Just like the big city

SOMETHING made me think of it the other day, and it's sort of amusing. Friend Gus had called me on the telephone and said, ``How are you fixed to take a week off?'' ``Did you have some particular week in mind?''

``You got the choice of 1 out of 52. How about next week?''

So Gus said he had invited some friends from the National Rifle Association in Washington to come up to Maine for a week in the backwoods. ``Nice chaps,'' he said, ``but tenderfoots, and they've never seen our wilderness.'' I was supposed to come along and help entertain them. ``Might be fun,'' said Gus. And it was, in a way. At that time our commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game was Roland T. Cobb, and Gus had been on his official advisory committee. As a consequence, Gus ha d a blooded bird dog that he had named after the commissioner. Commissioner Roland T. Cobb was the dog's official name registered with the American Kennel Club, and one day the real Commissioner Roland T. Cobb said to Gus that he wondered if it was all that much of an honor to have a dog named after you. Gus said, ``Eyah, but how do you think the poor dog feels about that?''

Well, Roland T. Cobb had given Gus the privilege of using a department warden's camp for this visitation. The camp hadn't been used in some time, but it was tight and big enough, and it had dishes and so on. The camp was far up in northwestern Maine, just over the boundary from Daaquam, in French-speaking Quebec. We had to go to Daaquam first and then back into Maine over a private logging road built and maintained by the International Paper Company.

The Canada customs office sat thus, then the international boundary, then the United States Customs Office, and next a chain across the road to exclude anybody without a pass. IP kept a man there to lower the chain for proper traffic. All this was in daytime hours only, and we came through early in the afternoon to open the camp, stow the food, choose our beds and bunks. There were three chaps from the NRA, Gus, and myself, Dean Fisher and Bud Leavitt, and two game wardens -- Hank Gauvin and Doc Blancha rd. Hank was a district supervisor and Doc is a wildlife biologist who also builds beautiful canoes. The three NRA boys proved to be companionable, and we started supper.

We had steaks and planned on camp-fried potatoes. Green peas and other with-its. Hank was stirring the dough for yeast rolls and Gus was designing a big salad. The cookstove was humping, and the camp felt and smelt like a good place to be. Darkness comes soon in Maine Novembers, and Hank said, ``I guess maybe it's time to light the lamps -- fiat lux!''

Well, we had kerosene lamps, but none of them had any oil. We found the kerosene can out in the dingle, bone-dry for a long time. We hadn't fetched oil, presuming there would be some. One of the NRA boys said, ``I'll go back to Daaquam and get some,'' and another said, ``I'll go with you; we'll take my car.''

Off they went, to find the IP chain man departed, the two customs offices closed and empty, and the chain securely locked. They ducked under the chain and walked the distance into Daaquam village. Here they found the sawmills idle and nobody around, the store closed, and the presumptive hotel dark and vacant. They roused a man but, knowing no French, they resorted to pointing at the empty kerosene can and saying, ``Kerosene can!'' The gentleman, knowing no English, enthusiastically corroborated th is: ``Oui, canne pour kerosene!''

The two chaps came back to camp, which by this time was dark -- we had flashlights but they aren't much help making supper and setting table. Gus held one for me while I stirred the potatoes, Bud held one while Hank attended the yeast rolls, and Doc held one while Dean fondled the beefsteaks. Supper, when ready, was taken rather much in the dark, and there was a subdued company. We left the dishes and pots for attention in the morning, and everybody turned in for a long, dark night that ended with sunri se.

This was 20 years ago, and on the same precise night that New York City had its famous blackout -- which we learned about next morning over an automobile radio. We got kerosene in Daaquam as soon as the store opened. And it goes to show that we folks up back can have everything the people have in the big cities.

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