Grampy’s Gun

I began the 2015 deer season (gun) with a plan, I wasn’t going sit much. I spent all of bear season and expanded archery sitting 15 feet up in a tree. I needed to feel the ground under my feet. I needed to get on a track, I needed to move slow, pick the terrain apart, guess where the deer would be; I needed to hunt.

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The vast north woods is the last remaining place on the east coast where a hunter can roam for miles.

When you hunt like that you need a gun that you can mount quick, fire fast, and have a quick follow up. You need a gun you can carry all day on the trail and not fatigue.   I had just the gun, my grandfather’s Winchester Model 94, 30-30 carbine, manufactured in 1897.

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A light quick gun is key in  the big woods.

That’s right, the best research I can find is that the 30-30 that my grandfather gave to me around my 16th birthday came out of the factory in 1897. Make no mistake this is no show piece. It’s banged up, the varnish is worn, the nickel is worn, and it took me several hours of cleaning to get the gunk out of the working parts and the magazine. If it’s one thing, it’s a deer killer. From what I remember Gramps got it at a pawn shop and started killing deer with it. The gun has probably killed more deer than I’ll kill in a lifetime. With Gramps moved onto the happy hunting grounds I can say a majority of those were under the cover of darkness. See Gramps was a poacher, not in the sense that he killed for the kill, he killed for the meat to feed his family and other families that he knew needed the meat, and he could trust them not to tell the law. That’s the way it was. I don’t condone it now but I don’t fault a man for putting food on his table.

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Gramps was never too far away from his spotlight and his Bud Heavy

When I arrived at camp Thursday night the forecast was calling for potential overnight snow. I went to bed dreaming of waking up to a blanket of snow, cutting a big staggering, toe dragging track, and dogging that buck until he was down. I had two guns with me, my modern Remington Model 700 in 30-06 with a high powered scope. It’s a heavy beast but has put down over 15 deer between Georgia and Maine, and Gramp’s gun. I’ve never hunted with his gun, It was old, unreliable, and had no glass, but for some reason I thought this year I would use it. I had other “bush guns,” or as I call them tracking guns, but it felt right leaving those in the case at home and bringing the 30-30. I had cleaned it the best I could and it held decent groups at 100 yards, it would do.

Friday morning was a let down, 35 degrees and raining. I decided to sit a stand on the edge of the swamp behind camp and wait for dawn. Once I could see if there was snow at the higher elevations then I’d make the plan for the rest of the day,  I took my 30-06. About 10 minutes into shooting light a little 4 pointer came wondering by, I gave him a pass. I’m a unabashed antler hunter. I know Maine is a, “we hunt for meat state,” and that’s your choice. I know I can get a lot more meat off a buck that’s pushing 200 lbs  than I can from one that’s 100 lbs. Off topic a little, my dad shot that buck later in the week and I was happy for him. If you shoot a buck you’re happy with then you’re alright with me.

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Dads buck that I passed on earlier in the week. I was sure happy for him.

About the time I was getting ready to go check out the mountain and see if there was snow, another deer came into view. This was a smaller 6 or 8 pointer that has the potential to be a real masher next year. He was 100 plus yards away and moving, I picked up the 30-06 to get a look at him and  nothing, the scope was wet, crap oh well I was going to give him a pass anyway. I was wet and I had seen two deer that I wasn’t looking for. Time to make a change and get out of these wet clothes.

I walked back to camp thinking about my options, I knew I could move quick and quite in the rain and I was nagged by this thought, what if that buck was a shooter? I would have missed the chance. I needed to use the only other option I had, the  30-30. After drying out I headed out again with the 30-30. I moved over to the area I shot last year’s deer and the sign was plentiful. while pussyfooting my way along I caught the flicker of a tail and there they were, two does feeding on mushrooms 30 yards from me. This time of year there’s no better attractant than a doe, never mind two. I thought for sure that I was going to see a mature buck, it never happened. The deer moved away and I silently thanked them for the 30 minutes they let me sit and watch them.

