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The Skillful Hunter Who Skied Out of a Storm

By John Gould / December 29, 1995



The recent small "whether" disturbance was foretold by the excited media as a foreboding disaster to make the blizzard of 1978 look like a gentle zephyr wafting o'er daisied meadows in jaunty July. I am safely on reliable record as having said, "Pish-tosh, this won't amount to nawthin'." And it didn't.

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The sun rose the next morning in good shape, and although radio and television were functioning, neither had anything to say about their extreme goof about the big storm that had passed by on the other side. Which is all right, because these electronic experts are new at the game and don't begin to know half the things about the weather that were born into the old-time goose-bone prophets of the bygone who could stick a wet finger in the air and say with confidence, "Open and shet, sign o' wet." Then it would rain for a week.

But if it didn't, the prophet would shrug his shoulders and say, "In dry times, all signs fail."

What our modern media lacks is an escape clause. Meteorology, unlike weather-wisdom, has to live with what it says, and there is no way the next morning to retract or to explain a blunder. I knew that "storm" would peter out because the wind hauled around, and you don't get any northeast blizzards from the loo'ards. It's an old saying.

Back in the 1920s, a group of gentlemen from this coastal part of Maine made ready one November and drove upstate with gear and grub on a hunting trip. They had the use of a comfortable "camp" on Eustis Ridge, which is as remote as anybody ever needs to be in the Maine woods. Settled in, they had one good day of seeking the white-tailed deer, and then about 3 in the afternoon the sky lowered and took on the complexion of lagubrity, and the air fell to an elaborate disinclination. The temperature dropped, and the gorby birds by the camp steps took off into the deep growth to find shelter for the duration. The gentlemen in the party agreed that a rouser was making up, and that by morning the season's first major storm would have them snowed in and Eustis Ridge would be detached from the solar system. Nobody needed any escape clause from this one.

"Camp" is the term in the Maine woods for any shelter. If the Taj Mahal had been built at Cupsuptic Lake, some Mainer would call it a camp. This one, on Eustis Ridge, was an able dwelling, tight and comfortable. The party would be warm and had sufficient grub. Every such camp has cards and a cribbage board. The magazines and newspapers may be old, and somebody has already done the crosswords, but what Teddy Roosevelt said about Cuba is still reading matter. Let it snow, and in due time things would work out. The gentlemen made supper, played pinochle by lamplight, filled the woodbox, stoked the stove, and got into their blankets to listen to the wind and hear the snow slap the shingles. By morning, snow covered the camp windows, and when they pushed it away they found that Eustis Ridge had been obliterated.

It was, all the same, a magnificent morning, a fairyland of silent purity except that the gorby birds had returned to the camp steps to resume their demands for benefits. However, the snow was too deep for hunting and it would be well to dig out the vehicle, break camp, and get started for home. They figured 16 miles from camp to a broken road.

There's one in every crowd who comes up with a better idea, and this time it was Ellery Jones. Ellery said, "You boys can grunt and push and shovel, but I'm going to make me some skis and then I'll coast down with my gear on that moose sled in the woodshed." So that's what happened. There was no need to hurry about anything, so the gentlemen would shovel a bit, stop to eat a meal, and then shovel some more. In the meantime, Ellery waded to find a dry standing spruce he could cut down and split. Which he did, and being nimble with tools, he shaped what he needed with his camp hatchet and his skinning knife. He had trouble turning up the points, so he made the things wide, to be used like snowshoes rather than skis, and then he cut straps off a pack basket and made bindings for his feet. This all took a couple of days, and then Ellery tried his skis in the snow and announced he was ready to walk out to Stratton and find aid.

Just then the gentlemen heard a roaring noise outside the camp, and when they opened the door to look they saw a snowmobile coming in from the main road, heaving snow into the treetops. It made a sweep and stopped at the camp door. The driver opened a curtain and stuck out his head to ask, "Taxi, anyone?"

This was the first snowmobile in northern Maine and in Franklin County. It was an adapted Model T Ford, and it was owned by Alvah Berry, manager of the reserved lands of the Magantic Fish and Game Club, a matter of many square miles he kept an eye on winter and summer.

After this storm, Alvah had made the rounds of the whole area, checking for possible snowbound hunters. Our gentlemen were pleased to see him. They got their vehicle down to the main road and followed Alvah Berry in his snowmobile all the 16 miles down to Stratton.

All except Ellery Jones. Ellery was just that stubborn, and he said, "Nothing doing! I made these skis to save my life, and now I'm going to save it! Go ahead, and I'll meet you out at Stratton." So Alvah went on ahead, and the gentlemen followed, with Ellery Jones on his skis bringing up the rear, all 16 miles. Nobody got a deer.