Canoe Seat Parenting

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while you may have noticed that I have an affection for the simplicity of a canoe. I think I have six in my fleet right now, I’ve yet to figure out how to paddle more than one at a time. It could be because it was my first taste of independence growing up on a small lake. My canoe allowed me to escape on my own for what I thought at the time were grand adventures. It could be because some of my fondest memories as a child involve my brothers, my parents, and I with assorted friends and family doing canoe trips on the Saco River and other smaller rivers. I can still feel the water spray as we hit rapids, I can still hear the pounding of the water as I rode along in the current.   It could be that the first real purchase my wife and I made as I evolved into a woodsman was an Old Town Guide Canoe. We ventured into the factory outlet in Old Town and I saw the most perfect canoe. We didn’t have a lot of money. Like many times before, and many times since my wife saw the spark in my eye as I imagined being in the stern navigating some wild river. She said, “buy it.” I did, and I was as happy as I could be. (Side note, never trade a good canoe, I wish I had that Guide back.)

Now, as a parent, I’ve discovered a different use for a good canoe, parenting. If you haven’t been told, or haven’t figured it out, parenting is hard. Sue and I have raised two adult children and have an eleven-year-old that is rapidly becoming a challenge to her sister and brother’s title of most difficult. I’ve found that the best way to reach them is to put them in a canoe.

Will she be the most challenging? Time will tell.

The bow seat of a canoe is a great place for a kid to sit. They have their back to you as you blubber on about doing the right thing for the right reasons, and the warning about giving into peer pressure. They are free to roll their eyes and yawn without you noticing.   I’ve discovered with my youngest child a new twist to my canoe parenting technique. It’s very important that they have a paddle. It’s not to help you propel your parenting vessel of wisdom along, it’s to keep them from grabbing their phone to text their friends about how lame their dad is. 

Having them in the front seat also allows you to show emotion. In my case my son and I were in a canoe a few weeks ago. He was in the bow seat filling it with his man sized frame. He’s 24 years old now. I watched as he made powerful strokes with confidence. I flashed back to taking him fishing and him sitting in the bow seat with a paddle that was two feet taller than he was. I remembered his lifejacket that was two sizes two big. I remembered when he was teenage boy and I took him fishing not to catch fish but to talk to him about how to treat a woman, and his first real girlfriend. I can still see his neck turning red as we discussed the “S” word, and I don’t mean salmon.  I also remembered wondering what kind of man he would become. A few weeks ago I realized the answer was right in front of me. 

I watched him grow in the bow seat

The most vivid memories I have as a canoe parent is of my middle daughter. Always a free spirit, and a fighter, we would verbally spar as we tried to cross a windblown lake. She gave as much as she got and beat me in several arguments, forcing me to resort to the age old parenting technique of, “I’m the adult that’s why,” to stop the fight. One day the dock broke free from its anchor and was blowing down the lake. I grabbed my daughter and said, “let’s go.” The wind was blowing a gale and there were some monster white caps. Off we went in the canoe. We tossed, turned, and bungled our way down the lake. We secured the raft to a tree along the shore and walked back to the house. She handled herself in the bow well, I on the other hand fought to keep the boat tracking well. In the heat of the moment I blamed her, I called her a “canoeing liability.” Well that was that. She was done paddling and because of my poor canoe seat parenting I missed a lot of canoe time with her until she was willing to get back in a boat with me. Funny side story, when she finally did get in again we promptly dumped the canoe in the river and lost half our gear. I had learned my lesson though. It was my fault not hers, I was the liability. 

Emily on a West Branch adventure.

Now I’m left with one more bow person to raise. We’ll fish, we’ll talk about rights and wrongs, and the importance of self-worth. I’ll teach her the proper strokes and how to read the water. Just like her brother and sister before her she’ll teach me that the bow is not the only place a person can learn how to be a better person. The person in the stern can learn too. 

The Industry?