From the spot I was at I was going to make my way around and back to camp. Probably a little less than a mile. It was noon and I planned to take the rest of the day. The snow never came but it sure as hell kept raining.  I jumped another deer that saw me before I saw it. When a deer blows when you’re stalking it’s like a punch in the gut. I had just spent the last hour moving 100 yards only to get busted by a deer I never saw or heard, frustrating. You have to shrug it off and vow to do better. At about 3:15 I came  to the edge of the swamp directly across from where I started my day. I was admiring the view of the snow on Katahdin, wishing for some snow at my camp when I saw my buck, he was moving around the edge of the swamp 150-200 yards away, a shot I couldn’t take with the ol 30-30.

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The deer appeared on the far side of this swamp

I knew he was either going to go along the edge of the swamp where I had started my day, or the oak ridge behind my camp. I also knew I was running out of time. I decided to run across the swamp to cut him off. I ran across, plunged into the waist deep water and immediately regretted my decision. I came out the other side wet, frozen, and pissed. I crept up to where I thought I’d see him and nothing. It was getting late and I was miserable. I could take the trail back to camp and be warm, dry, and on my first stiff drink in 10 minutes.  For some reason I decided to keep pushing and check the oaks. I slipped up the hill and was picking the oak grove apart piece by piece near to far left to right when out of the corner of my eye he crossed the ridge to my right. In a flash the gun was up, but not quick enough. I could hear him grunting and thrashing around but couldn’t see him. I always carry a grunt tube and a doe bleat can just in case I need to fool a deer into thinking I’m a deer. I turned the can over and he came running. The sound a good buck makes running reminds me of a horse at gallop. He came out on the spine of the ridge I was on and headed right to me. He had his head down and his rack swinging from side to side, he was trying to pick up the scent of the doe he heard. I had a bead on him but did not want to shoot him in the back of the head. At about 15 feet, he picked up his head to see me kneeling in the middle of his path, this is when it ended. The 30-30 barked and he went down. In that moment a lifetime of memories I had of my grandfather sped through my mind like a slideshow on ultra fast forward. It was something I’ll never be able to explain.

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118 year old 30-30 still gets the job done.

There are things that happened during this hunt that I can’t explain and that’s okay. The thrill of hunting is not in the kill it is in the journey, in the hardships, in the perseverance, and in the connection with our hunting ancestors. Gramp’s 30-30 is back in the gun case, I’ve killed a good deer with it on the deer’s terms. I may hunt with it again or I may not. Maybe someday one of my kids or grandkids will lay down a trophy buck with it and they’ll have a slide show of memories that include me, that would be alright.

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Being My Daughter Ain’t Easy

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A Valentines note from one of my daughters

I have two lovely daughters, Emily who is nearly 21, and Sophie who is 10 but thinks she’s 21. They’re blessed with a loving mother… and me as a dad. I’m a demanding man when it comes to a few things;  independence and toughness. A lot of things cost money, but being tough is free. One of the ways one can become tough is being miserable, I know crazy right? From being miserable you become tough, from becoming tough you become independent. And when you become independent you become free. Free to enjoy all that life has to offer without relying on some dude to be your knight in crappy armor, armor is for wimps anyway.

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Emily and I on Katahdin for her first time

I know  when I say, “figure it out!”  that they think I hate them, in all honesty that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s because I love them and I don’t want their default setting to be ask a man. I want them to… figure it out. Those that know me know that I enjoy a good back country adventure so I’m going to tell you a few that my daughters have enjoyed with me. By enjoy I mean hated.

Emily and the Canoe Anyone that has spent anytime on moving water knows that the person in the bow of the canoe is the lookout. You’re looking for rocks, logs, and anything in general that could upset you’re glorious day. The key is to give the alarm before the canoe is high centered on the rock. Unless you’re Emily. On a bright July day Emily and I took to the river with fly rods and plans for trout. Within 30 seconds of paddling,  a rock slid under the center of the bottom of the canoe Emily said, “rock.” Too late, over we went. We lost the bug spray, my beer, and my mind. I blasted out a blue streak of swears that you can still hear echoing through the river valley.  I called Emily, a “liability” as we stood knee deep in the river holding onto what we could grab. Now here is the decision point, pack up and go home, or fish. The easy route pack up and go home. My route, we’re fishing damn it. Although she was upset by my reaction to her canoe capabilities she soldiered on, we had a great day, she learned canoeing and flyfishing. And I was reminded that you can catch fish without beer.

