed it from his pickup for the long ride to attend the funeral service, and it had to be loaded for the upcoming weekend.  “You want a hand loading the canoe?” John asked. “Nope, I got it.” John watched in amazement as Les grabbed the gunwale, rocked the boat on its side so the keel was facing him.  Then in one fluid motion, he grabbed the thwart, gave it a spin.  The canoe was upside down on his shoulders.  Just as effortlessly, he walked to the back of his truck and slid the canoe onto the rack.  The whole process took thirty seconds.  The paddles he used were made from ash that Les claimed had a certain “spring” to it.  The forests of Maine had many hidden Jewels and brown ash was one of them.  This wood was used for making traditional snow shoes, toboggans, canoe paddles and the coveted pack baskets owned by every Maine Guide.  In the early days, a woodsman could survive in the wilderness with only what he carried in a pack basket.  It included a wool shirt, ax, a good knife, rope, fire starter, a small tarp, a pot for boiling water and a sewing kit.  Wool was a woodsman’s best friend because it maintains most of it’s insulation even when wet and has saved the fingers and toes of many lost hunters.

“You do any fishing today?” John asked. “No, I was in town most of the day doing errands.  I talked to my friend with the sawmill and he said he had a big pile of scrap you could pick through and have for the taking.”  “Well actually, I was thinking about using a tent.”  “A tent?  What kind of tent are you gonna live in all winter?”  “Its a wall tent, you know like they use out west, with a wood stove.”  Les finished tying down his canoe with a ribbon knot and climbed down out off the back of his truck.  “How did you come by this idea?”  John thought about it.  He saw an ad in a magazine…. It struck him like a bolt of lightning…..The last two major decisions he had made were sparked from ads in magazines, one of which he threw away!   He’d spent four years of his life in school researching modern agriculture and its effects.  The whole “living off grid idea” was because of an ad he saw at a bus station.   Backpedaling,  “Well I just thought, for now, I could get by in a tent.”  “Yeah, now its summer time, the nights are warm and the days are long. That’s going to be over in two months.” “What do you mean two months?” John asked bewildered.  “I mean we get frost in late September.  The ponds are frozen over by thanksgiving, then it gets cold.”  “Yeah, but I have the wood stove and plenty of firewood.”  You have a wood stove and trees that need to be cut and processed into firewood.  That is what you have.  That road you are on isn’t even plowed.  How are you going to get out for supplies?”  “I guess I’ll stock up.”  John said, some what abashed, and staring off into the field. “Stock up?  Where are you gonna put a winters worth of groceries in a tent?”  John felt a heaviness in his chest and wanted to change the subject, but he couldn’t.  His whole plan seemed infallible last week, and now he felt foolish for ever leaving New Jersey.  He was standing there with a pickup truck, some camping equipment, and no explanation.  Maybe this was all a mistake.  Maybe he should have looked into getting a job and started a life doing what he was educated for, work in the field of agriculture; and have a steady paycheck, and house or an apartment.  John felt as if the world had stopped, and it wouldn’t start back up until he had an answer, a good answer for this giant of a man staring at him.  “I guess I better start cutting wood then” was all he could come up with.  Les dried the sweat off his fore head with the back of his wrist, “Coffee?” “Yes, please”.

John spent the weekend doing the odd jobs Les had given him around the house while he was away guiding his trip. There was an underground waterline going to the barn that had frozen and broken last winter to replace.  The ground was hard and rocky but John managed to get a ditch dug by the time a local handy man showed up to replace the line.  As a bonus, he found a dozen worms in the process of digging the ditch.  Some of the house windows needed to be tightened up and Les had shown him how to repair them with putty and little triangular wedges. The screen door needed new hinges and the mail box was tipping over.  By the end of the weekend John had the list of chores done and drove back to the fishing spot up the road.  There was no one fishing, so he tied on a trout spinner and put a fresh ditch worm on the snelled hook.  He went to the same spot he saw the other fisherman catch those trout, and manged a half decent cast in the rippling current.  After a few unsuccessful attempts he moved down river to a pool that looked promising and made several casts,but no luck.  On the other side of the river he noticed a muskrat swimming up stream.  It veered off and climbed up the bank to feed on some tall grass and vegetation.  After several minutes it returned to the water and continued upstream.  It made him think of a book he read about a trapper who ate beaver and muskrat all winter to survive.  The idea of eating a rodent was unacceptable to some people,  but many of the wilderness travelers would look forward to the lean meat.  The beaver had a good supply of fat in its tail,  and it was welcomed by those who were deprived of fat in the kettle for months at a time.  This got John thinking.  Why couldn’t he learn how to trap and harvest meat along with the fur from these animals?   It made sense in a way because when trapping, unlike hunting, you only had to make your rounds once a day.  It enabled a person to get other tasks done over the course of the day, and chances were, at least one trap would hold a bounty of fresh meat.   When trapping is compared to hunting, it seemed trapping was better both because it’s passive and because trapping season went all winter until the rivers thawed out in the spring.

John fished for another half hour unsuccessfully.  He drove back to the farm and Ken was just leaving. “Hey John, great news. The paperwork will be ready in the morning and you can come down to finalize everything.”  “Oh that’s great!” John said, feeling rejuvenated after his thoughts of trapping and possibly having a food source over the winter.  “I have to run, but swing by any time after ten o’clock, I will have it all ready and we will have lunch to celebrate; my treat.”  “That sounds great Ken,  see you in the morning.”  John watched the red taillights fade around the corner. He stood in the driveway listening to the frogs and night birds start their nightly rituals.  The air was warm and a slight breeze brought the smell of fading lilacs.  John knew he had bitten off far more than he could chew by coming up here and starting out with nothing but a few camping accessories and a romance for a time that was fading fast. Somehow he had to figure it all out, and hopefully in good style.

The city of Bangor, Maine is well populated.  Bangor is the home to Husson University, and has a joint civil military international airport.  The Penobscot River separates it from the town of Brewer, and at one time this river supported the  countries largest run of Atlantic salmon.  It still has many miles of wilderness shorelines that draw in float fisherman, and there is a huge population of healthy small mouth bass.  John was here to finalize his paperwork.  The real estate office was buzzing when he arrived and  Ken was on the telephone.  A secretary informed him that everything was ready, and Ken would be with him shortly.  Ken finished up his phone call and the documents were signed.  John wrote a check for the remaining balance, and received a quitclaim deed.  It was official, he now owned a home in the north woods.

“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 7

The sun was coming up over the eastern skyline that was cluttered with industrial buildings and smoke stacks. The steel bridge girders resembled long arms reaching out to support the morning traffic invading New York City.  John was glad to be heading north, back to the cold rivers and thick green forest of Maine, no longer a part of this rat race ensuing in front of him.  He noticed the temperature gauge on his truck creeping up every time he stopped in traffic but it seemed to go back down when he started moving again.  He exited the interstate when he saw a sign for a vehicle service plaza deciding it was better to address the issue now rather than in the north woods of Maine, where little was offered in the means of mechanical services.  People in Maine were inclined to fix things for themselves, and automobiles where no exception.  The service garage had an open bay and the mechanic was able to diagnose a stuck thermostat as the cause of the over-heating.  He was informed by the service manager it could be replaced now, or he could loosen the radiator cap and that would keep the temperature down until he got where he was going, but it needed to be addressed soon.  John decided to wait the two hours it would require to fix the problem, rather that risk breaking down or doing damage to the engine.

By the time the new thermostat was installed it was late morning and the traffic was flowing better.  It was early afternoon before he started seeing highway signs for Maine and New Hampshire.   A feeling of relief started creeping into him.  John contacted Ken earlier in the week and was informed that all the paperwork would be ready by the following week, all he needed was a few signatures and a check for the balance.  Once this was completed he officially owned his land and could do with it anything he pleased, as long as it was withing the bylaws of the Forest Land Use Commission.

The idea of spending the winter in a wall tent with a wood stove was exiting, but also concerning.  He was reluctant to tell his parents about the idea, and left it as a “temporary” solution to keep dry while building a more permanent shelter for the long cold winter.  He knew it was possible, but also realized the reality of living in an un-insulated canvas structure would be damp and extreme at times, but hopefully dry and cozy when regulated with a wood stove.  He read books about early mountain men building shelters from the local forest in the fashion of a lean-to or even using a canvas tarp.  They would build fires but had to keep them going constantly to stay warm and when it stormed it was nearly impossible to stay dry.  These systems seemed suitable for a few days, but ridiculous for any long term situation.  Building a log cabin was possible with all the spruce trees that were on his property, but it would take a year just to dry the logs.  He had no experience hewing or chinking walls to keep out the weather, and he would have to build a fire place or chimney for a wood stove to sufficiently heat it.   A fire place is good for aesthetics, but a wood stove is much more efficient requiring less wood to get through the long winter. Harvesting and processing firewood was probably the most laborious and time consuming chore he would be facing in the coming winter.  There would also be constant shoveling and gathering water.  The river would be a good source of water, and if he boiled it for several minutes he would be able to drink it safely with out getting sick.  The river was crystal clear,  but it also contained parasites from the beaver and muskrats.  He could also melt snow for water, but that also involved boiling water and again, required firewood.

The issue that worried him most was he had no plan yet for how to provide or keep food.  He had no refrigeration or means of freezing food so anything he harvested had to be smoked, dried, or consumed immediately.  The warmer months would bring fish, but that food source would be cut off when the ice came in.  There was an abundance of red squirrels, but he had yet to see any grey squirrels like the ones back home or in the trees of Bangor.  Upland game was plentiful and Les had talked about migrating water fowl during fall hunting trips, but it seemed that everything was seasonal.  Surviving on wild game would involve a lifestyle of constant overland travel.  It seemed inefficient and time consuming.  How could he constantly hunt for food, collect firewood, and get all of the other details taken care of?

By late afternoon he was on that stretch of highway in Maine that seems to make time stand still.  The towns become sparse and the forest gets thick.  He decided to go directly to his land and sleep in the truck that night.  He was anxious to visit with Les, but he also wanted to try and get an idea of where he was going to set up camp for the winter.  He made his usual stop at the hardware store.  He filled the truck with gas, bought a few groceries, along with a fresh tub of worms, and he remembered to by a few gallons of drinking water, something he forgot about on his last visit.   All of his fishing equipment was still at Les’s house. He would get that tomorrow.  For tonight, it would be a can of beans mixed with Vienna sausage rolled up in slices of bread,  this time heated on his new camp stove.

He decided to go straight to the river to see if the water level had gone down any, and try to find a place to cross the river.  John got out of the truck and started bushwhacking down towards the spot he had gone fishing, he noticed, to his relief, the flies weren’t nearly as bad as they were on his first visit.  He hadn’t even used bug spray and  he wasn’t getting attacked.  It was too warm for the wool shirt, but he was wearing a long sleeve t-shirt to protected his arms against black flies and the scraping of small trees that managed to snag every piece of loose clothing he was wearing. The small bough of a spruce tree poked his eye with its sharp needles but he was lucky enough to have seen it coming and turned his head just before it slapped the side of his face.  Getting blinded out here wasn’t something he wanted to experience.  Recalling stories  of men being snow blind and starving to death got him thinking about eye protection.  The next thing on his list was a good pair of polarized sun glasses. Any injury out here could be life threatening especially in the winter without the means of being evacuated.  Being alone in the wilderness means everything you do needs to be deliberate, complacency leads to catastrophe.

When John got to the river it was close to the same level as it had been two weeks ago.  Les had told him that by the end of the summer it would be too low for a canoe trip, and all the fish would be scattered in the deeper holes.  The only way to fish it was walking up and down the stream bed in chest waders. John decide to walk upstream this time. He found a dead tree that spanned the river making a safe river crossing.  He had to knock a couple branches off, but managed to cross safely.  He put a small buck saw on his list of needs.  Les had also mentioned that you can process more wood with less effort with a saw than an ax; so a good saw is as important as a good ax.

