Team of Two Relish 27th Annual Deja Vu

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THE United Parcel Service has not yet extended deliveries into Maine's wilderness township of 6, range 14. It remains a place to listen to the lonesome loon, to watch the brazen coyote lope unrestrained, and for a novice to practice on the bagpipes. This is the location of our Annual Grandfathers' Retreat, just completed for the 27th time. Bill was able to persuade his comely daughter to wed our ne'er-do-well son, so Bill and I have withdrawn each mid-July to brag to each other about our grandsons.

We have the privilege of a tight woodland camp with comforts, courtesy of the timberland owners, and keys to the several gates that keep hoi polloi outside. We dine frequently, listen to good music on a battery player, meditate considerably, and conduct seminars intended to elevate the cultural level of the uninhabited townships along the Canadian border. We also conduct a wildlife watch, and concluded this time that Maine has been taken over by substandard species.

Like the coyote. A generation ago the coyote appeared in northwestern Maine and, for a few years, was treated somewhat as a myth. Our biologists thought at first that the wild Western coyote had moved easterly in Canada, and probably had mingled with farm dogs until a new breed accrued. Thus the occasional coyote seen in the upper St. John River valley was called a ``coydog.''

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But in recent years we don't hear that word, and the invaders are called coyotes. They have since spread over most of Maine, and are considered a menace to our wild white-tail deer herd and to domestic animals, particularly sheep. Bill and I had not sighted a coyote - a sizeable brown dog that can run like the dickens - until this year. We surprised him along the seldom-used lumbering road, and he gave a leap and was gone. Like the summer tourist, the coyote seems to have moved into Maine and taken over.

Near Lily Bay at Moosehead Lake we found the summer tourist concentrated for our study. We were on our way home on the Saturday, and the vanguard of the weekend invasion met us head on. A number of ``recreational vehicles'' were parked in the highway, and one or two had pulled off the pavement. Some 50 people were lined up looking into the bushes, and, as we rounded a bend and I slowed to save our lives, Bill said, ``It's got to be a moose!''

It was a moose. A real rauncher. He was hip-deep in a bog, dipping for pond lilies, and cared not one whit for his audience 100 feet away. As he lifted his head from under water he seemed to poise politely with his velvet horns akimbo until he heard enough camera shutters click, and then he would go down for another taste. His admirers oh'd and ah'd, and a young lady in pink shorts and an obscene sweatshirt turned to Bill to say, ``Can you see him all right?'' Bill said yes, he could, and that she might take him home if she had a length of rope. ``Thanks a bunch,'' she said.

There should be, but is not, a lesson for Mainers in this roadside cameo appearance. The great desire of everybody who visits Maine to see the lordly moose in the flesh and on location should impress. Here, the moose is appreciated and admired. But every year our wildlife people stage a grand lottery and sell tickets to ``sportsmen'' who take a chance on winning a dead moose. Anybody who has seen a live moose in the wilds finds this bizarre antic improbable, and not a tribute to the people of Maine.

Those who ``win'' a moose ticket are allowed to take a guide, the family, witnesses, the local Rotary Club, and a supportive aggregation of peers to help shoot ``his'' moose between the eyes while said moose, just about as tame as a household kitten, looks on. On that roadside that day, as Bill and I passed, those 50 people had an excellent chance to evaluate the ``sportsmanship'' of bagging a moose.

Another wildlife report concerns the muskellunge. The pickerel has always been native in Maine waters, but not the larger pikes, and we had no muskellunge until some were introduced into Canadian waters along the St. John River. Moving upstream, these planted fish came to Baker Lake at the St. John headwaters, township 7, range 17, and found the place congenial. They thrive there and are fished for by anglers for all reasons except the beauty of the beast.

We saw one that weighed 18 pounds, caught by Paul Larochelle of Augusta, and the muskellunge is not pretty. Paul cut fillets and deep-fried supper and said it was delicious. Bill and I made no effort to take one.

We left township 6, range 14, as we found it. We hope to find it the same a year hence. After 27 visits we have no quarrel with deja vu.

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