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Emily exercising her independence

Sophie and the Missing Outhouse Since the two older kids have moved out Sophie has become my only on hand outdoors adventurer, and often misadventure partner. We decided to try a new trail near our camp that would include hiking, fishing, and hiking some more. When I say we, I mean me. I drug an unwilling Sophie along. Off we went early in the morning. Sophie is an accomplished hiker, she has reached the summit of Katahdin twice, and she’s only 10.

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Sophie on the Katahdin Abol Trail

But on this day she wasn’t too into it. Perhaps it’s because it was early June and the bugs were bad. Perhaps it was because it was windy and cold, or perhaps it was because the trail was boring. It didn’t matter we would push on. There was yelling, there was begging, there was pleading, but I did not give in. As we reached our first destination,  the pond where we planned to fish, Sophie said, “I have to go to the bathroom, the number 2 kind.” Great! But wait up ahead at one of the primitive campsites was a sign. Written in big block letters was the word. “OUTHOUSE!” Praise Jesus! We scurried up the outhouse trail for a long time, nearly a quarter mile. We could see where other weary hikers hit by the effects of their breakfast of greasy bacon had let down their guard and had to do an emergency blow. Was this some sort of sick joke. Then we saw it. In the middle of a mosquito infested forest. A box with a seat on it. There was no house in this outhouse. I won’t give you the details but the visit to the latrine involved me providing the cover of a constant bug spray cloud while my daughter did her business, I used nearly a whole can of Deep Woods Off, oh what fun we were having.

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The house part is missing.

We did manage some good trout, got some great views, and I’m pretty sure she can poop in any public place, a common phobia for most people. Mission accomplished.

My stories often come off as funny, but in reality the stories and memories that I’ve made with my girls are that of pride. Because in every adventure, or misadventure they learn to be independent, to persevere, to figure it out, and in the process they have become and are becoming strong independent women, ready to meet the challenges of life. I couldn’t be more proud.

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A Miserable “Mud Pond” Trip to Cleanse the Soul

As a Maine Guide, and a native Mainer, I learned long ago that you don’t just give away good fishing spots. I also know there are about a billion Mud Ponds in the state of Maine. So when someone asks me where the fish are biting I always say they’re biting at “Mud Pond.”

This is a story about a remote hike, paddle, portage, fishing, and bushwhacking trip that was nothing short of miserable, and also glorious.

My son Tyler is the real writer. He has an adventure blog at: www.livindeliberately.com I’m sure he got his writing talent from his mother, it’s a lot better than mine. He’s a grown man with a real job in Vermont. Like me he’d rather wander the ridges and mountain tops than be inside.  Also like me he has responsibilities and has made commitments that he must honor.

He came home for the Memorial Day Weekend. I sensed that he was a little worn out from the grind that is life and I knew I was. I hatched the idea that we’d have an epic adventure to a remote trout pond far from the reaches of man. I didn’t account for the blackflies and mosquitos… My bad.

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The trail to the lake that led to the paddle that led to the portage.

 

It started off with a two and a half mile hike to the stashed canoe on “Mud Lake.” She was right where we left her this winter. Nobody was going to take her, she was well guarded by at least 10 million black flies. After I inhaled my yearly intake of fly based protein we were in the water paddling like we could hear banjos in an effort to leave the cloud of insects behind us. We succeeded with the help of a strong headwind. Normally when one paddles a headwind is a curse. Not today! It was a blessing, the mosquito Air Force returned to their home base. I think they were able to radio ahead though.

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A good headwind allowed us a quick break from being eaten alive

After a mile paddle we hit the pull out point. The portage was about a 1/2 a mile up hill. “Portage” for those that don’t know, is a fancy word for carrying your canoe upside down on your shoulders while you nearly suffocate yourself with your head inside. Suffocation would have been a welcome relief from the massive amounts of blackflies that poured into the upturned canoe. The buzzing inside the canoe was only matched by the loud thuds amplified by the metal canoe when the trail turned to avoid a tree but we kept going straight to impact said tree. Every once in a while we would set the canoe down, drink some water with black flies mixed in, and make inaccurate guesses as to how far away “Mud Pond” was.

 

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A stop to pick the flies out of our teeth.