The land on the opposite side of the river was more open and seemed to have a higher percentage of hardwood including birch, ash, and maple. The ash trees had many uses.  People made snowshoes, pack baskets, ax handles, and especially canoe paddles out of ash because it had a certain spring to it.  The birch trees have a natural oil in the bark making it a great fire starter.  The maple was stripped almost clean from the local moose population.  There was a large eddy on this side of the river that had a bank with holes burrowed in just under the surface.  John had heard of beaver living in these banks but there was also a big beaver lodge down stream.  He knew that when a beaver abandoned a home it wasn’t long before another critter made claim to it. There were many small tracks on the river bank that suggested mink and otter were in the area, and he had already seen few muskrat.  When a beaver suddenly slapped its tail in the water it startled him, and a half dozen wood ducks flushed from the bottom of the eddy.  John hadn’t even seen them.  He admired their colors when they flew off,  but it surprised him how well they blended with the thick cover of the river bank.

The land he was standing on was part of the National Forest.  The state had a program that allowed residents to harvest two cords of firewood for their own use every year.  It forbade selling the wood or transporting it across state lines. John figured he would become a Maine resident anyway,  but this was definitely a perk.  He could harvest fire wood and get some ash for building items he would need.  The only issue was getting it across the river. That was going to be a challenge. There was no access from the other side and with the exception of a chain saw, the use of mechanized equipment was forbidden. The idea of carrying every stick of wood across the fallen tree seemed impossible.  Or was it?  If he managed a few trips a day, every day, eventually it would get done.  When a person lives in a society that demands having a job to pay for housing, food and clothing it takes all their time to earn a living.  Any spare time is filled with hobbies and relaxation.  If an individual chooses to forgo the luxuries associated with an urban lifestyle it provides them ample time to preform tasks directly related to there needs.  The list of “needs” is a small one compared to the list of “wants” that seem to consume most of society.

When John got back to his truck the sun was setting and he was hungry. He set up his new stove on the tail gate and filled the fuel canister with fuel he bought at the hardware store.  After a few pumps with the plunger he lit the stove and started heating up his supper.  The sound of the stove hissing away was satisfying, and it only took a few minutes to prepare the meal.  After he ate he thought about how the early mountain men must have felt after eating a good meal at the end of the day.  He also realized how important the early trade routes must have been to them.  Without trading posts and rendezvous people wouldn’t have been able to survive.  It was such a misconception that people could disappear in the wilderness and survive alone with no assistance or support from anyone else.  The trappers and gold prospectors would spend a great deal of time at remote camps, but eventually they had to get resupplied with goods such as pots, pans, clothing, and tools. Without that they would have perished to starvation or disease.  There were a few exceptions, but rarely did any one person survive completely alone for a lifetime without some means of assistance or a means of conveyance. Canoes and dog sleds were probably the most used and efficient means of getting supplies from one point to the other.  The rivers were the highways. When the rivers froze the dog sleds took over the job until spring.  It was a constant battle with the elements, and many people died from starvation, drowning, or simply froze to death.

After dinner was consumed John heated some water to wash his his dishes. He wished he had his coffee pot that was in the steel foot locker at Les’s house, but he figured he should be drinking water anyway.  It was at this point he realized his sleeping bag was in the same place as the coffee pot.  He figured it would be warm enough, and he had his wool shirt to keep warm. The truck seat was about six inches to short to completely stretch out on, but he manged half a nights sleep and was glad to see the sun come up. The forest was filled with the usual sounds of birds and, at first light, he heard a coyote across the river.  John thought it sounded close to where he had explored yesterday.  He wanted to spend the morning looking for a place that best suited his new wall tent.  He walked back into the thick trees wondering if he should stay closer to the road rather than the river.  At some point he would have to construct an outhouse or some kind of compost toilet and that must be as far away from the water as possible.  There was an area that was reasonably clear and the ground was flat enough, but it was close to the edge of his land.  John wanted to be in the center of his property, if possible, so he continued bushwhacking toward the river.  He found a nice spot that was fairly open and the sun was shining in which seemed necessary.  He knew the winter was going to be cold enough without being in the shade; sunlight was important.  Many people get depressed without sunlight and anything he was going to grow for food, wouldn’t grow well in the shade.  This spot seemed good, but the ground was very spongy and almost seemed wet.  He dug the heel of his boot into the ground and the soil was dark and wet under the dead spruce needles.  The ground had surface water down a bit further and there were a few small green ferns sticking up.  He got down on his hands and knees and dug with his bare hands until he had a hole about ten inches deep. The ground felt cooler and it had water forming in the bottom.  Could this possibly be a spring?  What a miracle that would be, to actually have a source of water right on the property.  If that was the case then he couldn’t establish a camp here because it could possibly contaminate the water.  John followed the wet ground and the further he walked, the wetter the ground became. At one point there was a puddle of water almost six feet around and it had ferns and moss all around it. This was definitely a spring coming from somewhere on his property.  The question was whether it dried up or ran all summer.  That is something only time would tell, but it was very encouraging to have one of his major worries figured out sooner than later.

It was mid morning by the time he circled around and came back to his truck.  It was almost an hours ride to Les’s house.  He was anxious to see him and to pick up his stuff, but he also wanted to find out if Les had any more projects that needed doing.  He felt lucky to be able to work for him in any capacity and to have conversations about hunting and fishing. He was learning so much he felt he should be taking notes so he wouldn’t forget what they talked about. He knew it would all come into play at some point. There was hardly any traffic on the road with the exception of a few logging trucks fully loaded and on their way to the interstate.  He stopped the truck when he saw a big female moose and a small calf in a clearing. They were eating the small shoots of trees that were covering an area that was logged off the previous year.  When an area gets cleared of timber it offers new growth, a perfect food source for deer and moose helping the population to thrive.  With the modern mechanized tree thinning that is used today, many areas are managed properly, and it is actually beneficial for wildlife.  Its a difficult balance, wildlife can’t survive without any trees, and equally, it can’t survive in a habitat that consists of nothing but trees.  In nature this is remedied with natural forest fires.  When humans get involved they alter habitat by developing land.  The trees are cut to build houses and manufacture products that tend to have a detrimental effects on the landscape.

John knew he didn’t make the world the way it was but somehow felt responsible.  It was a tough balance to live in the natural world and drive a vehicle with rubber tires that will never go away.  He was buying gasoline and fuel for his stove as well as the food he ate came in a metal can and was delivered in a truck from across the country.  These were the things he couldn’t figure out driving to Les’s house, and maybe Les would have a better answer.

“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 6

John was standing on Union Street in Bangor waiting for a bus ride back to New Jersey.  It was only seven days ago he got off the bus with the intention of looking at land parcels in northern Maine.  He was thinking of all that had transpired in the last week and the events still had his head spinning.  He had put down a sizable deposit on land, camped out, caught some fish, and established a friendship with a Maine Guide.  It all seemed to happen so fast that he really had no time to process everything until now.  Had he moved to quickly?  Could he really make it up here through a cold winter? Would he be able to make money?  These were the questions John was asking himself while the line of people waiting for the bus ride grew bigger, indicating that it must be close to departure.  He was still unsure what he was going to tell his family, and it was beginning to concern him.  He had thought of the surveying job as a smoke screen but that was a complete lie.  He felt obligated to get a job in agriculture  to justify his four years at the university, but that meant moving somewhere he didn’t want to live.  He knew people who had careers with the Department of Agriculture, most of their work was completed from behind a desk.  There were some exceptions where people did extensive field work in other countries, and traveled, but that was a small percentage.  Some of his professors worked for the USGS before they settled for  a career of education.  They would often talk about spending months in remote areas, studying stream flow, and observing related habitat, which seemed interesting.  However, they also spoke of endless bureaucracy and legislature that took years to negotiate, and the frustration of dealing with politics from state and government officials.  Even worse, the possibly of seeing months of work and research end up in a filing cabinet, never to be seen again, because it conflicted with some politicians bargaining with a major oil company.   Some of the deep rooted propaganda in supposed “green projects” that translated into more government spending with private industry was more than John could get his head around.   John did not want to spend his life shuffling documents for the sake of a steady salary and pension, providing he could stick it out.

John had left all his new possessions at Les’s house with the exception of his new wool shirt and boots.  The coffee pot, fishing equipment and cast iron fry pan were put in a steel foot locker he found in the barn while helping Les fix the old wavy glass windows.  He packed the wool shirt on top of the pile in his duffel bag,  intentionally left half unzipped so he could see it to  be reminded of the north woods.  The shirt was  emitting a slight wood smoke smell from the campfire he found very comforting.

The twelve hour bus ride back to New Jersey was reasonably uneventful with the exception of a safety stop by the Highway Patrol in New Hampshire. The state routinely stops commercial buses and trucks to check brakes and safety equipment. There were no issues with the bus, and all of the paperwork was in order.  There was a decommissioned tractor-trailer, bound for Canada,  that had been  “red flagged”  because it was over-loaded and without correct paperwork for leaving the country.  John spoke briefly with the operator at the rest area, who was finishing his last day of work before going into the hospital for cancer treatment.  The conversation left him feeling lucky to be healthy.  He genuinely felt sad for the truck driver who had worked his entire life supporting a family, and the only thing he had to look forward to, in this stage of his life, was possibly beating cancer.  The two men shook hands and John returned to the bus feeling a connection with this man.  Maybe it was just fate.  Seeing another person looking back at their life, talking about things they wished they had done, was something he needed to hear.  In any case, the bus was back on the highway traveling south on interstate ninety five.

The tall and peaked trees of northern Maine behind him, he now saw the  architecture of a city skyline at sunset.  The sound of vehicles whizzing by at high speed,  overhead steel bridges looming in the distance, combined with the clamor of the bus and it’s passengers was in striking contrast to the sound of the Aroostook River and the northwest winds that had blown campfire smoke into his wool shirt.  He had decided to tell his parents the truth about his intentions of moving up north, living off grid, and surviving off what the land had to offer.  He knew it was going to be difficult, but he had to be honest. There was no point in starting a story he couldn’t finish later.  The learning curve is huge when you live self sufficiently.   Everything you do from the time you wake up until your head hits the pillow must be deliberate. The tasks and chores are enormous for one person to accomplish on a daily basis.  Gathering enough wood in itself is daunting, never mind collecting and containing water, providing food and trying to maintain some modicum of hygiene. The wet heavy snow was going to pile up on the roof, and he didn’t even have a roof yet, but somehow he would have to figure it  out.