I was cruising one of those online hunting channels with the state of the art bows, guns, camo, calls, and the flashy girls. You know, the ones that have product in every shot.  I thought to myself, cripes on a cracker this doesn’t look much like hunting.” About when I was about to click off, the very loud and animated host of the show said something like this, “In the industry of deer hunting, you have to be cutting edge.” He was all dramatic, holding some overpriced knife, probably made in some third world sweatshop by an 8 year old. “Industry? friggin industry?” It’s hunting bro. People use to do it with spears. Alright I get it. People make money on hunting. I try. I don’t even break even. Maybe I should be more industrious?

A basic bow and a wool coat from Goodwill can get it done.

Nah.  See you don’t need the greatest camo. You don’t need to bath in the freshest doe piss $100.00 can buy. You don’t need a $1200.00 rifle that has more attachments than a Marine infantryman’s black gun. You don’t even have to travel to far off exotic places to have a good time. You can hunt right in your area and be successful.  What you need is the two W’s; will, and wood sense.

Will. The most important aspect of a routinely successful hunter is will. You have to be willing to get in the woods year round. You have to be willing to deal with rain, mud, and bugs in the spring. Heat, dense undergrowth and bugs in the summer, and deep snow and cold in the winter. You have to have the will to get up morning after morning during your chosen season and get after it. I mean really push. If you’re a stump sitter, you need to push to sit still and be alert. If you’re a tracker you need to push to read the pieces of the puzzle the deer is leaving and not just trudge along half in a daze wondering why you left your warm bed. If you’re a waterfowler you have to push to break ice, set out a good decoy spread, and have the discipline to wait for the best shot.  Whatever your chosen form of hunting is you have to have the will to push beyond what is comfortable. When you do that you’ll see your success sky rocket.

We had the will to carry this stand 2 miles back.

Wood sense is a little harder. It comes with time. Understanding the flow of the terrain, the flow of the animals that use it, and how they come together. Understanding preferred food sources, and the subtle sign your quarry leaves in the snow, in the mud, or on the trees. Understanding how the wind affects waterfowl. Learning migration patterns and generational stopping points along those patterns. Knowing where to get the good southern sun on a cold day. How to build a fire if you get stranded? How to administer self-aid if you get hurt. How to navigate using a map and compass. I really believe that most people don’t push themselves because they fear getting lost, getting injured, or getting dead. A little fear is good for you. Know how to use your compass, have lineal terrain features like roads, rivers, and streams to guide you, or stop you, and you’ll be fine.

All of these things I discussed are free. I buy my hunting clothes at Goodwill. I have a great rifle now, but for years I hunted with one that cost me $200 and a 12 pack of Budweiser. I killed my biggest racked deer to date with that rifle. I carry a twenty-one-dollar compass, a 10-year-old GPS, a bottle of water, some matches and a knife that was given to me as a gift. I do alright.

This ol boy fell to a $200.00 rifle.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money.  You need to have the will, develop the wood sense, and realize that the trophy is the journey, not the kill. All of which is nearly free, however the return on your investment is a lot more than if you get caught up in the industry.

Don’t know where to start. Hire a guide to get you pointed in the right direction.

Sitting at the Camp Table

My wife and I recently bought a new camp. It sits out on a point and you can see Upper Lead Mountain Pond out three sides. On our first weekend there I got up early, set my icefishing traps, and sat at the camp table with a strong cup of coffee, everyone else was asleep. My mind drifted back to one of the last fishing trips I took with my grandfather. I was about 16 years old. 

Our new camp on Upper Lead Mountain Pond

We loaded up his car in Sanford, Maine and headed to a camp on Springy Pond, east of Bangor. The camp belonged to my grandfather’s brother David Brooks. We were going to meet David, as well as another one of my grandfather’s brothers, Bob Brooks, and a cousin Bob LeBretton. We arrived at camp to find three men well into their cups, and a camp that was somewhere north of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. These men liked their camp hot.

The camp on Springy Pond

The next morning out we ventured onto the frozen pond. My grandfather’s auger sputtered and smoked and eventually fired. He drilled one hole, handed it to me and said, “it’s running good, drill the rest.” I was quick to figure that was twenty-five holes through two feet of ice. As I finished drilling hole number two of twenty-five, I turned to find my party of mentors going back inside. It had been ten minutes since they put logs on the fire, I’m sure they were concerned it had dropped below the minimum 90-degree mark.  