We finally made it.  Being at a higher elevation we got an intermittent breeze. When it blew we were given a break from the flies. We got geared up to fish, ate our ham sandwiches almost free of flies, and slipped the canoe into the remote “Mud Pond.” I sure hoped it would be filled with native, never been touched by man, brook trout.

 

 

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It’s ponds like this that I love to fish. I bet less than a dozen people a year fish this water.

It was about noon, and I was tossing a sinking golden stone, my son was throwing a floating Royal Coachman. On his first cast, and on almost every other cast, he caught a fish.  I quickly dug out my dry fly box in search of a Royal Coachman, I didn’t have any. I tied on an Adams, it turned out the fish liked those too! If I had to guess we caught over 100 brookies in an hour and a half.  If we left a fly dangling in the water at the side of the canoe while we measured a fish, or just took a break, a brookie would come up and take it. It was nothing short of amazing. All the fish were in that frying pan perfect 8-10 inch range. I know there were bigger fish to be had we just couldn’t get to them.  I couldn’t tell you if there were any blackflies around. I was too busy to notice.

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Days like this are rare for so many different reasons.

 

 

I made the decision to leave the canoe there and hike back to the truck over the ridge. We stashed the canoe on the eastern shore of “Mud Pond,” headed out with our limit, and our blackfly friends providing us an escort. I had hunted the area before and thought I could hit an old logging road that would make walking easier. I did, but it took me awhile to find it. Fun fact; bugs can’t bite if you are scraping your skin off with brush for a mile. At one point Tyler broke out in hysterical laughter. He said, “this is the most fun I’ve had being miserable in a while.” I had to agree. I finally hit the tote road and we cruised the last mile and a half to the truck. The blackflies came too.

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Found the tote road just in time to get Katahdin in the background.

We made it back to camp for Happy Hour. After cleaning the fish we bored his mother with stories of the  miserable fun we had. We left the next day.  Tyler went back to Vermont, I went back to work. I texted him from my office, I’m sure he was in his. I said, “man I wish I was fishing that pond again.” He said, “that was seriously awesome.” Neither one of us mentioned the blackflies. Trips like that, doing something completely outside of what most will do for a few minutes of living in the moment are worth the effort. The outcome is more than a sack full of clean fish, it’s also a clean soul… and some bug bites.

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there is nothing like a native brookie.

We Are Responsible For Us

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I just spent two very long fulfilling days teaching a free Registered Maine Guide Course to 26 Maine Veterans in support of House in the Woods with support from the Cole Land Transportation Museum. I spent a lot of time designing a course that could support such a large group, and give them the skills they would need to go down to Augusta and pass the test with the state of Maine. There were a lot of late nights of preparation, and as the first day approached there was a lot of self doubt. Those of you that know me may be raising an eyebrow at that, yes I wasn’t sure I could do it. You can’t fool these guys and gals, you have to be authentic or they’ll see right through you.

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Map and Compass work on day one.

 

The course went fine, learning occurred, and I am 100 percent confident that they all, if they choose to take the exam, will pass. But that’s not really what’s important. At the very beginning we went around the room and everyone introduced themselves to the group. As the introductions went on I could feel a giant release of tension in the room, collectively we all realized we were around our people. We were in a place where it was ok to have a little morbid humor, to poke fun at each other, and to crack a jokes that would make a normal person cringe. Jokes like, “what is a dutch oven?” “hint, it’s not when you fart in bed and pull the covers over your spouses head.”

As we went along I had a conversation with a few guys that were in Fallujah at the same time I was. I haven’t talked about Fallujah in a long time. I’ve haven’t been in Fallujah for 10 years. I’ve thought about it plenty, Fallujah never leaves you. Surprisingly it was nice to talk to someone who got it, who remembered the streets, the smells, and the lack of all things decent except each other.

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Fallujah never leaves you… and that’s OK

 

During the second morning several students individually came up to me and said they were really enjoying the course, it’s something they wanted to do for a long time, and that they appreciated what I was doing for them. That was a great feeling. To have someone truly, and honestly thank you for helping them. I don’t know if they had any idea that what we were collectively doing was helping each other.

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Most veterans already possess the skills they just need to be refined.