Eventually the bus came to a stop three blocks from his parent’s house.  He got off with his bag and zipped it closed.  Walking down the street, he was thinking about four years earlier when he left for the university.  The time had gone by fast, but he felt like he accomplished more in the last week than all his time studying fertilizers and hybrid seeds.  It was early evening and both his mother and father were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner.  John walked in and his mother ran over for a big hug.  “Oh you are home already, and you need a shave.  “His father closed the door to the dish washer and gave him a firm handshake.  “What smells like a fire?” he asked.  “That must be me dad, I’ve been camping.  Caught some nice small mouth bass up in Maine.”  “So how was your trip?”  John sat his bag down and went to the cupboard for a glass.  “I can’t begin to tell you how much I love it up there.”  “What else did you do, any hiking or sight seeing?”  The water from the faucet smelled like a swimming pool compared to the spring water he’d been drinking the previous week.   “I did some fishing and spent a few days working for a guy fixing up his barn.” “You worked up there?” his mother asked. “Yeah, actually I met a Maine Guide and stayed with him for a few days.  He paid me to help him with some projects and I stayed with him.”  “Really?” his mother asked.  “Yup, I can’t even begin to tell you how nice people are up there.”  “Well I’m glad you had a good time.” “Oh for sure, actually…  I’m heading back up there next week.”  “For what?”  his father asked.  “I am in the process of buying land.  I want to build a cabin and live there.”  “What do you mean live there? In the woods?”  “Well no…I mean yeah… I guess… in a cabin though.”   “That’s pretty much living in the woods John.” his mother said.  “Your out of college for a week, and now you think your Daniel Boone?” his father asked.  “No more like Jim Bridger.”  “Who is Jim Bridger?” his mother asked. “It doesn’t matter, I know who I am and that’s what I want to do.”  “I think we should start over with a drink.” his father said as he walked out of the kitchen.  “I didn’t expect it to go that smoothly.” John said to his mother.  “Oh he just worries about you and Steve.”  “I think Steve will be just fine.”  His mother pulled the coffee maker toward the front of the counter and started getting it ready for the morning. “You know I half expected you to do this after high school.”  “Do what?” John asked. “Go away and carve yourself a home in the wilderness. You always read books about mountain men and trappers. You were obsessed with the fur trade when you were ten years old.  You even talked about moving to Alaska.”  “I do have a plan, its not like I’m just giving up on the world and becoming a recluse.”  “John you have always been focused on the wilderness.  When the other kids on the street wanted new bicycles you were building forts and looking for animals down by the rail road tracks.  Both your father and I know you and your brother are two different people.  I worry more about Steve because he takes chances.”  “You mean you don’t think I’m crazy?” “No, actually you have never given me or your father a nights worry.  You were in college four years and not a single problem.”  “Wow, I expected you both to talk me out of it.”  His mother slid the coffee pot to the back of the counter. “Would it have changed your mind if we disagreed with you?” John thought for a second before he responded. “I would always respect your opinions and concern, but this feels right to me.  I just have to give this a try, and if I didn’t, it would nag at me forever.”  John’s father returned to the kitchen with a double scotch.  “Let’s go out to the back porch and sit down for a bit.”

The backyard at John’s parents house was secluded with trees and shrubbery. John spent many afternoons here as a kid pretending he was in Alaska panning for gold. There was also a trail down to the train trestle where he would catch bass and other panfish.  If you followed the path far enough it led to the golf course where John’s father spent most of his spare time.  You used to be a pretty good bowler in college didn’t you?” John asked.  “I remember the parties and people talking about it.”   His father had multiple trophies in his den from college bowling tournaments.  “When I graduated college two of my friends and I were going to open a chain of bowling allies in Puerto Rico.” “Seriously?”  “Yes, we had the financial backing and sponsorship from a major manufacturer.”  “I have never heard about this.”   “That’s because it was a sore subject for many years.”  “How so?”  His father took a sip of his favorite scotch. “Well, I met your mother in college and wanted to marry her.  She was all for getting married and moving to Puerto Rico, but your grandfather forbade it. He said it was too dangerous and risky.  If his daughter was getting married it was going to be to a man who could provide her with a secure lifestyle.”  John had never heard anything about this and was a bit shocked.  “I really had no idea you ever wanted to do that.”  “Oh yes.  I wanted it very much but I also wanted to marry your mother.  My friends went on to open a franchise and became professional bowlers, both of them.”  “Wow, I really never knew.”  John said.  “Not many people do now.  I have done well in business with the company, but I never had the passion for it like I did for bowling.”  “Why don’t you buy a bowling ally now and retire into that?”  “That ship has sailed John. Those windows of opportunity don’t stay open very long.”  “So your not going to try and talk me out of it?”  “No,  as a matter a fact I want to here all about this fool hardy plan of yours; going off to be Daniel Boone!”  “Its Jim Bridger dad.”

John was beside himself after hearing the story about his father wanting to move to Puerto Rico and become a professional bowler.  It also sparked something in him that he never felt before concerning his father.  It was the first time he had ever talked about anything passionate or being adventurous. The only thing he ever saw his father do was work and play golf.  He never seemed happy about work, and his name wasn’t on any plaque at the country club.  Not to say he was a bad golfer, but occasionally his friends put a handicap license plate on his golf cart.  It seemed he went there to drink and avoid projects around the house.  He entertained business clients there so it was a write off if nothing else.

The next morning John was up before daylight  drinking coffee at the kitchen table.  He was reading the magazine he purchased out west on his way home from college.  It was the “living off grid” article he saw on the cover that had inspired his trip to Maine, but hadn’t yet had time to actually read it.  Now as he was thumbing through the pages, seeing pictures of tomato plants in styrofoam cups and solar batteries running laptop computers, he started thinking about how foolish he would look showing up to Northfield with a truckload of plastic.  It was a concern for many of John’s university professors that there was a growing trend for solar power.  Although not as environmentally harmful as removing mountain tops and mining coal,  the manufacturing of solar cells produces  dangerous waste  including mercury and chromium.  These potentially end up in landfills, eventually infecting ground water, especially where these systems are manufactured in countries with very little, or zero EPA standards.  Every year the electronics industry alone generates millions of tons of toxic waste. The propaganda for installation and disposal of solar systems is often deceiving, the components and compounds used are petroleum based, but marketed as clean and green.  It seemed like another example of marketing and profits getting ahead of responsible manufacturing and distribution. The styrofoam cup is horrifying to anyone who does five minutes of research on materials that are detrimental to the environment, so how could these pictures be associated with a lifestyle, non-dependent of electricity, and free of fossil fuels?

The farm back in Northfield, complete with a blacksmith shop, along with a hand dug well seemed like a very small carbon footprint by comparison.  The people that ran that farm were already self sufficient. The only thing they really needed was wood and steel.  The steel to cut the wood and the wood to manipulate the steel in the blacksmith shop was only walking distance from the barn.  Very little was brought in from outside except a few staples like flour and sugar.  The animals were raised and plowed the fields, and the fields were cut to feed the animals.  Trees were cut for firewood and sawn into boards while the firewood forged the steel to make nails. There was no marketing involved, it was simply a lifestyle…. And when compared to the simple “living off grid” article  on the table in front of him,  John was embarrassed for buying it and felt he had a duty to walk it to the nearest redemption center to dispose of it properly…..

John spent the next few days visiting childhood friends and family that still lived close by.   Most of his uncles and aunt’s had retired and moved to Florida. The old bakery was still operated by the same family that owned it for thirty plus years.  They made the best bread and pie crusts around.  It was a simple operation, and they were famous for their blueberry pie and muffins.  Most people don’t think of blueberries when you mention New Jersey, but there are  thousands of  acres yielding, arguably, the best blueberries in the country.  He found a couple of used pickup trucks for sale in the local paper and looked at both of them.  The first one was a two wheel drive that had high mileage and low maintenance records.  The other was a Ford half ton, four wheel drive with a standard transmission and square headlights that John liked.  It was root-beer brown color with little or no rust.  He noticed the vehicles in Maine showed rust after the age of ten years for some reason.  The price on the windshield was twenty five hundred,  but the older gentleman who owned it said he would accept two thousand after learning John was moving to northern Maine to start a life.   John gave him a five hundred dollar deposit to hold the truck, and would return the next day with the remaining fifteen hundred, taking the truck along with a tool box for the back.

It seemed like things were going too easily.  His parents were actually supporting his decision to move north, and he found a pickup in good shape that was four wheel drive.  His thoughts went back to the cabin he was going to build.  He figured the library may have some trade books with pictures and ideas.  He found a couple of popular mechanics magazines that featured modern contemporary vacation homes that had no appeal to him.  There was a whole book on ways to build tree houses and live in them which he found amusing.  There was also a pile of Sports Afield magazines, the one on top had an elk hunt featured on the cover.  The story inside showed hunters sitting in camp with horses and wooden boxes that contained there camping and cooking equipment.  He also noticed a white canvas wall tent with a wood stove……. This was a new concept…… Could he get by with a tent all winter?  It seemed ridiculous, but there it was right in front of him.  Men living in white canvas tents… in Montana… in November!  He remembered the stories of gold prospectors living in Alaska and they had tents like that with wood stoves.  So why couldn’t he do that instead of trying to build a cabin, at least for the first winter?  In the back of the magazine was an ad for the same tent and he wrote down the phone number.  He knew of an old military surplus store out by the Parkway.  They carried  all kinds of camping and cooking equipment.  They had huge tents,  maybe they had  a stove to heat it with.

The next day after paying the balance on his new truck, and almost two hours of dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles, he drove to the surplus store to look for a stove.  They, in fact, had three of them that would burn either wood or coal.  They came with a tripod and connection hose that accepted an upside down jerrycan so you could burn diesel fuel.  This surprised John,  he felt it was unsafe, but took it anyway. He figured, worst case scenario, he could use diesel fuel, but only in an emergency.

He contacted the tent company in Montana and ordered a twelve foot by twelve foot wall tent with three foot sides.  The company also offered a pole kit with the tent but said he could cut wooden poles on-sight if that was possible.  John remembered Les telling him about the black spruce trees the  guides used for poling their canoes and he figured he would harvest some when he got back to Maine to save the extra money. The Tent was expensive, but he thought even if he couldn’t make it work to live in for a year, it would still last him a lifetime, and he would never need another tent.

When he got back to his parents house there was no one home.  He made a quick dinner from leftovers, and read through some of the old magazines he brought home from the library.  He especially liked the elk hunting story that inspired him to by his tent.  There was an old wooden box out in the garage that belonged to his grandfather that would make a good addition to his camp. It would hold the tent and most of his camping equipment.  He still needed a few things like a lantern and a camp stove.  He enjoyed cooking over a fire, but didn’t think he would always have the time, and the stove would make a quick meal.  He decided on a stove that ran on white gas instead of bottled gas because it was easier to find in stores, seemed to be less expensive, and  he wouldn’t have empty gas canisters piling up around camp.

The tent arrived three days later just as expected.  John had most of his belongings loaded in the truck with a makeshift rain cover fabricated from old plywood.  He cleaned out his old bedroom taking only a few books and clothing including a wool sweater.  The rest was donated to the church where, as a kid, he helped out with thrift sales on weekends.  His  parents took him out for dinner the night before he left, and his father told everyone in the restaurant his son was going off to live a life in the wilderness like Daniel Boone.  It didn’t matter to John that his father had never heard of Jim Bridger, as long as he was happy.

“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 5

When land was surveyed in the early days of Maine, in order to make certain parcels of land “legal” for settlement, areas were divided into “townships” and plans were developed for full-fledged towns.  Certain groups of speculators, or would-be settlers, would often buy the township and “plant it” with settlers and establish plans with a structure for church and education.  When the number of settlers reached a certain population, limited self-government was granted and the status of that township was declared a “plantation.”  When the plantation grew to it’s expected population it was granted civil rights and became chartered by the state as a municipality with elected officials.

In the case of Northfeild Plantation, where both Les and Ken Orman grew up as boys, working long hours on their grandfathers potato farm, it never reached enough of a population to be established as a town.  There are a few other plantations that still exist throughout the great north woods, but Northfield  was home to many legendary moose hunts and some record black bear were harvested over the last few decades.   It  had three apple orchards spread out over ten square miles and four percent of it was water.  Only twenty houses were ever built, and the population at the last census was thirty seven people.  This made for a practically non-existent economy,  but the lack of human presence made for some of the best hunting and fishing in the state.