The only hole they drilled all day.

Determined to show my manliness, I drilled all the holes and went to setting my traps. With the buzz of the old Jiffy still ringing in my ears, and through the haze of two stroke smoke hanging over the pond I saw the party of three come back outside. They quickly set their traps and back in they went. I followed wondering if they even put bait on their hooks.

Uncle Bob putting in a trap, notice no bait bucket in site.

Inside I was greeted by the amazing smell of Uncle Bob’s potato friccus cooking in cast iron on the glowing wood stove, and bacon and eggs sizzling on the stove top as I thawed out. Staring out the window I eagerly awaited our first flag. No one else even bothered to look, weird.  Just about the time I was supposed to eat, Gramps directed me to go check the bait in the bait tank.  David had a brilliant set up to keep his bait alive and fresh. A stream along the side of his camp flowed into a 55-gallon drum tipped on its side, and out the other side. A door cut in the top with a light bulb was enough to keep it from freezing. Screens at the inlet and outlet kept the bait from making a break for it, which I was debating doing except I had no idea where I was, or how to get back to Sanford.

I checked the bait. The shiners seemed to be having more fun than me. I went back inside to report to my tormentors all was well. I got a semi warm breakfast, and was asked by the two Bobs if I brought any money? I thought back to my preparation for the trip. Right before I got in the car my grandmother handed me a Tupperware bowl filled with loose change. She said, “in case I need it.” Why in the hell would I need five dollars in nickels and dimes, I’m sure she kept the quarters. Was my grandmother in on this initiation to Brooks manhood? As soon as I answered the two Bobs that I had some change a deck of cards was produced.

What followed was nothing short of a robbery. The three men I was so eager to learn the secrets of icefishing from didn’t teach me anything at all to do with icefishing. Slowly they whittled away at my Tupperware container while at the same time asking me to fetch drinks, bring wood in from the outside, or check for flags, they never looked. Just about the time I was down to a few dirty nickels I was asked to go skim the holes. Skimming the holes for people that don’t icefish means going and cleaning out the newly built up ice around the traps. The first time I asked if they wanted me to check their bait, they said in unison, “no.” Weird.

As the afternoon went on I began to realize that every time I was sent out to do a chore I would return to find a few more coins in my precious bank made of molded plastic. I was on to them. They were sending me out to give me a few coins to keep me in the game. I listened to them talk about growing up in Orono, and getting in fights behind Pat’s pizza with the college boys. I listened to them talk about their successes and their failures, and their what if’s. Somewhere late in the day one of the Bobs gave me a beer, gramps gave me one of his favorite lines, “don’t tell your grandmother.” At the end of the day they took all my money. The sun was going down quick. We went outside and took some pictures. I’m guessing to prove that we actually went to the camp, we didn’t have any fish. They actually picked up their own traps, I know now it was probably because they didn’t want me to know there was no bait on their hooks. We went inside and I heard more stories. I fell asleep to the sound of three men snoring the night away.

They even made me take the pictures.

Early the next morning we parted ways. Gramps and I kind of grew apart over the rest of my teenage years. I will forever regret that. I was a teenage boy filled with piss and vinegar, making my own memories that I may share someday while sitting at the camp table. Telling another one of the Brooks descendants to go fill the wood box. While he’s away I may drop a few dimes in his Tupperware to teach him about life, but I may include a little fishing lesson too.

Gramps and I. What I wouldn’t give to have him at our camp table.

Authors note: They may have drilled more than one hole, they may have baited their hooks, but I get to write it as I remember it because they took my money. An indisputable fact is we never caught a fish.

*Don’t miss the opportunity to have these moments. You’re never too busy to take a few days for an adventure. Don’t know where to start, hire a guide, you won’t regret it.

Why ME?