 

I closed the course by challenging the room to pay it forward. They’ve been given an opportunity to use the skills learned to help another veteran, or a veteran organization. They have an obligation to do that, we are our own greatest strength as veterans. I finished by saying, “we are responsible for us.” I truly believe that. I’m very happy with the end result, and it has nothing to do with the curriculum.  I hope they all go on to earn the Maine Guide Patch that I proudly wear, and they realize how lucky this country is to have people like them. -Semper Fi

Don’t Wait

I’ve recently  heard about people very close to my age who  for one reason or another,  died. Yup, one minute they’re there, and the next they’re gone. No warning, no long drawn out illness, no last words, just dead and gone.

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Don’t wait to enjoy a day like this. We have no idea when our trip around the sun will come to an end.

That got me thinking about all the things those folks wanted to do but put off. What a shame that they never got to do whatever it was they were hoping to do, something they really enjoyed.I guess we all have a certain amount of sand in our egg timer, we just don’t know how much we have. I’ve decided to not wait to do the things I enjoy. That’s partially why I guide, why I try to live a life outdoors, and also why I write. I enjoy those things. I don’t want to feel the grim reaper tap on my shoulder and think, “crap! Give me a few months, I really want to….”

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Don’t wait to go cast a line, at some point you’ll regret it.

 


	

Just an Old Canoe

I don’t have much left from my childhood, I’m sure most agree that when you’re 44 years old there really isn’t a viable reason to be wearing your high school letterman’s jacket. Those little league trophies were cool… When I was 12. And I seem to be getting along just fine without my Van Halen 1984 album. One of the few things I do have is my canoe.

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Many a family member learned to paddle on the Orange Rocket

I can remember when my dad brought it home. It was orange then, and was missing a seat. Dad probably got it for $50 bucks, or took it in trade for something.  He put a seat in it, and it became my means of transportation. The brand was Monarch. Most of the paint was scratched off, but she was water tight, paddled well, and fit me just fine. I was probably 12 when I would take off onto the little lake we lived on to catch bass. I would dream I was in the Bassmaster Classic competing against Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin. I’d read about them in the magazine stacks at the school library, I thought I could win Bassmaster in that little canoe. Many a bass caught on Mirror Lake put me over the top by a few ounces for the Mirror Lake Bassmaster title.

I had a couple of good boyhood friends, Kris Otis, and Jason Labriola. Kris went to school with me, and we’d spend most of our summer together shooting hoops, playing baseball, and trying to be cool. Jason lived in Massachusetts… he was cool. Ask him and he’d tell you.  His parents had a camp on the other side of the lake. Jay would arrive sometime in June with stories of the big town of Wakefield, Massachusetts. All three of us would pile in the canoe, paddle out, and tip it over. We’d roll each other around and around. Kris earned the nickname “airtank” because he could stay under forever. When we’d get bored trying to drown ourselves we’d duck under the capsized canoe and poke our heads up in the air pocket underneath. Under there, safe from the ears of adults, we’d lie about all the girls we kissed, and how much beer we stole from our dads.  We all knew the other person was lying, but the stories were good. I don’t really talk to those guys anymore. There’s really no reason why, we just grew apart. If I ran into one of them today I bet we’d talk about those days on the lake and how things turned out a lot different than we planned.

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The old canoe flip was always a fun joke to play on your friends.

When I got a little older my parents and their friends decided on a camping trip on the Saco River. We’d canoe the rapids, camp, and have a grand time.  Kris had to come with us, I needed a canoe partner, my parents were happy to let me invite him.  Off  Kris and I went  in the orange rocket. the rapids seemed like they would swallow us up. With Kris in the bow and I in the stern we rolled through rapid after rapid in my canoe.  Every other canoe on the trip capsized at least once. My parents capsized with my brother Jason in theirs. When they tried to get Jason back in the canoe the boy let out a string of swear words that would’ve made a drunk sailor blush. Needless to say it’s probably been close to 30 years, and I don’t think Jason has been in a canoe since.

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Loading up the Astro van for a trip down the river.