Ken had bigger dreams than the plantation could offer.  He completed his Bachelor’s degree in business, leading to a career in  real estate and  investments.  He  had some very good years in business yielding great returns on his investments, mostly in real estate, typically sub-developments. Unfortunately, the previous business year hadn’t been as generous to his portfolio.  He suffered such a financial  loss he had no choice but to sell his half of the family farm.  Les had managed to convince the Nature Conservancy to buy his brother’s share of the land to be put it into wildlife conservation.  Though it allowed Ken  to keep his house, along with other investments that were at an all time low, he lost his stake in the farm that he grew up on, working long summers and harvesting whitetail deer and upland game.  It was a decision  he knew he would regret.  Unfortunately,  after a very expensive divorce five years earlier that emptied his savings account,  and put an end to his winter vacations on the west coast of Florida (His now ex-wife owns the bungalow they bought after a real estate boom twenty years ago) he really had no choice. The irony for Ken was that his portion of the farm was now in the hands of the nature conservancy, never to be developed into housing lots.  He had made all his money buying land and developing it with investment groups over the last four decades of his life, and now the land he grew up on was protected… from him.

Les, on the other hand, was never aggressive about making money.  He lived a simple life as a potato farmer after graduating high school.  He spent much of his time hunting and fishing.  He had harvested several record bucks over the years and was a local legend by the time he was thirty years old.  His recognition got him into working for a guide service in the slow season, and eventually he started his own guiding business.  In the years that followed, he guided some very influential clients including some outdoor writers who got him international recognition through magazine articles.  There were offers to appear on several television shows, but he declined all of them.  Les was always happy to teach someone how to fly fish, track a white tail deer, or call in a bull moose, but he only wanted to work with one or two people at a time.  He never liked the idea of a camera focused only on him.  He felt that most of what was he saw on television was contrived and wasn’t always done in good style, or for that matter, within the true ethics of hunting.  It seemed to him, the marketing and technology behind hunting was slowly eroding the sport that he loved so much.  All the hunting magazines featured trophy sized animals on the front cover.  Every story mentioned the latest firearm and specific specialty cartridge that was used, right down to the manufacturer of the bullet.  It seemed  there was hardly any reverence for the game harvested, except that it was going into a record book somewhere, to the hunters credit.  The way Les felt about hunting was that pursuing any game animal was an opportunity to reconnect with the land and natural world.  Growing up on a farm he saw animals raised for consumption, and always felt the wild animals he harvested had a much better quality of life compared to animals raised within the confines of a pen.  When a person harvests an animal in the wild for the sake of consuming it, they have taken something from the land.  That person then has a duty to preserve and protect the habitat for future generations.  Similarly,  a rancher raising cattle has to ensure his land is suitable for raising future herds.  When clients wanted pictures taken of themselves, posing with a bull moose or a giant brook trout, it sometimes seemed less about the game and more about the individual being photographed.  There were some exceptions, but he saw a growing trend in “sportsman notoriety” and less focus on learning the ways of the woods and streams.  However, as a professional guide it is his duty to see his client gets the experience they came for, complete with documentation.

The next morning Les had coffee boiling by six o’clock and John could hear bacon sizzling in the same pan used for trout and fiddleheads the night before. “I need to leave by seven o”clock but don’t feel you have to run off, unless you are going fishing again, and in that case, you have overslept,”  Les said with the usual smile.   “Actually I have to drive back to Bangor and either return the car, or extend my rental.”  “You plan on buying a truck?” Les asked.  “I’m not sure yet,  been thinking about a few options, don’t know what I should do.”  Les slid the bacon out of the pan onto a brown paper bag he flattened on the counter. “Well if you plan on living up in these parts, you most likely want a pickup.”   “I guess the more I think about it,  I will need a truck for lumber and firewood.” Les cracked two eggs on the edge of the pan and they popped in the bacon grease.  He had toast and some hand-churned butter on the table ready for a hungry guest.  The two ate breakfast and drank coffee talking about local lumber yards and saw mills.  Les had a friend who ran a saw-mill and he thought John could save quite a bit of money using rough-cut lumber.

“Its a three hour ride to the town where the funeral service is, so I’m staying the night and won’t be back until late tomorrow afternoon,  you are more than welcome to stay here tonight if you want.”  John felt like he was taking advantage of Les, having just met him the day before.  “Oh I can stay in Bangor tonight, I need a shower anyway.”  The shower here works fine, and you can use my phone to call the car rental company.”  The idea of not wasting a day in Bangor was appealing to John.   He should spend as much time as possible getting to know the local area.  “Okay, but let me at least do something  for you like mow the lawn.  “Ken tells me you might be looking for some work up here?”  “Well I have to figure something out.   I am spending money faster than I would like to, and I have nothing coming in.”  “If you are interested I have a list of projects around here I would be happy to have taken care of,   I just don’t have the time.”   “What kind of projects?”  John asked. “Paint the barn, stack the firewood, fix a couple windows that rattle at night, stuff like that.  I could keep you busy all summer.”  John thought it was a stroke of luck to have met Les and now he would have a chance to be around him over the summer. “I would be happy to work around here doing whatever I could.  I have done a little house painting but not much carpentry.”  Well you can figure it will be good practice towards building your camp.”  Les said.  “Okay then, where is the woodpile?  I can start there.”

John spent the day stacking wood and trimming the grass around the barn that needed a good coat of paint.  He arranged to have the car until the weekend giving  him time to consider shopping for a vehicle.  He was also thinking about how he was going to explain this whole thing to his family.  As far as anyone from New Jersey knew, he was on a fishing trip to northern Maine and coming back to find a job that best suited his last four years of  university education.  They had no idea he was in the process of buying land,  wanting to hand build a cabin where he could be free from the modern conveniences everyone else felt they needed to survive in the modern world.  John knew it was possible, but also knew he had absolutely no skills in the woods. He could barely catch enough fish to survive a weekend, never mind hunting and foraging food.  The books he read as a boy romanticized the life of woodsman and trappers, but it left out the hardship, suffering and emptiness they lived with every day.  When you are alone in the wilderness it makes a person feel small, you sense things differently than when in the confines of a house or a city.  Things around you smell, taste, feel and sound different.  You hear the slightest movements in the forest, and the smallest bird catches your eye as it hops from tree to tree.  You notice a difference in the waters surface indicating a beaver swimming or a fish chasing an insect.  The smell of a fire is comforting and food tastes better.  These are all things you would never experience driving in a car or flying in an airplane.  When you eat food at a restaurant there are too many distractions from people moving and music playing.  When you cook a fish over a fire beside a stream you are connected to the world it came from and you are part of it.  When you return bones and skeleton to the place it came from it starts another cycle of life in that area. The further we separate ourselves from the world our sustenance comes from, the less we value and appreciate it.  The concept of “living off the land” seems parasitic when observing cultures of people who “live with the land,”  taking only what they need, and putting back an equal amount, leaving habitat undisturbed and letting nature take it’s course.  The wilderness has its own system of checks and balance and will always take care of itself.  Whenever there is a road built, or a housing track goes up, simultaneously there is loss of habitat and it decreases the lands “carrying capacity” for wildlife.  When the carrying capacity is depleted, there  can be no wildlife except the rodents and parasites that can exist in that environment.  There is a sense of irony when a luxury home home is built  lake front to enjoy the  pristine natural environment…. complete with a chemically fertilized lawn and a boat house carved into the already eroding shoreline.  It will reduce habitat by four times it’s own footprint,  eventually eliminating the surrounding wildlife, decreasing the appeal to the already molested shoreline, and coincidentally providing a nesting area for rats.  There is a reason the term “rat race” is used describing everyday life.   John wanted no part of it.  Clearly he had a-lot to learn about coping with the cold winter months and feeding himself, but he knew it was possible, and felt the sacrifices would be worth while.

When Les returned home he was happy with John’s progress.  The only fault he pointed out was that John didn’t stack the ends  correctly on the wood pile.  He told John that you have to cross stack the ends to give support, otherwise the pile will fall over within a week.  John re-stacked the pile and realized exactly what Les was explaining.   He laughed thinking about the fact he had a college degree and didn’t even know how to stack wood!   He also liked that Les had explained it to him rather than become frustrated with his lack of experience.

After the wood pile was stacked correctly, John went into the kitchen and Les had already put out the nights dinner consisting of deer meat, potatoes and more of those delicious fiddleheads.   John was starving as usual and finished his plate quickly.  “You definitely like to eat.”  Les said.  “yeah, and you make  really good meals.”  “Well you get plenty of practice being a guide and living alone.”  John wanted to know what happened to Les’s wife, but felt uncomfortable asking about it.  He also wondered why Les didn’t have any children.  “Do you have any kids to take over the guide business?” John asked. “Nope, never had children.  My wife always wanted them, but I was in a farming accident when I was a kid.” John saw images of metal parts spinning at high speeds and had to adjust his sitting position.  Maybe that was something he doesn’t have to know about either…

“I have been thinking about finding a helper that was willing to learn the ropes and maybe take on some of the work I am getting to old for.  The problem is finding someone who wants to do the work and gain the experience.  Most people who need a job have to earn more money than guiding offers.”  John was quick to respond.  “I would be willing to help you, if you thought I would be of any help at all.”  “Oh I have been thinking about it for the last couple of days.  I figure if you want to do some stuff around the house, and maybe help out on a canoe trip or two, and see if you like it, we could go from there.”  “I would be grateful for any chance to learn about living up here and actually getting hands on experience with someone like yourself.”  Les got up and took two glasses down from the cupboard which suggested a glass of his coveted cider was next.  “I do like your attitude and work ethic John.  Most people your age want nothing to do with learning the mechanics it takes to make this life possible.”  “I really have no experience with any of it, but I find it satisfying in a way that is hard to describe.”  ” Les passed him a cold glass of cider and sat back down.  “I have to tell you though, its backbreaking work and long hours.  Those loads get heavier every year and the nights get longer.  I still love guiding but I miss the clients that used to enjoy it as much as I do.”  “Do you still get satisfaction from teaching these things?”  “Yes, I suppose, but today folks have so many other things on their minds with the hustle of earning a living that they seldom unwind enough to really enjoy the experience.  As I get older, I feel less in touch with them making it more a job than a lifestyle.”  John drank the cider as fast as he ate the deer steaks.  “Well I would be grateful if you gave me a chance.  Even if I didn’t cut it as a guide, I need to learn the skills if I plan on sticking around.”   “As I said, you have the right attitude.  The hardest thing for people to understand is that every client is different.  I hate the word client, but that’s what we will call them.   Everyone has a story, and as I mentioned before, you never know what a person is going through in their life.”

John spent the next couple of days scraping paint and re-attaching old ceder shingles on the barn.  Some shingles had to be replaced and much of the trim was rotten to the point of disrepair.  Les was handy at carpentry, but admittedly, was no expert.  After two long days of preparation the barn was ready for paint.  Les returned with two five gallon buckets of primer, and when John applied it the old boards reacted like a kitchen sponge.  The weather was cooperative for the next few days, and at the end of the weekend the old barn had taken on a new look.  The trim had been fixed and squared and some of the windows were re-pained and now shut tightly without rattling.  Les took down the old front door and completely built a new one that slid easily on the old forged tracks that had been made on-sight when the farm had its own blacksmith shop.

As much as John didn’t want to think about it, he needed to return the car and buy a bus ticket back to New Jersey.  He thought of alternate scenarios  but the best one consisted of a job application working for the forest regulation committee.   It wasn’t a complete fabrication because he did notice an ad in a flyer at the hardware store that mentioned an opening in the surveying department.  Regardless what he told them, he knew it would be less than expected by his parents. That was what he had to deal with in a few days.   For now, he rolled down the window and felt that cool air from the Aroostook River and  smelled the green peaked trees filling his mind with thoughts of campfires and sizzling brook trout.

“Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 4

At first light John was standing at the river, tying on a trout spinner he purchased at the hardware store.  He was determined to catch a brook trout and hopefully have it for breakfast. The worms he bought yesterday were cool and lively when he popped the lid off the tub.  After pinching one in half, he baited the hook of the number six trout spinner and did his best to hide the hook with the worm.    He squeezed a piece of split-shot onto the line about a foot up from the knot and felt pretty good about his presentation.  Walking down the river bank to a piece of ledge that provided him with enough distance from the thick  overhanging conifer limbs, he was able to make a decent cast out into the fast current.  The line was immediately swept down stream and almost instantly snagged on a dead piece of wood half submerged in the fast moving water.  After trying to free his lure for several minutes, he thought he would have to break it off and start over when at the last attempt it somehow freed itself, and John reeled in the bait.  Thinking he didn’t want to repeat this, he moved further down stream to find another good casting spot. The water began to slow down and formed a small eddy.

Casting back out into the current, as he did before, the line still went down stream but at a slower rate than before.  He kept this presentation up for a few casts but wished he could be further out, away from the overhanging branches.  John realized then the importance of hip boots or chest waders when fishing these cold streams.  If he could wade out a bit, he would be able to put his spinner right where he wanted it to maybe entice a strike, rather than the fish just catching a glimpse of it as it rifles down stream.  After several more unsuccessful attempts, John again moved down stream to wider and calmer water.  He stopped at the bottom of the eddy and made a cast straight out to the current and began to reel in when immediately the line went tight.  Somewhat astonished, John brought his hands up to his chest and bent the rod almost in half.  He had a fish, and it felt like a big one.  Almost as fast as the rod bent, the line went slack again. The fish was gone.  He reeled in quickly and made two more casts into the same spot but with no luck.  He then cast a little further to the right and started reeling in.  At about the halfway point he connected with another fish that seemed to dwarf the first one, again the rod doubled, and this time the tip almost touched the water.  John had what felt like a huge fish and was determined not to loose it.  Images of dark football shaped brook trout raced in and out of his mind.  All those stories about Guides and there clients catching record book fish came and left his mind in a split second.  He was finally going to catch one of those illusive creatures and all he had to do is hold on.  It seemed like an eternity, but he knew the fish was almost to the shore when all of a sudden the the water surface broke and the fish came two feet out of the water revealing its bronze back and unmistakable spine fin.  John had caught another small mouth bass.

Still in somewhat of a surreal state of mind, he was able to get the fish in and after it tired enough, he grabbed the bottom jaw to get the hook out.  After the hook was disgorged John thought about keeping it, but he didn’t want bass for breakfast, he wanted a trout.  When he put the fish back in the water he held on to the bottom lip and moved the fish with a back and forth motion to stimulate the fishes gills.  After a few seconds, the bronze back bolted back out into the current and disappeared into the black water.  How could he have possibly caught yet another bass?   He re-baited his spinner with the other half of the worm he’d used before and continued to fish.  In the next two hours he caught two more bass and a creek chub. The sun was rising now and he heard logging trucks off in the distance. There were crows calling each other  to the other side of the river, they were all feeding on a dead rodent that looked like a muskrat.

John returned to the car and pulled out a can of beans and some bread.  He decided to eat the beans cold, wrapped up in the bread to save the effort of starting a fire.  He also figured he should start a list of things he needed, after realizing he had no coffee or means of boiling it.  He ate the can of beans that he opened with his camp knife.  A can opener was at the top of the list, followed by coffee, a coffee pot, hip boots, and a pair of sunglasses. The sun made him squint when it hit the waters surface and gave him a slight headache, not to mention he would be able to make out underwater structure better with a pair of polarized glasses.  He was almost done writing his list on the car hood when he heard an approaching vehicle.  It was Ken from the real estate company.  Ken got out with his usual stride and smile and went straight for a handshake. “Good morning John, I see you like this place.”  John wiped the remaining cold beans off his right hand on his pant leg, and shook Ken’s hand. “I do, in fact I stayed here last night and ate dinner, I hope that’s not a problem.”  “Oh no not at all, no one is going to bother you out here unless you set the woods a blaze.” ” Well I won’t do that, I can promise you.”  Ken looked at the fishing rod leaning against the front bumper of John’s rented car, “any luck fishing?”  ” No, not really, just a couple more bass this morning.”   ” Oh those bass eat up pretty good you know, and there is no shortage of them.” “Oh I ate two last night, they were delicious, just got my mind set on trout.” “You fly fish?”  “No, but I guess I’m going to have to start, I saw a guy catch a couple of beauties yesterday afternoon down off the main road.”  ” Right about this time of year they are doing real good with egg patterns because the suckers are still running and the rivers have been stable.”  John shrugged and felt a bit foolish.  “Egg patterns?”  ” Yeah, you know, the eggs are running out of the suckers and the trout are feeding on them.”  “Well I guess that explains that,” John said.  Ken put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the gravel road. “Hey, I mentioned my brother Lester is a guide the other day.  He is in town for a couple days to attend a funeral, and I’m going up to his house tonight to pick some rhubarb. Your welcome to come along if you’d like.”   ” I would love too, but it sounds like he has things to deal with.”  “He always likes to meet new people. He lives alone, his wife passed away 10 years ago, and he could use some conversation.” ” Fine then, where does he live, and what time?”  ” He lives on the main road just past the plantation, its the white house on the left, we drove right past it looking at those other properties the other day.”   “I remember the signs for a plantation but don’t remember a white house.”  “Can’t miss it.   He drives a green pickup, meet me there at five o’clock this afternoon.   I have to show those properties again to some folks from Connecticut.”  ” Sure thing,” John said,” looking forward to it.”  “Good, see you then.  Also, he goes by the name Les not Lester.  I’m the only one who calls him that.”  Ken said as he was getting back into his car.

John was ecstatic from the idea of meeting an actual Maine Guide for the first time in his life.  He put his fishing pole back in the car and decided to spend the rest of the day getting more supplies and exploring some of the roads he had driven by in the last two days.  When his car came to a stop at the gas pumps back at the hardware store, he noticed a couple of older gentleman eating sandwiches and drinking coffee at the end of the parking lot.  They were both wearing chest waders and had the biggest canoe he had ever seen on a trailer. He wanted to talk with them, but didn’t feel like intruding on their morning by asking questions.  He couldn’t help but marvel at them and the old wooden square stern they had attached to their truck.  He filled his tank and went inside to pay.  Mert was behind the register and greeted him with the same smile. “Mornin’, how’s the fishin?” he asked.  “Oh just some bass and a chub, nothing spectacular.” “You eat the bass?  They are tasty when the water is this cold.”  “I ate two last night,  but put some back this morning.  I want to get a trout.”  “Those two out in the parking lot caught some nice ones today.” “Really?” John replied. “Yup, been hittin’ good first light, then slows down after a couple hours, usually it picks up an hour before dark.”  Bewildered, he changed the subject, “You have any coffee pots for sale?”  “Sure, out back by the light bulbs.” John found a coffee pot and noticed a couple pair of hip boots on the next shelf down.  He picked one up and blew the dust off, they were a size eleven, perfect.  He found a can opener close by and grabbed a can of coffee.  When he went to the counter Mert’s face, again, lit up.  “We’ve had those hip boots here for five years!” he said, “glad to see them gone.”  “Yeah, I needed a pair this morning.”

John spent that morning driving on the back roads that seemed to go on for ever.  They were in fairly decent shape and he was able to maneuver his car around the few high water areas he encountered.  The roads went on for miles and then all of a sudden came to  big landing areas where the timber companies piled all their logs until they were shipped out. The amount of trees cut and piled surprised him.  He couldn’t imagine how with all this timber on the ground, and the never ending convoys of logging trucks he saw on the highway, there could still be a forest left.  However, it seemed the trees just kept going.  The only sign of civilization were the roads and the clearings that had old and expired timber harvesting equipment  rusting into the ground. Every landing had at least one dead machine and piles of plastic buckets that at one time contained hydraulic fluid, or some petroleum product. These sights brought John’s thoughts back to his studies at the university.  He started to see, first hand,  the impact of development  to a given landscape. This made him wonder how anyone plowing a cornfield in Iowa could possibly know the effects of harvesting a forest in Maine, or if a person buying lumber in Colorado knew it meant fewer trees in the north east woodlands.  On the other hand, what would a timber harvester from Maine know about Hybrid seeds and petroleum fertilizers in Ohio, without the benefit of a college education?  Just because its not happening right in front of you, doesn’t mean it isn’t going on.

The sound of an oncoming tractor trailer down the gravel road got John’s attention, and he was able to pull off the road and let the truck pass.  It seemed to be going at a good rate of speed and was loaded heavy.  John rolled his window up to keep the dust out, and when the truck passed he continued on.  After the dust cleared, he rolled his window down and immediately felt a cooler air temperature and heard the sound of a river.  When he got to a bridge and saw the big river, he realized it was the St. Croix Stream.  The river that flowed beside his property was a tributary of this river.  John pulled off the road and shut down the engine.  He looked up river and could start to see how the early settlers were able to get from place to place using only a canoe. These rivers were the early highways and trade routes,  also used for harvesting the tall trees of the forest that were floated down stream.  Very skilled men could manipulate them with long sticks,  jumping from tree to tree, preventing log jams and keeping the flow of timber running into the mills downstream.  These log drivers, like the Maine Guides, have a place in history that could never be recreated.  These men woke up every day before light and worked until the sun went down, only to do it again the next day, with sore muscles and worn out tools.  They had a sense of ruggedness and character that can never be emulated.  The days of log driving are gone forever with the advent of modern, more efficient equipment. The rivers flow free and are healthier without the constant buildup of tree bark and rotting timber.  The fish can spawn and the water runs clear.  John felt a slight sense of envy for those who lived this lifestyle just as he felt admiration for the old Maine Guides.  The loggers of today are still hard workers, and the younger generation of guides are more versed in the ecology of the woods, which helps them to understand and preserve the wilderness, but with that understanding and education, comes a softer and less charismatic soul.

When John got back to the main road the sun was well on it’s way west.  He knew about how far it was to Ken’s brothers house, and figured it was a forty five minute drive from where he was now.  He thought about getting something to eat in town, but decided to eat a couple pieces of dry bread to hold him over.  He drove in the direction of the plantation and stopped at a farm stand to by some honey.  The man at the stand had an old canoe for sale which John found interesting.  It was made of ceder and covered with canvas. The seams needed work, but it still looked solid.  John was surprised how heavy it was, and thought he would like something lighter if he ever bought a canoe.

When he got to the plantation he saw it was four-forty five on the car’s clock. He noticed a little white house at the other end of the field and assumed that belonged to Les.  There was a green pickup in the driveway with a big canoe on top of the rack.   After a few minutes he saw Ken’s sedan coming from the other direction,  pulling in the north end of the u-shaped driveway.  John felt a bit nervous, but put the car in gear and drove up the road to the little house. Ken was standing beside a taller version of himself, looking out over the field and talking about tractors. When John got out of the car,  Ken walked over to him with the usual friendliness. “John, this is my brother Les.”   Les was a couple inches taller than Ken and had a look of hardness.  His hair and posture told the story;  deep lines in his forehead and leather like skin on his big hands from a lifetime of working outside in the elements. The top of his back was rounded from lifting heavy loads and sleeping under canoes.  The sun had bleached his hair and his fingers looked disjointed.  He stood close to six feet tall but his body was mostly torso.

“Hello, Ken tells me your buying land off north road” as he shook John’s hand. “Well, yeah.  I’m in the process.  Hopefully it will be done in a couple weeks,” John replied.  “That’s a nice piece of land there, I used to camp just down the river on some of the old canoe trips.”  “Do you still guide trips there?” John asked. “Not in years, not too many people doing canoe trips anymore.” “Really?”  “Yeah, I mostly do fly fishing trips and moose hunts these days.  The few canoe trips I get are one day events.”  “I’m surprised to hear that,” John replied.   “I used to be booked all summer for canoe trips that took a week to complete, but people just aren’t into it like they used to be.”  “I see canoes everywhere though.”  “Oh sure, no shortage in sales, however people would just as soon sleep in a motel and do day trips.  They hire you once to get comfortable, then they are experts, you know what I mean?”  John was a bit surprised, but thinking about his college friends and their interests he could see Les’s point.  “Who want’s coffee?” Les asked.  Ken said, “Thought you’d never ask!  You guys go inside and I’ll pick some rhubarb, see you in a bit.”