We just went through one of those winter cold snaps that just hurts. The cold air actually hurts your face. The news folks tell you to bring your pets in. The trees crack in half from being frozen, and dubs state wide throw pots of water in the air to make instant snow. On my fourth trip of the day to the chicken coop to swap out the water the thermometer read -20 degrees. I watched the water freeze about half way to the coop. The chickens looked at me with their weird chicken eyes as if to say they heard the weatherman say bring them in. Icicles of snot clung to my beard after my two-minute trip “north of the wall.” I went back into the house, broke off the boogercicles frozen to my beard, looked at my wife and said “why Maine?”

Looks like fun huh?

We’ve lived in lovely places like San Diego, Coastal Carolina, Chesapeake Bay Maryland, and Miami, Florida to name a few. We would swim in our pool under the palm trees on Christmas Day and laugh at all the people we knew in the frozen north. One could say in hindsight I’m a damn fool for moving back here. On days that it’s colder than an outhouse seat in the Allagash I can almost agree… almost.

Maine’s a place of freedom. I know New Hampshire jumped on the live free or die marketing genius before Maine did. In reality Maine is equally, or even more free. I can walk out my back door with my rifle and hunt until my heart’s content. I can fish any body of water I can get onto and nobody will tell me I can’t. I have access to thousands and thousands of acres of privately owned land that owners allow others to use. Any fee I pay is minimal and goes to maintaining the dirt roads that go on forever; I just leave it better than I found it. I can go places without cell phone reception, or even roads. It is truly that last free wilderness of the east.

It really costs nothing but gives us everything.

Maine is unique in its makeup. People like to say there are two Maines. I disagree, we’re like 50 Shades of Maine without all the kinky stuff. (Authors note: Mom don’t read the book I just referenced) There are people that have no desire to enjoy the wilds of Maine with a rifle, but hike Katahdin every year. There are people who love the state but never go to places like Jackman, Lubec, or the Allagash. They never venture north of Augusta. Then there are people that would only be caught in Bangor, Augusta, or Portland if it was tourney time. For people from away tourney time is when entire towns shut down to follow their high school basketball teams. It’s a true melting pot. We have people that live off the grid 45 minutes from Portland. We have island communities that rely on the ferry for resupply. There’s one common thread in all of these peoples make up. They will help each other when the chips are down.

Cadillac Mountain is a site to see.

 I vividly remember my dad plowing the ice with his pick-up truck for us to play pond hockey when we were kids. We’d play until we were so cold we’d have to cut the laces to get our skates off. One day he got a little too close to the shore and in the water he went. It was about 4 feet deep. He climbed out the window, surveyed the situation and knew he needed a dozer. He went to talk to our only neighbor. My dad and our neighbor were two different Mainers. They didn’t, and still don’t share a lot of common ground except they were, and still are good Maine men. The neighbor came over, surveyed the situation, looked at his son and said, “go get that brown bottle with the black label way back under the sink.” After a few hours of chainsaw work, several pulls off the bottle of “ol number 7” and some tugging with the dozer the truck was out. The neighbor went home, my dad got yelled at by my mom, and all was back to normal. There was no offer of money and no request for any, just tipsy neighbors that went on to resume their cold war.  

I guess that’s why Maine. Its more than a place. It’s more than the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. It’s more than a buck track in the snow in the big woods. It’s more than lobster dipped in butter. It’s more than a fly rod and a native brook or a coastal striped bass.

The key to a good lobster feed is knowing a guy that gets you the off the boat price.

It’s also more than the people. More than the junk collecting guy down the road that can help you out in a pinch when you need a part for your mower. It’s more than the vibrant entertainers and artists in Portland and other coastal towns.  It’s more than the town meetings where selectmen and women can’t do anything right, but nobody want’s their job. It’s more than the old veteran that lives down the long dirt road and wants to be left alone. It’s more than the manufacturing and innovation. It’s more than the Guides that take so much joy from others experiencing the woods and waters.

I guess that’s why Maine, and why me.

The Greatest Weekend Every Winter “Who invited the girl?”

