Naturalist by Day, Troubadour by Night

AFTER our recent visit to friendly Canada, we returned home by way of the Jackman road, through a wilderness hunting area where "sports" gather in season to restore the jungle man at great expense and to the profit of indigenous citizens known as "Registered Maine Guides." In passing, we saw a sign with an arrow pointing up the side of a mountain:HUNTING CAMP 4 RENT Full Color Cable TV

I used to be a comical, and colorful, Registered Maine Guide. It cost me $5 a year to get a license, and I used to practice my eyahs and witty insults all winter so I could amuse the clients who came to hunt and fish under my care. I was noted for my hilarious witticisms and pithy remarks, and for some time was booked full for a year ahead. The Maine guide did have some useful duties to perform, such as doing the cooking and showing sports how to load their guns, but he earned his money during the long fall evenings as he entertained. When the evening shadows brought the day to a close, and the hunters staggered weary into camp to remove their hunting shoes and relax by the crackling fire, he would start supper and begin his recitations. He ceased to be a woodlands expert and a naturalist, and became a troubadour. Any Registered Maine Guide in those days could have gone on the B. F. Keith Circuit and become rich and famous. Addie Malm, I remember, used to listen to Fred Allen on the radio and say, "What a great guide he'd-a made!." He had talent. Back when I guided, I did best with my story of the skinny cat that sneaked through a knothole into the dingle and stole food. I could draw that story out if we had a rainy day and everybody stayed in camp, or I could cut it short if folks wanted to get to bed. The cook t ook care of the cat all right. He tied a knot in the cat's tail so it couldn't get through the knothole. One year I guided a school superintendent from Pennsylvania who went home and tried to sell that story to Reader's Digest. It was his misfortune that the prior year I had guided Burt MacBride, who was a senior editor of Reader's Digest, and Burt had told his crew not to touch that one with a dory sweep. Which shows what the true function of a Maine guide was supposed to be, and how we old-timers kept thi ngs on a high literary plane. But we got a new fish and game commissioner one year, and he was an insensitive sort who cared little about culture, but looked upon the guides as a source of income. He began hiking the price of a license, until I - and a good many other guides - quit at $25. We felt the price was greater than the honor. Then the commissioner got the idea that a guide should know something about guiding, and he began giving tests about woodscraft and poling canoes, and things no true guide needed to know about. The late st thing is to make a guide pass a Red Cross paramedic first-aid exam, so he can help a distressed sport. Even our daughter quit at that. She had kept her license paid up not because she ever did any guiding, but because she sometimes demonstrated "How to Present a Lure" (or, "How to Bait a Fishhook") at Rotary Clubs and high school assemblies. She sometimes used the story of the knot in the skinny cat's tail. She also told how Ed Grant rowed his boat so fast the friction on the water set it afire. But she gave up her license rather than bother with Red Cross stuff. One thing and another have pretty much put the Registered Maine Guide out of business. It's a shabby lot that still pays the fee and just guides; hardly a good story has been heard in years. So that sign we saw as we came down the highway past Attean Lake tells you rather well what has happened. Today's sportsman, coming a long distance to renew his composure in the happy haven of the deep Maine woods, past all the flags marking snowmobile trails, doesn't need any guide to cheat the tedium of long evenings in camp. What about Johnny Inkslinger, the lumbercamps clerk, who left the dots off his i's and the crosses off his t's and saved seven barrels of ink during the winter of the blue snow? W ho cares? The sport can let the guide go to bed. The sport can flip a switch, and the camp is full of senators investigating harassment. In color.

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