John followed Les into the house and let the wood-framed screen door close behind him.  It was a very modest home with a front kitchen and metal cabinets.  It seemed very sparse.  Les seemed like a simple sort of man and probably didn’t need many creature comforts. “Have a seat while I get the coffee going.”  John pulled out the red, vinyl backed chair and sat down at the table.  He liked the big metal rim that went around the edge of the table and could see from the wear marks where Les had most of his meals. “Nice table” John said.  “It came with the house forty years ago, been a good one.”  “You’ve lived here forty years?” John asked. “Yup, don’t plan on movin’ either.”  Les scooped out some coffee from the metal canister and counted four scoops as he filled the basket of a glass percolator that was on the stove.  Les opened  the refrigerator and pulled out a paper bag full of fresh fiddlehead ferns he picked earlier that day.  “You want to stay for dinner?”  “Oh I don’t want to put you out, you have things to do.”  “Your more than welcome to stay, I’m not going anywhere and Ken has to be back at the office by seven o’clock tonight.” “He works long hours doesn’t he.”  “Sure does, but he’s always been the go-getter.”   John felt like Les actually wanted his company and wasn’t just being polite.  “Sure, if you don’t mind, I would love to.”  “Sure thing, I have some brook trout I caught yesterday and just tapped a new keg of cider.”  “You make hard cider?”  ” Its been a family tradition.   My father made the best cider in the county, even through prohibition.”  “I’ve never tried it before.”   Les turned his head with a grin  “Where are you from man?  Never had hard cider?  What ails you?”   John felt a little more comfortable now Les was joking with him.  “I was going to make some rhubarb cobbler too if that don’t scare you off.”   “You seem to do your fair share of cooking,” John said.  “Les started cleaning the fiddleheads in the sink with an old enamel colander.  “That’s about all I do these days, cook and tie knots.”  “Really?” John asked.  “Pretty much, most of my clients have never fished and have always wanted to try.  They often never come back, a few do, but not many.”

Ken came into the kitchen with a big pile of rhubarb and put it in the sink. “That should do it, I will take half and you keep the rest, as long as I get some cobbler tomorrow.”  “Fair enough.”  The coffee was done and John was looking forward to a cup as he missed his morning coffee ritual.  Ken pulled out a chair and sat down with coffee. “Anybody need cream?”  Les asked with the refrigerator door still open.  “Nope, all set here, unless John needs it.”  “I’m good, thanks.” Les and Ken talked about the old tractor out in the yard and came to the conclusion it was time for a new one.  John sat sipping his coffee and enjoyed listening to the two brothers talk.  After Ken finished his coffee, he left for the office and Les started boiling water for the fiddleheads.  “Why do you boil them” John asked.  “You actually blanch them, just for about two minutes, it takes the bitterness out of them. Then you cook them in a pan with some salt and pepper for a few minutes.”  Les pulled two brook trout out of the refrigerator that looked to be sixteen inches long.  “Wow, those are nice!” John said. “Not a bad pair” replied Les.  “How did you catch them?”  Les pulled a film canister from his pocket and told John to open it.  John removed a beautiful red, white, and blue fly with a gold bead on the eyelet. ”  “Wow, that looks amazing.”  “Don’t it though,” Les said with a grin.  “I’d say it works good by the looks of these fish,” John said with confidence.   Les reached in his other pocket and handed John another canister.  John looked inside and saw the tiniest hook he had ever seen with some yellow thread wrapped around it.  He thought it looked like a worn out fly Les was saving for the hook. “That is the fly I used, the pretty one is for the people that ask me what I catch fish on.”  John felt a bit foolish for  assuming the fish would love the looks of that fancy fly.  “Its all about matching the hatch, what fish eat depends on the environment they are in at the time.  It changes constantly.   A good fisherman has to adapt quickly, what works this afternoon may not work tomorrow, but then again,  it might.”  “So which fly will you use tomorrow?”  “The one that works,”  Les said with a crooked smile.

After the fiddleheads were blanched and the two trout were rolled in flour, Les started heating up a cast iron fry pan.   He cooked the ferns in butter first, then put the fish into the remaining liquid left over in the cast iron. The trout cracked in the pan, Les put some salt and pepper on them. He flipped them twice letting the skin get crispy.   John was starving, all he had eaten that day was a can of cold beans and a few slices of plain bread.  They sat down at the table and Les had his jug of cider, filling two glasses.  He slid one to John and raised his with a gesture of cheers. They chinked glasses and John took a sip. The cider had a fruity smell and when it hit the roof of his mouth it made him salivate.  John had tasted a few wines in college and this reminded him of a very expensive pinot grigio, only better.  “That’s amazing” John said.  “I do love my cider” Les replied.  The fish was delicious and the fiddleheads the same. John enjoyed his meal, but felt like he ate too fast as Les was only half way through his plate.   “You were hungry!”  John wiped his face with a napkin and said “Yeah, I guess I was.”  After Les finished, he poured another two glasses of cider. “Your more than welcome to stay here tonight, I have an extra room.” “Oh I don’t want to put you out.”  “Your not putting me out at all, plus I am making some cobbler and will need help eating it.  That is unless you like sleeping in that car more than I realize.”  “How did you know that I slept in the car.”  “Your sleeping bag is spread out in the back seat, I deduced it.”   John again felt foolish.  “Ken tells me you are interested in living up here and maybe getting some work.”  “I want to build a place and start living off grid,”John said. “That seems to be a trend with people from the city, move away from the hustle and bustle and start over, live a simpler life.”  “Yeah that’s the idea, but I don’t think too many people I know would last up here.”  ” Well therein lies the problem, John.  When people come up here they tend to bring bad habits with them.  Not everyone, but a great percentage want the same comforts they had in the city.”  “Isn’t that counter productive?”  Les took another drink of cider and set the glass down.  “I hear people talking about sub developments and building bigger houses constantly.  I see roads being built and more cars coming up the highway every year.  I’ve lived here almost three quarters of a century and every year there is a little less forest and a few more houses.”  “Do you think at some point the forest will be gone?” John asked.  “Oh not in our lifetime. It will eventually be developed and sparse but not gone all together, but that’s not the real issue.  The issue is loss of habitat. The reason we have the wildlife, and the streams are clear is because there are only a few people living here and the mills are shutting down.   All the farms are going away because you can’t make enough money farming to pay the taxes.  The people have no choice but to sell to developers.  The timber companies still own a huge portion, but that is forever changing.”   “What keeps things going then?” Recreation, but not hunting and fishing.  People want to ride snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles.  They want to drive a boat, not pole a canoe up river. ”  “Do you see this through being a guide?”  “I started guiding back when I was your age, it was different.  You felt, at the end of the day, you taught someone something and you had a friendship that lasted a lifetime.  Today its more about pictures and bucket lists.  I seldom get repeat customers and I see the best and worst in people.”  “Do you see a difference in the younger people becoming guides?”  ” Most definitely. The younger generation are trying to preserve a tradition they know nothing about.”  “How so?”  “Well for instance, you have a young person who has read a dozen books and seen a few movies and has romanticized what they have read or seen in pictures.  There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact its healthy.  However, very few people can completely strip themselves of everything that’s been instilled in them up to that point in their life. Today’s society breeds complacency and people are inherently lazy by nature.”  John took another drink of cider and leaned back in his chair.  “So what is the future of being a guide, in your thoughts?”  “There will always be work guiding, and there will always be guides, it’s just a different client with different ambitions.  If you think about it though, the younger guides are more in line with the modern clients needs, kind of like birds in a feather.”  “I guess I never thought of it like that.”   “That’s just my take on it, one persons opinion.”  “Yeah but you’ve seen it all over your lifetime, people coming and  going, things changing.”  “Sure, but that’s just my side of it.  I don’t know where people are coming from, or for that matter, what they have gone through up to this point in there life.”

John finished his cider and got up to rinse his glass.  He was connecting the dots in his head.  “You want me to clean up these dishes, Les”?  “Nope, put them in the tub and lets get going on that rhubarb cobbler,  I have some home made  ice cream to go with it.”  John wasn’t surprised.

 

” Carving a home in the north woods” chapter 3

John woke up the next morning before daylight.  His mind was going in all directions over the events that had unfolded over the last twenty four hours. He had already put a deposit on a piece of land and he hadn’t been in Maine for two days.  It was only the second time in his life he had been north of Massachusetts. The plans and ideas were going through his mind one after the other; build a cabin, live in a tent, buy a kit and assemble it on-sight. These were all things he was considering.  He knew he was going to be without electricity, and access with a vehicle was limited to seven months out of the year due to snow and mud season.  He didn’t even own a vehicle yet, so what should he buy?  It seemed that a pickup truck made more sense than anything, but he would need four wheel drive and those were expensive.  John noticed the sun was rising out of the east window of his hotel room and thought maybe these things would be easier to figure out with a cup of coffee.

The hotel was comfortable, but John was anxious to drive back up to the property and look around some more to get a better feel of things.  He finished his second cup of the freeze dried coffee the hotel maid had left the day before, and promised himself that once living here he would never again drink anything other than camp coffee.  Breakfast consisted of two powdered donuts and some peanut butter crackers he bought from the vending machine in the lobby.  There wasn’t much traffic on the Maine interstate that morning being Sunday and most people had the day off.  There were a few logging trucks that seemed to have rocket engines in them as they passed John’s rented car and they left him in a trail of dust.  He tried to count how many logs were on the back of each truck and figure out how much board feet each load contained.  It saddened him a little thinking the beautiful forests were being farmed off at such a fast rate.  However, he knew people needed homes to live in, and jobs to pay for the homes.

John pulled into the same hardware store he had stopped at before to get gasoline and a few more supplies. There was a different gentleman behind the counter this time and he greeted John with a big “hello” as soon as the door opened and jingled the little bell as it did every time someone came into the store. “Good morning” John said with a big smile as soon as he smelled the freshly brewed coffee. “You up here doing some fishing?” “I hope to wet a line before I have to head home, but haven’t had a chance yet.”  “Are you a fly fisherman?” the man asked. “Well, I want to learn how, but for now I still use a worm and spinner.” John looked over on the wall and saw several fishing poles all set up with reels and full of line. He walked over and picked up an Eagle Claw spinning rod with a nice open face reel and it was priced at twenty nine dollars.  He also noticed a vintage fishing creel with a ten dollar sticker on it. Inside the creel was an old LL Bean trout knife with a leather case that had started to turn green. The inside of the creel felt smooth and had a smell to it that suggested it had been, many times, full of fish.

John knew he couldn’t go back into the woods without some kind of defense against the man-eating black flies.  He grabbed a mesh head net and a  bottle of Ben’s Deep Woods bug repellent. “Is this the strongest thing you have”? John asked the cashier. “You mean for bug dope?” “Yes, I almost got eaten alive yesterday.” The man walked around the counter and went to the isle with the camp fuel and charcoal.  He grabbed a bar of camp soap and passed it to John. “Try washing up with this, it will get rid of any perfume smell you might be carrying with you.  By the way, my name is Mert Hollis, nice to meet you” Mert reached out and shook John’s hand. “Nice to meet you as well.” John grabbed some sinkers, hooks, and a tub of worms from the cooler and set everything down on the counter. “Looks like your having trout for dinner,” Mert said with a big smile. “I hope to catch a couple of those native brook trout I hear about.”  “Well you know those small mouth bass are pretty tasty.”  John had caught many bass back in New Jersey and had always thrown them back because of the water he caught them in. The streams and ponds were cloudy and foam covered from pesticides and fertilizers. The thought of eating any fish from his home state was appalling, unlike the rivers he had seen in northern Maine that were crystal clear and cold.  It seemed the fish would be safe to eat, but he never considered bass to be on the menu. This was good news because he already knew how to catch them, unlike the mystic brook trout he had only read about.