Kris and I were as cocky as barn yard roosters when we reached the last set of rapids. We’d remained dry on our first ever big rapids trip. One more small ripple and we were champions, at least in our own minds. Then I put us on the rocks. Over we went, and the orange canoe quickly folded under the current into a nice u-shape on the rocks. I was devastated. The canoe was stuck, and we couldn’t move her. Kris and I made our way to shore, and I promptly took an ass chewing for leaving the canoe in the river. That’s when Winthrop P. Houghton Jr. saved me. “Wink” as he was called, was a family friend. A free spirit, and a real Mainer. He lived in an old barn that we was forever trying to convert into a home. His bedroom was in the cupola. He had brown lab that would either bite you, or lick you to death, you never knew which. He was able to fix anything, and do some amazing finish work as a carpenter. Wink and my Dad were partners of sorts although I don’t think there was every any formal agreement. They both just seemed to work well together. Wink was a kind man, perhaps the most kind person I ever met. He didn’t want anything other than to be present in his life, and the lives of those he cared about.

 

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My canoe on Wink’s truck. I stole that truck to get to basketball practice. I missed my ride because I was tracking a deer. That’s another story.

 

Wink took a rope, waded through the current, and tied it to the canoe. He attached the rope to a tree with a loop, tied a weird loop knot down the rope, ran the tag end of the rope forming a Z.  With a quick tug the canoe was free and we hand lined it up to shore. Wink had used  mechanical advantage to free my canoe. We were all impressed. She was shaped like a U but we stomped on her as best we could to straighten her out. When you sit in her now she still has a nice bend, and even better memories of that day.

Not too long after that I went to boot camp. My canoe was used by anyone that wanted to use it. My brother Billy probably used it most. Every winter she was tucked away under the porch to sleep until ice out. Where she would be capsized, dinged, dented, and fished out of again. I don’t think it ever let anyone down.

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In her winter resting place at my childhood home.

At the midway mark of my Marine Corps career I came home for college. I was married with kids and not a ton of money. I wanted to get back into fishing and teach the kids how to fish. I brought the canoe up from Newfield to Orono and promptly painted it green. The Orange Rocket was now the Green Jet. Tyler and Emily took their first canoe rides in that canoe. My good friend Eric and I almost died of dehydration on a day long fishing trip. My buddy Chad and I had a day where we caught over 100 bass on the Penobscot in less than 6 hours.  It was only temporary. I had move again, and the canoe went to rest at my parents new home, off the lake. I don’t think it was used much for the next 10 years.

We’re using her now! She’s been living at camp Ernest Living. My daughter Emily and I took her on her maiden voyage on the West Branch. Emily was in the bow, I was in the stern, Emily was looking for rocks. We hit one, tipped over, lost my beer, and my mind.  We emptied her out, I found my mind, and Emily went on to catch her first fish on a fly. My friend Greg and I carried her down to Hale Pond last year and spent the evening remembering when we were bullet proof. We didn’t catch any fish but that’s not really what that night was about.

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Greg in the Bow with Katahdin in the background

My son and I took it duck hunting one morning. I sunk in the mud up to my chest and the only thing that stopped me from going under was the side of the canoe. I thought we would have to call the fire department to pull me out. That’s another story too.

This winter Billy and I did something we’ve talked about doing for a while. We took my canoe to a way back pond.

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The best time to get a canoe in is in the winter.

It’s  about 2 miles from the nearest parking area, on the edge of a small lake. If you paddle across the lake you can portage up to a mountain pond that is filled with native brook tout. We tied it to Billy’s Bearcat snowmobile and I followed on mine. Billy’s son Eli supervised, he’s really good at supervising. We got her in and cribbed up so the water in the spring won’t bother her. I know that when I hike in this spring she will be waiting for me with orange showing through her scratched green paint, her slight curve from the Saco rock, and more memories than one guy should have from an old $50 dollar canoe. My hope is that someday I’ll hike out there with my grandkids, show them the secret path to the stashed canoe, and tell them that she’s all theirs if they promise to remember the man who gave it to them, and the stories he tells them about his adventures.

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Billy and I with the canoe all tucked away and ready for another lifetime of memories.

Drill, Tap, Collect, and Boil

 

Lets get something clear upfront! I’m not talking about that  high fructose pancake poison with its fake color and artificial flavors. I’m talking about that from the tree to the vanilla ice cream Maine maple goodness. The process is simple; drill, drip, collect, and boil. The total cost to make your family and friends a year’s supply of sticky sweet goodness is almost free, unless you’re figuring time into the equation. Here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Find your maple trees in the fall. Any maple will do. Don’t get caught up with subspecies, they all hold sap. Bigger trees are better. Walk around your property in the peak of fall foliage with a can of spray paint and put a mark on the trees you want to tap. How do you know it’s a maple? If you don’t know what a maple leaf looks like drive south and turn in your Maine driver’s license at the York toll booth, never come back. Don’t drive to Canada, they’re a big fan of maple.

