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With temperatures dipping into the 40s and splashes of color on the wetland maples, there’s little doubt that fall is upon us. Coming back from the “Great North Woods” I saw bear hunters in action and moose hunters scouting for game. The Golden Road was alive with activity and not all of it had to do with logging!
It’s the same with us here in central Maine. Newport has long been a hub for sporting activities. Hunters leave Interstate Route 95 and get on Route 7 to head north, stopping to eat, buy supplies and gas . . . things will liven up around here for the next few months, or at least retailers certainly hope so!
Cool weather definitely stimulates those who derive their joy from being outdoors. The simple act of sitting on a rock by a stream or pond and fishing seems infinitely more enjoyable than rummaging through the attic for things to sell or give away, and if I don’t see another lawn mower this year I’ll be thrilled.
While busying myself with the serious business of trying to catch a trout, I noticed a lone Canada goose swimming upstream against the current. First impressions mean a lot, as the saying goes, and this gander looked poorly at best. His neck was long and thin, his feathers disheveled. He had been injured in some way because one wing was bent and twisted over his back. Still wild, still alert, the bird was doomed. This I could tell when he walked out of the stream and hobbled over to a small island of alders where he sat staring at me for over an hour. Utterly non-goose-like, he was quiet, reserved and decidedly slumped over. Obviously in poor health, unable to fly and lacking the imperious spirit of a healthy goose, it was obvious that this bird would not survive the winter. Sad to say, but not all in the wild world is pretty and serene.
This was not the first time I’d met injured waterfowl in the woods. One year while deer hunting in late November I heard the plaintive quacking of a single duck on a beaver bog I was planning to hunt my way around. It was cold and still that day, so the black duck’s loud call carried far across the flowage. All of the area was covered with ice, but when I crept close to the beaver dam I saw that there was a tub-sized opening in the ice and there was the duck, swimming in circles and quacking for all he was worth.
I climbed the dam to get a better look and knew instantly that this duck was injured and was not going south with his buddies this winter. A healthy duck would have leaped into the air with a splash and a squawk at my intrusion, but this bird just kept swimming in circles and protesting his predicament.
I put my crosshairs on him for a moment and knew that a shot from my deer rifle would end his misery, but then I thought better of it; not because it’s illegal to shoot waterfowl with a rifle but because with life there is hope, and he seemed to be full of life, just unable to fly. What he would do when the pond froze over completely was uncertain, but ducks do not do well in frigid weather with snow coming and no food available. Plus, predators of all sorts would quickly take advantage of such an easy meal, so the odds were against him.
He was too far out in water too deep for me to attempt a rescue, so I bid him good luck and went on with my hunt. I want back a few days later and the pond was frozen and silent, no sign of the duck. It's just another sign that it’s a tough, unforgiving world out there.
I lost interest in trout while sitting there contemplating the future of the Canada goose I’d just met, but nature is fluid and ever-changing. Walking up the trail from the stream to a campsite where I’d parked to fish, I noticed that one of the trash barrels beside the picnic table was rocking back and forth on its concrete pedestal. Thinking a raccoon or skunk had gotten into the barrel, I stood back on the trail to watch.
After a few seconds I was surprised to see a yearling black bear, maybe 50 pounds if that, pop out of the barrel with something edible he’d found inside.
The cub sat on the ground like a three-year-old watching Sesame Street, cupping his prize in his paws and licking away at what looked like the remains of a loaf of bread. Turning the bread as if it were an ice cream cone, he rolled on his back, feet in the air, and took his time finishing his snack.
I wasn’t overly worried about Mama Bear being nearby – this guy was old enough to be on his own and had obviously mastered the art of barrel diving. I watched him for several minutes as he climbed into the barrel, grabbed a tidbit to his liking and then lolled in the grass as he ate. The little bear was fat, happy, healthy and content - this is nature the way I like to see it!
The next time he got into the barrel I snuck by and made my way downstream to a nice, deep pool where I knew there were some trout to be caught. At this time of year the limit is one fish per day but that fit my plans perfectly. I had a can of sliced potatoes, a few slices of bacon and a bag of bannock mix in my pack; all the fixin’s for a streamside lunch.
Rather than dread the signs of fall, I prefer to revel in them. It’s cooler outside with few bugs to bother, the air is crisp and clean, the sky is its brightest blue – what more could one ask? With a trout sizzling in the pan and a cup of hot tea in hand I ask myself, “Wouldn’t you rather be doing yard work?”
I don’t think so!
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