John walked back to the fishing tackle and grabbed two Mepp’s rooster tail spinners, he had caught many small mouth bass and chain pickerel with these lures growing up, fishing under the rail road trestles and in some of the small ponds around the local golf course. He also bought three cans of baked beans, a loaf of bead, a can of spam, a bottle of vegetable oil and a roll of paper towels. He looked at a small pup tent on the shelf but thought he would wait and find something bigger and perhaps better quality. He didn’t own the land yet so he didn’t feel right about camping there and was in hopes of finding another hotel or possibly sleeping in the car. He did purchase a synthetic sleeping bag figuring he would need one regardless at some point and the nights did get cold up in Maine even in the summer months.

“That about do it?” Mert asked, as John put the tightly rolled sleeping bag down on the counter. “I think so, for now anyway.” “Are you camping out?”  “Not sure yet, but just in case, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to have a sleeping bag, even If I end up sleeping in the back seat.” “You can never be over prepared out there, that’s for sure.” The total of the items and groceries came to one hundred and five dollars.  John felt a tinge of guilt as he pulled  out his wallet and unfolded six twenty dollar bills. “You may as well make it one-twenty and I will put in fifteen dollars worth of gas.” “Sure thing, you don’t want to be running on empty up here, not a lot of filling stations once you get off the highway.” “Have you lived here for long?” John asked. “Been here almost forty years.   I came up after high school and got a job in a logging camp as a cook.  I did that for a few years, then got into the hardware business with my wife’s father.  He passed away ten years ago leaving us the store.” John put his wallet back and picked up the two bags of provisions. “Well, have a great day and thank you.” Mert threw two books of matches in one of the bags. “You should never go out in the woods without some kind of fire starter, and you will need to cook those fish over a campfire tonight.”  “Ahhh, yes, good thinking!” John said as he turned around and headed out the door.

The rest of the ride went quickly, and John was back on north road following the river.  He noticed a man fly fishing, so he eased the rented car to a stop and watched him for a few minutes.  It seemed as though the angler was putting very little effort into casting and letting the action of the fly rod do all the work. Back and forth a few times and the line just floated out and settled down on the water, drifting along until it was far enough down stream, then pull in the line and repeat the process.  It was very methodical, yet almost hypnotic to watch.  After several casts the fisherman moved up stream to an eddy and stayed on the inside of the bend.  On the opposite side of the river there were some overhanging limbs that created shade over the swirling water. The angler raised the tip of his rod to cast, but this time the presentation was different.  He brought the rod tip up and then forward, but dropped it almost horizontal to the water, giving a pendulum looking action to the line. When it settled onto the water it naturally followed the current and drifted back up stream with the swirling water.  All at once the rod was bent and the line went taught.  Instead of “setting the hook” the man simply “lifted” the rod tip up and slowly worked the fish out of the current and up to the rivers edge.  He took his small wooden net from behind his back and dipped up a beautiful square tailed brook trout that looked to be at least twenty inches long.  After removing the tiny hook from it’s mouth the angler simply released the fish back into the swirling dark water.  John sat in his car and watched three more of these beautiful fish get caught with the same presentation and then released unharmed.

Eventually the fisherman moved further up stream and out of sight leaving John in awe after the demonstration he just witnessed.  He knew there was a zen-like approach associated with fly fishing, but never actually saw anyone do it with any success at all,  never mind catch four magnificent brook trout and release them.  He would have been embarrassed to have been caught fishing with live bait by someone with that kind of understanding for presentation and ability to read water.  John thought he had a lot to learn, and now was certain of it.  The stories he had read about those old Maine Guides and the fish they caught were true, and he just had a front row seat. This was their turf and he knew it.

When John got back to the bridge just before his property he wanted to try his luck at catching dinner.  He pulled the car off the road and grabbed the mesh head net, bug dope, and fishing rod. The water was slow moving under the road and he thought it might be a deep spot in the river.  After tying on a rooster tail he climbed down the bank, found some good footing and made a cast.  After several casts he moved under the bridge and cast as far as he could. The lure bounced off the bridge pylon making a “chink” sound and fell into the water.  When he started reeling it in the rod went tight and immediately a bronze back small mouth bass leaped into the air trying to spit the hook.  John was ecstatic, and fought the two pound fish all the way back to his side of the bridge. The fish was incredibly wide and strong, unlike the bass in his home state, this had a darker color and beautiful pattern.  He decided to keep it as he was allowed two per day by state law and quickly made another cast back to the same spot.  After a few casts and no luck he tried further down under the bridge. He managed to hook into another bass about the same size giving him a limit.

John strung the fish with a piece of shoe lace that he still had in his pocket from the day before and returned to the car.  When he started driving up the road he felt a bit of pride as he had just caught his first north woods dinner. When he got to the property he figured it would be okay to use the existing campfire ring made of small rocks by some campers the previous year.  He got a small fire going with the matches that  Mert had given him back at the store and some dead twigs he found under a conifer tree. The fire blazed away for about twenty minutes, then died down leaving him with a small bed of glowing coals. He knew it wouldn’t take much to heat up the new fry-pan and put it on some rocks in the fire to hold it up, out of the direct heat and poured in a good amount of vegetable oil.  He then started skinning the small mouth bass and got them ready for the hot oil.  John wished he had bought some corn meal or flour to cover the fish in a batter,  but also figured he was lucky to have the fish to eat, and would remember to get some the next time he was in town.  As the fish sizzled away in the pan, the sun was going down, and the sounds of coyotes off in the distance sounded almost surreal to him.  It was hard to believe that in just a few weeks this was going to be his land, and he could build a home for himself.  Those thoughts and many others filled his mind, and the fish filled his stomach.

After the fish were eaten and the coals in the fire had become almost invisible, John decided to bring the remaining fish carcasses down the road and leave them for a hungry fox or coyote.  As he walked along in the moonlight he could still hear the sound of the river and the gentle winds from the north west.  It was getting cooler by the hour and he was wearing his wool shirt he put on to protect him from the black flies, and he felt comfortable. He tossed the fish bones into the bushes about one hundred yards from the campsite and felt better about giving a little back to nature.  He had gotten his meal for the night and some furry creature would get a midnight snack from the remaining morsels he had just deposited.  John had a slight sense of confidence with himself, and felt good about everything that had happened over the last two days.  When he started walking back to the car on the loose gravel road he noticed how loud his foots steps seemed compared to the dark moonlit forest.   He stopped walking a couple times just to hear the whispering pine trees.  He could faintly smell the remains of his cooking fire.  Everything seemed right with the world up here.  There were no loud highways, crowded shopping malls, and no traffic jams. The only foreign sound was the dull roar of a small airplane every so often, and even that seemed to  blend in with the sound of the river and the prevailing summer breeze.

John decided to sleep in the back seat of the car.  He unwrapped his new sleeping bag and spread it out on the seat.  It wouldn’t be the most comfortable bed, but it would keep him out of the bugs for the night and if it rained he would stay dry.  This got him thinking again about what kind of vehicle he should be looking for.  He kept considering a pickup truck, but shuddered at having to pay the steep price of a four wheel drive.  He remembered reading a story from one of those thrift store books back in high school about a man who lived in a station wagon for one year while building a log cabin in Alaska. That got him thinking about buying a van and turning it into a camper.  It would be very useful during construction and he could live in it all summer. The only downfall being that it would be rear wheel drive and that limited where he could drive.  However, it was a thought that he would continue the next day as he slowly drifted off to sleep under the nylon shell of his first new sleeping bag.

 

“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.”

 

“Carving a home in the North Woods” chapter 1

The Burgess brothers were typical boys growing up in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, active in sports and always helping out with local activities. Their mother was very active in the church and volunteered Steve and John for any service needed including food drives, thrift sales, and spring cleanings. They would spend most Saturdays lugging boxes or setting up tables in the heat rather than participating in usual adolescent activities their friends were involved in. It was probably a better choice of time spent in retrospect, many of John’s friends got in trouble with the law and spent some time in youth programs and doing community service. Steve Burgess was the more popular of the two brothers, he excelled in sports as well as the study courses in which he was involved. John was much more laid back, he spent a great deal of time reading old novels by Ernest Hemingway and Jack London. The book “to build a fire” was one of his favorites and he read that several times, as well as many short stories by various authors who wrote anything to do with wilderness living.

John acquired most of his reading material from the church thrift shops he helped out with. As soon as they arrived in the morning to set up, john would go see what books were on the table and grabbed anything with snow on the ground or had tall evergreen trees on the front of the jacket. It always interested him that people could live off the land, unencumbered by material wealth. It seemed to him that all the modern conveniences were more bothersome than helpful. He saw how hard people worked in order to have the amenities they considered necessary to live. He was more intrigued with the lone woodsman that could carve a life for himself with a double-bit ax, a wool shirt, and a good pair of boots.

Steve and John Burgess both graduated high school in the same class, this was due to the fact Steve had earned so many credits with his summer courses he was permitted to graduate one year early to start college. As teenagers, Steve was studying Calculus. John spent his free time reading books that explained how to can food and grow vegetables. When the two brothers started college, Steve went on to advance in mathematics, and chemistry while John majored in agriculture. The idea of working in the agricultural field didn’t sell to Johns parents who thought he should be seeking a higher paying career. This seemed a bit hypocritical to him, coming from parents that made him volunteer his summers helping out local causes. John didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a lesson in politics, most people take everything for face value and never look deeper. When things appear smooth on the outside no one probes any deeper. His family lived in a nice home, his father had a good job, and his mother helped in the community. Everything seemed perfect…..

What the rest of the world didn’t see, was the late night arguing and empty liquor boxes in the garage. John’s father had a drinking problem and blamed it on his high-stress occupation. He worked for an accounting firm and had to deal with rising and falling markets. When times were good they drank to celebrate. When times were bad they drank to forget. It seemed like a waste of life.. John saw a different world out there, full of wilderness to be explored. Tying yourself down to a concrete jungle was a concept he could never fully get his head around. Why would anyone work so hard their whole life at a job they don’t like for this facade of a home, a couple of vacations a year, and if you were lucky enough to reach retirement age, you could enjoy yourself. Even that seemed contradictory based on the elderly folks in town he met through the church yard sales. All these people do is complain, he thought. Why would he want to end up like that..

As it turned out, the two brothers graduated college on the same weekend. This was an issue because Steve was in New York and John was in Iowa. The decision was made that the their parents would go to New York because Steve was graduating “magna cum laude” and it seemed appropriate for his parents to be present. John was actually relieved that he could get his degree and be on a bus heading home that afternoon with no commitments to anyone. At the bus station in Des Moines John found a magazine and it featured an article about “living off grid”. It seemed there was a trend of people who were pulling out of the chaos and retreating to the woods to live a simpler life. John found this very interesting after four years of studying agriculture, learning about the dangers future generations would face if the food companies continued using their petroleum based, hybrid seeds and fertilizers. The soil in many parts of the world has eroded from the mass production of food crops. It was a serious problem that no one seemed concerned about.

After the long ride home John was glad to be back on the east coast. He enjoyed his time In Iowa but he was happier close to the ocean and loved the tall pine trees he grew up with. His parents threw a small party to acknowledge the completion of his four years of college. Another great surprise to both Steve and John was that there was a fund set up for them by their grandfather that yielded one-hundred-thousand-dollars that was to be presented to them at the completion of college. This was a shock. Their grandfather was very conservative in the respect that he invested money in the “brick and mortar” stocks as well as municipal bonds. He would say things like “invest in the pipe lines! Fuel prices go up and down all the time but it has to flow through the pipeline”. He got this way of thinking from his career with the railroad. His company moved tons of products and the value of the product always fluctuated depending on market pricing, however, the price of freight only went up, never down… Standing in his parents kitchen, looking down at a six-figure check, John saw the wisdom with this philosophy.