Just as I’m about to lose my mind shoveling, filling the wood box, and paying the propane guy for his seemingly weekly visit to fill my tank it happens, Schoodic Derby Weekend. I’ve fished dozens of derbies in Maine. Schoodic is by far and away the best. The scenery is amazing with blue skies and Katahdin looming to the north, the fishing is usually good, and the company is top notch. It’s my unofficial notice that spring is just around the corner. Schoodic is my ground hog.

Katahdin is always there.

An icefishing derby is a fishing tournament. The Schoodic Derby is a fishing adventure. Every year a few weeks in advance we start planning. How many sleds do we need? How much bait? Who’s bringing food? Is the lake safe? Then it happens, and all that planning goes out the window. Someone’s sled breaks, someone else forgets the propane, one guy forgets his boots, you name it and it’s been forgotten, except beer, we never forget beer.  We always scramble to get enough crap together to enjoy our two days on the ice. Then there’s actually getting to the lake. See Schoodic isn’t surrounded by hotels. You have to know somebody who knows somebody who has a camp to stay in or you’re staying on the ice. Over the last three years we’ve had the pleasure at staying at a very nice camp because of a friend of a friend.  That’s one of the special things about my Maine. If you associate with good people, it’s assumed that you to are a good person, there is a trust there built solely on your reputation through others. This year the cast of characters staying in camp were our friend Tony, his son Colby, my brother Billy, his son Owen, and our friend Luke. At a quick glance you notice we all pee standing up that will be important later in the story.

All’s good in a nice warm camp.

We take our ice fishing pretty serious. We use several online apps to see the contours of the bottom. We use fishfinders to mark fish. We tend our traps with the delicacy you’d give fine china. We’re there to catch fish. We usually do well. For the last two years my nephew Owen has been in the lead for the youth division right up until the last minute.

Owen’s 4lb Lake Trout

This year fishing was a little slower. We caught a few short salmon but never could catch the 23-inch monster we were looking for. We marked fish while jigging but they barely paid attention to any of our offerings. We did catch a fish here and there but nothing like the normal fast action we experienced in the past.

Even our very own “fish whisperer,” Luke was having a hard time. It’s been said that Luke can catch fish in a bath tub. In the particular place we fished this year he usually smashes the lake trout. We think it’s because he dropped his cell phone down the hole into 100 feet of water in this spot two years ago.

Luke had to work for them this year.

All Saturday morning, we struggled to get on the bite. Frustration mounted. Then it happened. The girl showed up. Our good friend Tony is married to our good friend Sally. Sally is, and always will be a country girl. She can back up a boat trailer, shoot a bow, track a buck, and do all the country things that make a girl country. She’s a lovely woman, and a great friend. Sally could only fish for the day because of other commitments. She only needed 15 minutes. She set her traps, started chatting with the crew of intrepid ice walkers and wouldn’t you know it, she got a flag. After a 5-minute tug of war she iced the biggest fish if the weekend, a 4.5 pound Togue. We all congratulated her, but after a 3AM wake up, a freezing morning, and little fish my only thought was, “who invited the girl.” To be honest I think I yelled it.

Who invited the girl?

The day went on. Sally didn’t gloat much, there were a few more fish caught. (none by me) we got a nice visit from the world famous owner of Boot Life Magazine and her husband. A very friendly biologist came and explained to the two boys the importance of what he was doing for fish research. Family and friends stopped by on their snowmobiles with hamburgers and hot dogs and we enjoyed a beverage or two. All in all, despite the tight lipped fish, it was a hell of a derby.

At the end of the day we retired to the warm camp, had a few more beverages, and gorged on deer chili and other gastrointestinal challenges. Sunday brought little excitement and only one fish. We packed up, left the camp nicer than we found it, and headed our separate ways home only to be brought together again by a call from the southern Maine bound contingent, they lost a tire on the trailer. Luckily I had a new spare. The slick they had for a spare was not going to make the four-hour trip to Newfield. Tony the professional tire changer made short work of the tire exchange and we were all homeward bound. We’ll talk about the things that happened Schoodic weekend all year long. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Trailer tires are always fun.