Step 2: in November start saving your jugs, whatever you can get your hands on. Milk jugs, tea jugs, big, small, round, or tall love them all when it comes to jugs. Wash them out, and put them in storage somewhere by the lawn furniture, you won’t be needing that until you’re done with the jugs. Go online and order some taps.  The matriarch of “Planting Roots Farm” has got us up to 125 taps now, we started with 24, it’s an addiction. We also got some plastic tubing, the price was minimal. Probably a good thing I didn’t have her search for jugs online. The internet can be a dangerous place.

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Milk jugs work great and don’t cost a dime. You were going to toss them anyway.

 

Step 3: Watch the weather. Once again, if you’re a Mainer you’re watching it every night at 6 o’clock anyway. If you’re not, you’re probably one of those folks that run to the supermarket and buy up all the bread and milk when you see a few flakes. When it gets to late February start looking for a string of three or four days of below freezing nights and warm days in the 40’s, that’s when you got to tap em! Load up your jugs and taps, cordless drill with a good bit, (make sure it’s charged, lesson learned.) Then trip up over the snowbank to your sugar dispensers. Drill at an upward angle, tap in the tap until it’s solid, hang your bucket/jug on there somehow and wait…  and wait… and wait. You’ll finally get a drip and you’re sappin, or as the more sophisticated folks say, sugaring.

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Straight from the tap.

 

Step 4: Collecting the sap and boiling it down is probably the most fun at the beginning, and most mind numbing by the end. You need an evaporator. I made my first one out of an old filing cabinet and a pan from Goodwill. That worked fine for 25 taps. I’ve since upgraded to a 55 gallon drum on blocks and surrounded by cinderblocks. This year I even used my limited “building skills” to somehow punch a hole in my shed wall and run a stove pipe outside. Now we’re sapping inside! I came across a 55 gallon plastic drum with a spigot on the bottom to store the sap waiting to boil.  I also bought two 40 gallon trash cans at Lowes for 12 bucks each.

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Lets hope it’s still standing at the end of the season.

 

You’re also going to need wood, lots of it. I get most of my wood from pallets. Everyone that owns a business that takes deliveries has them and nobody wants them. Drive around and when you see stack of pallets go in and ask, or if they’re stacked by the dumpster assume they’re trash and just load them up. I’ve never been stopped by the pallet police.

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Before work pallet patrol.

 

The key to boiling is getting as much sap going at a time. It takes like 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.When boiling the sap you need 3 things: Sap, firewood, and beer. The rest of the things are just nice to have, those are must haves. Just keep it boiling! I use three pans, one as a warmer, and two to boil. As the boiling pans get low I add from the warming pan. I then replace the sap in the warming pan with cold sap from the bucket. Once I have about 2 gallons or so left on the boil, assuming I started with about 50 gallons, I test it. I have fancy hydrometer that a friend of mine bought me, but the bottom line is if it looks like syrup you need to start thinking about taking it off. If you’ve run out of beer don’t even think about it, take it off, funs over. Run it through a strainer, cheese cloth is great. If anyone still wears panty hose I hear they work too. (Note: this is a joke.)  Then take it inside and boil it down on the stove until it measures 69brx on the hydrometer, or looks like syrup to you. The other option is to put it in the refrigerator and finish it another day when your not so tired and tipsy. Don’t boil drunk, it’s a good way to loose your eyelashes and eyebrows. In all seriousness, the hydrometer is the way to go. It guarantees that you have the right amount of sugar content for legitimate syrup and a longer shelf life.

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Finishing off on the stove top.

 

Once your syrup is boiled and still hot, strain it one more time and jar it up. Use whatever you want for a jar. We use Mason jars. We plan give most of our maple magic away as gifts.  Make some pancakes and enjoy.What you made came from your land and your hard work provided it.

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Two different batches. They never come out the same, but they sure do taste good.

 

You can probably go online and find much better instructions on how to make syrup. Just don’t search for jugs.

Get outside – Jim