That night at the dinner table there was mixed conversation about jobs and opportunities. Steve had started a software manufacturing project with two of his college friends. It ended up being successful enough that a major multi-media network company wanted to purchase it. John was still in disbelief over his sudden windfall, and had no idea what to do with it. After dinner he walked out to the back yard to see the silhouettes of the giant pine trees against the night sky. He could overhear the conversation about life in New York, yet couldn’t understand why his family wasn’t out here with him to enjoy this warm summer night, the smell of the woods creeping in, with the night time creatures singing their songs. He was thinking about the living-off-grid article he read, and remembering land for sale in ads in the back of the magazine. These were big parcels broken up somewhere in northern Maine. John had read in great detail about the highly respected Maine Guides who took people on canoe trips and fly-fishing expeditions.

It was at that point it occurred to him, he just inherited $100,00.00, and had zero debt from college because of his scholarships and programs. The Federal Government had started offering huge subsidies to students who were interested in agriculture, and John participated in every one for which he found the time. He realized he could buy land, build a small cabin, and have plenty of money left over. The only issue was explaining it to his parents. He thought for a bit and ran some figures through his head. The land, cabin materials, well, and tools could be purchased for less than half of his inheritance. The other half he would immediately invest in a conservative portfolio, that way if his plan didn’t work out, he would still have something set aside for later. The air smelled better already and he was trying to remember the name of that magazine with the land for sale.

The following morning John woke up and left the house at daybreak. He went to a local bookstore and found magazines containing ads that were offering large parcels of land for sale in northern Maine. The prices were very attractive compared to the cost of house lots in his home town. After thinking about it, he decided to tell his family that he was going on a fishing vacation in Maine, hoping to avoid any conversation about his future. He got a ride to the bus station and bought a ticket to Bangor Maine. Once there he figured he would find a hotel and visit some real estate offices to get a better idea of what the land actually looked like. John had been to the ocean in Maine years ago on a family vacation, but that was it. The bus ride took a over twenty four hours. He read most of the way and it seemed to go quickly compared to his ride home from Iowa. When he got off the bus in Bangor it was hotter than he expected. He had imagined having to wear a jacket, based on the classic pictures of woodsman in the magazines that lured him this far north.

John always traveled light, with only a change of clothes, a light rain coat, and his Swiss army knife. He had stopped at his family’s accounting firm investing fifty thousand dollars in the stock market and municipal bonds. The remaining money went into his checking account, with the exception of $3,000.00 cash that he brought along for meals and hotel rooms. John never had a credit card. When he needed one for college, he borrowed his mothers. He decided to use cash when he could, or write a check, but knowing an out-of-state check would be an issue in most places, he linked a debit card to his account. The idea of paying interest on a credit card was mind boggling to him, and could never understand why people used them.

Standing on the sidewalk in Bangor, he saw a savings bank across the street. Right beside it was a real estate office that he recognized from the brochures. When John walked in the front door of the office he was surprised how relaxed everyone was. Back home he would have been approached by three people as soon as the door shut behind him. There was a rack on the wall containing land maps and prices. He noticed one parcel was in Aroostook County, this was home to some of the legendary Maine Guides John had read about. There were some 40 acre lots listed for $10,000.00 with river frontage. John couldn’t believe how inexpensive the land was, and grabbed several of the flyers. A lady walked up behind him and introduced herself as Tammy. “looking at land in the County are you? John thought it was funny they addressed it as “the County”. “As a matter of fact, yes” he said. “I’m just surprised how inexpensive it is”. She laughed and said “well there ain’t much goin’ on up there now, is there?” Again, John was surprised how casual and friendly she was. ” I’m just looking for some land to build a cabin, and maybe do some fishing”. John had already planned and drawn out a complete homestead. “let’s have a seat and look at some lots, we have an agent going up that way tomorrow, so if you want to see something it shouldn’t be a problem”.

John spent the rest of the day and that evening walking around Bangor, taking in the sights. It was nothing like he expected, but was pleasantly surprised with the people and attitudes. He checked into a hotel and made arrangements to rent a car for the drive up the next day. He left before daylight and headed north on interstate 95. It wasn’t long before the city was behind him and the great north woods were looming on all sides. He noticed the trees were shorter and closer together the further north he drove. John knew that much of these woods were mismanaged by the logging companies in the early part of the century, land was basically stripped in most of the northeast. Most of the bigger dairy farms were out of business and the apple farmers were suffering from low profits. The potato fields still held a good bounty, but that too had shifted from what it was fifty years earlier. It seemed like recreation was the business of the future, with bigger and better ski mountains popping up all over the state. People were coming here to go camping and canoeing. Also, recreational vehicles were a cash cow for some guiding companies.

After a three hour ride John could see the top of Mount Katahdin off to his right, and stopped to take a picture. The air was cooler than the day before but still comfortable on this June morning. He took the exit for route 11 and headed towards the County, and when he arrived at the first small town he stopped for gas and a coffee. The store had everything from groceries to roofing nails. Upstairs was a home goods section and the back of the store was a trading post that sold hunting and fishing supplies as well as pack baskets and axes. This was the most interesting place he had ever seen. Behind the counter was an older gentleman mounting a scope on a rifle. “Mornin'” “Good morning” John replied, trying to hide his New Jersey accent. “What brings you up here, fishin’?” “Oh just looking at some property for sale; maybe do some fishing if I find a place to go”. The man looked up and said “You won’t have any problem with that buddy, there is some of the best fishin’ in the country right here”. “Well that’s good to know, thank you.”

John decided to grab some supplies since he was going to be here a few days. He bought a new wool shirt, a spin-cast rod and reel, a pair of leather work boots, and a hatchet. He also bought some cans of food and a couple loaves of bread along with a jar of peanut butter. The man at the trading post reminded him to get a nonresident fishing license and recommended he buy a creel for his fish and a cast iron fry pan. John was already feeling like he knew somebody and felt welcome. He left the store with his new acquisitions and a full tank of fuel. He also bought a map at the last minute so he could find the land he was going to look at. After another 10 miles he took a right onto North road and followed that for a while until he found a bridge that crossed the same river the land for sale abutted. John stopped to look at the running rapids. When he got out of the car he was swarmed by black flies. He had never seen such a thing in his life… They attacked so furiously he couldn’t open his eyes and was barely able to breath. When he got back in the car it seemed like a hundred of them were on the inside of his windshield and they were still biting. What in God’s name had he gotten into? He wished he had picked up that mosquito head net he saw at the trading post, He drove on to find the real estate companies sign that marked the property for sale.

Sitting in the car John was dreading the walk through those thick trees, imagining being drained of blood before he could possibly make it back from the river. He took out his new wool shirt and buttoned it tight at the neck and sleeves. Then he took a t-shirt and wrapped his head as best he could while still being able to see. Then he put his new boots on, tying his pant legs with the old shoe laces. He felt foolish, but there was no way he would last five minutes out there without some kind of protection against the black flies. As soon as the door opened he heard the river, but that was drowned out by the two dozen buzz bombs that were trying to eat whatever protein John had to offer. The shirt seemed to keep them out, and he managed to see well enough not to walk into a tree, but he had to keep his hands in his pockets and make fists but his wrists still got eaten. The walk to the river took around twenty minutes, but when John emerged out of the trees and stood on the bank of the Aroostook River, he knew right then, this was his home.

“The things you can do with a .twenty two”

A recent phone conversation with a kindred spirit from Alaska got my nostalgia pumping for the .22 rimfire. We talked for an hour or so and the conversation ended only because of a dying cell phone battery. The topic was guns of course, but what I found interesting was that we both loved our .22 rimfires. He had a Colt Woodsman that his father had passed down to him, used it daily as a kid and still carries it today. I have a Ruger Bearcat that I’m very fond of but, embarrassingly, it hasn’t seen one tenth the service his Colt has.

We talked about squirrel hunting and shooting cans off saw horses, back when the police weren’t summoned at the first report of a rifle. In the old days you could go out after school and target practice in hopes of bringing home the occasional tree rat or, if you got lucky, a ruffed grouse. My Grandmother used to cook the grouse with strips of bacon and root vegetables in the pan. That is still probably one of my favorite meals of all time. The squirrels she roasted whole, then separated the meat and deep fried it battered in egg, milk and cornmeal mixture. Those bushy tails tasted pretty good to a kid who had never been spoiled by major fast food restaurant chains offering free toys with their meals.

We discussed many popular cartridge choices and firearm designs, but it kept coming back to the good old “double deuce”. I guess for a few reasons, but if you think about it, the .22 is still very affordable to shoot. You can get 500 rounds for around $40.00, and even less if you shop for it online. The 40 grain bullet packs enough wallop to bring down a coyote with careful shot placement. Granted you are better off with a 22-250 or .223 for “yotes” but the little .22 will work in a pinch. The lack of recoil also enables you to shoot hundreds of rounds improving your marksmanship. Some of the best shooters I know insist on target practicing with a .22 because they feel you develop skill without being punished with the recoil of a heavier rifle. A good marksman will tell you that you want to see your bullet hit the intended target; what happens after the shot is as important as taking the shot.

I grew up like most kids, starting by shooting a Daisy BB gun, but soon graduating into a Ruger 10/22 that belonged to my Stepfather. We would spend hours at the sand pit shooting. I carried that gun on many after school and weekend small game hunting trips. He bought it brand new in 1968, and that gun is still in his cabinet today. I have had many guns over the years, but that 10/22 is one of my favorites. I also have a 1984 Ruger 77/22 with a detachable box magazine that I mounted a Burris 4X20 scope onto. It may sound like overkill, but when your shooting grey squirrels at 50 plus yards its a nice feature to have, especially with aging eyes.

One other thing we talked about was how easily you can carry 500 .22 rounds with you and not even break a sweat. If you where living off the land and needed to keep moving its hard to imagine carrying that many shotgun shells, or .308 for that matter. Not to say that if you where living in the interior of Alaska you wouldn’t want a 338 Winchester or one of it’s contemporaries to fend of grizzlies, but that’s not what we were talking about. If you were just living a life of overland travel, out of Kodiak territory, and you needed to dispatch small game as a source of protein then the .22 would be a great choice. Think about it, if you shot a moose for instance, how much work it would be to properly prepare and store 100% of that animal. If you were living in a cabin with a smoke house then no problem! But, if your just passing through, you need to select smaller game, and keep moving, and hopefully not perish from the elements…or an abscessed tooth.

He talked about his father mounting some PVC pipe on the front of his snow-machine and using it as a cradle to carry a .22 rifle. When he was out on the trap line he would use it to dispatch birds and other small game to be served at the dinner table that night. I always find it very interesting when I learn about the actual equipment used by the people so many of us try and emulate. These folks make do with what they have and are very “skilled” at it. Without that “skill” they wouldn’t last long out there. If you have ever tried to set a 330 conibear trap at below zero temps, in the dark, standing on thin ice, you know what I’m talking about.

As I said, we had a great conversation about the good old days and where the world is headed, but sometimes we need to get back to the things we enjoyed at a young age. There was a time when you could walk into a local hardware store, buy a rifle or a shotgun, and go put food on the table. The world is changing and it doesn’t seem like things are going to slow down anytime soon. It’s hard to find the time to get out and enjoy the things we used to, but if you get a chance, grab a box of rimfire and go shoot some cans. It won’t solve the worlds problems, but it does bring us back to a simpler time when the only thing that mattered was firing ten shots and counting ten holes in a soda can.