Just Friggin Relax

I was recently informed about something that made me laugh snot bubbles. The Readers Digest version of some keyboard warriors problem with my writing is that I talk about the consumption of alcohol while conducting dangerous activities.

Well yes “Saint Perfect,” I have mentioned the subject of drinking wobble pops. If you care to refresh yourself on some of my writings you’ll see that I was telling stories of days of yore, when men were men, and really didn’t give a flying rip what others thought. There are still some of us today.

Nowhere in the story telling did I say I condone the activity, it happened, I wrote about it, MOST people get that it’s story telling and move on. There’s always the option of not reading my work, shutting your mouth, and continuing on with your day, the preferred course of action in most cases.

If you decide that running a chainsaw while stoned, driving a snowmobile while blitzed, hunting while hung down with the brown bottle flu is a good idea, you sir or madam are an idiot, don’t do it. You’re a danger to others. If you decide to complain about me telling stories of my life, that I witnessed/lived, piss off, I don’t have time for you.

It’s Not the Place, It’s the People

Uncle Rodger, Dad, Jason, Me, Greg, Billy, and Eric. Good people make good times.

After almost a year of mental debate I recently decided to sell my camp in the Maine north woods. When I bought the place I thought I would have it forever. It was all I had dreamed of. My wife and I put a serious dent in our meager savings to buy it, and after my first deer season there, where I tracked and killed a wide nine-point buck, I knew I had found my piece of heaven.

My first deer track kill at camp

Things change. I became a guide. The camp is on a lease and the lease holder does not allow commercial operations on their land. Their land, their rules. I tried to keep the camp for family, and look for another place to guide from.  Unfortunately, money has yet to grow on trees. I was at a crossroads. I wanted to grow and expand my guide service, but the times I spend at my camp are the greatest times of my life.

The third week of November every year is “camp week.” It brings my father, my uncle, my brothers, and some great friends under one roof. For a week we chase whitetails, play cards, eat like kings, and even drink a beer, or 200. They’re all special people to me, people who have stuck with me through thick and thin. I saw the camp as my gift to them. The all have keys. It was as much theirs as mine. 

The nightly poker game is a staple at camp week

The weekend following Father’s Day is always the weekend we all gather to climb Katahdin.  Eager anticipation on Friday night turns into a day long climb on Saturday. People struggle, swear they are going to get in shape before next year, and encourage each other. Saturday night after the climb if you’re not the first one to sleep the sound of exhausted, successful mountaineers will keep you awake, the snoring almost sounds choreographed.

Good climb, great people.

Thanksgiving is for family. We all gather there and play cribbage, rummy, and lately this ridiculous game where you put a dental torture tool in your mouth and try to get your partner to understand the clue you are reading from a card. The laughter and the amount of drool is epic. If you were to stand outside the door and listen you’d think we’d all gone mad.

My nephew Eli playing a ridiculous game called “Watch your Mouth”

Summer brings lazy days floating on the river, lounging at the sand bar at the bottom of Abol Rapids, and fires on the deck as the sun sets in the west and the moon illuminates Katahdin. We walk to our favorite fishing spots, catch trout and salmon, and enjoy each other without the distractions of the modern world.

Brookies on the fly rod.

Winter brings the challenge of getting in by snowmobile, warming the place and then mid-night snowmobile rides through a remote forest that few people ever get to see. We may icefish a remote lake, and then go to our camp neighbors place to feed the deer we just chased a few months before from our hands as they try to make it through the harsh winter.

My daughter Sophie feeding a friendly doe at a neighbors camp

This deer season I was coming back from a day of tracking, it was already dark. I was thinking about selling the place for a long time. As I walked up the steep driveway the camp was illuminated beautifully. Inside I could see my wife, my brother, his wife, my nephews and daughter. It was a perfect picture. It was then I realized that it’s not the camp it’s the people.

A great place to come back to because of the people who are inside.

So the camp is under contract. I will buy another place and we will make more memories because a camp is a wooden structure with stuff in it. It’s the people that matter, and I am surrounded by some great ones.