Two strangers share one thing in common
William, who has been introduced in these scholastic reports frequently and discreetly as plain "Bill," was my trail buddy and fellow trout consumer for 30 consecutive annual forays into the Great North Maine Woods. But before we arranged this relationship, we were strangers.
Then Bill's only daughter persuaded our only son into matrimony, and I said that as incipient co-grandfathers we should get acquainted. Thus far, Bill had been no more than a summercater, or paying guest, at vacation time and was not knowledgeable about our Maine wilderness manners.
I took him and a wall tent, with gear, wangan, and fly dope, to Baker Lake and the head of the St. John River. There we had our first outing with fly casting in the usual manner and laid the foundation for our joint dynasty. Today, our elder grandson is about to join the Supreme Court, and the younger has already played the St. Andrews golf course.
Content in all directions, Bill and I sit in our respective senior solitudes and recall good times together just as we became grandfathers by listening to midnight loons far up the map and the Caucomgomoc Stream. We had our last woodland caper going-on a decade ago.
Bill's father was an immigrant from Black Forest stock, but more precisely from Bassum, a suburb of the city-state of Bremen, Germany. His Fleisch and Feinkost business in Brooklyn was successful, and although son Bill was brought up speaking German, he lost much of it (he told me) as his father insisted he perfect his English.
Bill became a court reporter on the surrogate level in Westchester County, substantial proof that he had become accomplished in our "outlander" tongue. His good German name of Dornbusch remained intact, however, until a lumbercamp clerk at Seboomook Lake changed it to Downbirch. In Rome, etc.
When Bill and I began our 30-year string of grandfather retreats into the woods, there were those who wondered if we would be compatible. Why should we be? We had nothing in common. He was a city boy; I was not. My folks had been in America since 1613.
But such doubts were dispelled when I found that my companion suited Voltaire's stiff definition of a cultured being: "The true gentleman prides himself on nothing." No specialist on anything, rounded, Bill knew many things about a great deal, and the reason was simple.
As a court reporter, he took down the total records of every action brought before him in the Westchester County docket, and with stout German instincts he did his homework. You can't interrupt testimony to ask how to spell an unusual word, so Bill boned up on every topic he was about to record. In 30 years of camp fireside symposia, nothing came up for which Bill was unready.
Added to this, Bill was a history buff and had lectured now and then to select groups. One of his topics was "Washington's Generals."
Compatibility never came up.
To show our gratitude for kindnesses extended summer after summer, Bill and I endowed the Caucomogommiick Institute of Fine and Coarse Art, an academy whose purpose is to encourage culture in the unpopulated townships of the Maine wilderness. There had been no previous effort in this laudable direction.
Today, any resident may enroll free of charge in our seminars. In addition, our laboratories seek answers to the many problems of woodland management, and we have pioneered the cloning of pulpwood.
Fortunately, our philanthropic efforts came to an end as advancing age prevailed, and Bill and I gave our flyrods to our great-grandchildren. I have just heard that Miss Courtney had her first trout this past season on my rod. She is fourish and was using a silver doctor.
THE great studies Bill and I carried out in our many happy visits to our private paradise, behind the paper company logging road chains, are somewhat classified, but I can safely mention some. One time, we studied pisciculture on Scott Brook and had taken our usual four for breakfast. And as we rested by the stream and refreshed ourselves with lunch, Bill asked, "What do you suppose made all these chainsaw chips?"
It was a good query, for the ground about us was littered with chips and we were not in a lumbering area.
"Sit quietly and partake," I said, "and I may be able to show you."
Minutes later, a flirt of wings and a flash of red overhead brought my answer. A pileated woodpecker arrived and perched on the limb of a maple above us. Almost the size of a crow, this is our "cock o' the woods," and a beautiful thing to see. A limb of the great maple had gone buggy, and he had been boring in the punky wood looking for food. His chips covered the ground.
Now he was back to seek more, and he fell to work like a jackhammer, casting his chips afar. Bill saw his first pileated woodpecker and had his answer. A sight to be remembered always.
Bill now knew why the company clerk in a lumber camp is known as the cock o' the woods, and his office is always called the cock-shop.