Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Land Posting Keeps Foragers Out

What a letdown. What a sad commentary upon our culture…or lack thereof. I went out to pick fiddleheads this week and found no less than three of my favorite, old-time sites posted. You might ask why I don’t just call or visit the landowners and ask permission. It is certainly the thing to do. But I’m old. And I was brought up understanding something called, “permissive trespass.” That means that if land isn’t posted, anyone can legally venture upon it for whatever reason. So if someone nails one of those gross-looking yellow “posted” signs on every tree and telephone pole, that tells me that they don’t want me around. And I never was much of a one to stay where I wasn’t wanted. In my youth, few people ever posted their land. We all respected each other and it was simply understood that it was mean-spirited to put up those ugly yellow signs. It was demeaning toward the one putting up the signs. In my mind, it still is. I simply cannot like someone who does that. It’s a terrible thing, too, for me to feel that way and I admit it. But the old ways are gone. Things have changed and continue to change, and fast. It is certainly a landowner’s right to post, but so often people do it because they can, rather than because they need to. That needs re-stating. To post for no other reason than it is your right is just plain mean. There is just no other way around it. I was brought up in Mid-Coast Maine and now I feel as though it is no longer my home. Things have gotten that bad. I would move and am considering moving, but don’t know where I could go to find the old-time Maine way of life intact. Is it possible? I don’t know. Where can one go to find a place where people love their neighbors? Where is it that we still have respect for our fellows and welcome them rather than work to keep them at arm’s length? I still don’t know. But enough of this sad philosophizing. I called an old friend today, a friend with lots of land, a friend who does not post because he considers that a mean thing to do. And his land has lots of fiddleheads. I went and picked as many as I needed for myself and also, for the World War II veteran who I supply with fiddleheads each year. So there is still some good in this world. I apologize to my readers for harping upon this topic, but it has become so troubling. A way of life, a culture, is fast disappearing and in fact, is more alive in memory than reality. But old dogs have trouble changing their ways, and I’m surely an old dog of the Maine-woods type. So while my heart breaks every time someone new purchases and posts a beloved bit of wild land that I have roamed since my youth, I also see that it does little good to wallow in despair and longing for the old days. The old days are gone and will never return. We may as well expect our dead grandparents to arise from their graves as to think that things will go back to the way they were. So I, and we, must look to the future, to what remains. And plenty remains. We live in a vast, forested state and thankfully, various private groups are purchasing wildlands for posterity. I do think that land trusts and similar organizations are our greatest hope. By the way, when walking on my friend’s land, with permission, I got enough fiddleheads for myself and also, to give a heaping portion to my almost 90-year old American hero. So that’s good enough for me for the time being. May your days afield be filled with sunshine, warmth and a growing love and respect for the ways of our forbears and for our wonderful natural world.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tick Season 2012

It’s tick time again in Maine, time for a nightly check.

I went fishing in a stream in Camden yesterday and came home with more than I bargained for. I caught lots of trout, which was nice. But on the way home, I smelled something foul. Yes, I had stepped in dog droppings and it was jammed in the lugs of my shoes. This made for an unpleasant ride home.

Then this morning, while putting in eye drops, I noticed something on my neck that wasn’t there before. A closer look revealed little legs…a tick had embedded itself in my hide.

The home health book said to cover it with petroleum jelly prior to pulling it out with tweezers. But all that did was make the thing slippery. It was deeply imbedded and I knew that just pulling out the body would lead to far worse problems down the road. So I called a sharp-eyed friend and he said I could come over and he would try and remove the tick, intact.

But the thing was so deep that parts of the head and mouth remained. He had to use several different tweezers to dig and probe. Again, this was unpleasant for me.

I had been, up until last night, faithful about doing a body check before retiring. But I was so tired…I decided to let it slip. What a mistake. The one night that I failed to check resulted in a deeply-imbedded tick.

Anyone in the State of Maine is susceptible of being attacked by a tick, a tick that carries a potentially-debilitating disease, Lyme disease. So the slight inconvenience of stripping and inspecting every inch of skin each night is far outweighed by the potential results of not checking.

And now when Monday rolls around, I must make a doctor’s appointment and bring the tick in for inspection. It is always important to save the tick for the doctor to inspect. It is more than likely that I will once again need to take a prophylactic dose of antibiotics. This always raises heck with the stomach but again, it beats the alternative.

So please, my friends, take care and do check yourself every night for ticks. It could literally save your life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brook Trout Not So Noble

I thought I’d seen it all. But today I witnessed something that totally upset some preconceived notions.

On the way to town to pick up some medicine, I stopped, on a whim, and began fishing a small stream. One thing led to another and I forgot all about going to town and after catching two small trout, decided to head to another stream in order to fill out my catch.

As luck would have it, fish were in. This place holds trout, but only at certain times of the year. My normal calendar for judging these events was skewed this year because of the unusually warm weather in late March. Normally, this stream should not hold fish for at least another week if not another two weeks.

Anyway, luck favored me and I took two more fish, these considerably larger than the trout I had taken from the first stream. My trip to town now long forgotten, I went home to take care of my fish.

Before proceeding, let me say to those who don’t share my extreme enthuiasm for trout fishing, that all fish are not created equal. Salmonids, meaning trout, salmon and togue (lake trout) occupy a lofty position in the hearts and minds of people like me. We attribute all sorts of virtues to trout, while eschewing spiny-rayed fish such as bass.

This goes even further. Of all the salmonids, our native brook trout is most revered. The ephemeral symbol of unspoiled wilderness, the fish of dreams, superior in every way. Brook trout are the pinnical of glory to any dedicated trout fishermen.

We revere our brook trout. We also attribute all manner of characteristics to brookies, attributes which may or may not exist. One of these is trout’s delicate palate. While bass and pickerel, perfectly unsophisticated fish, will willingly bite on the most garish and cumbersome lures, brook trout only dine upon the most dainty fare.

This idea of brook trout sophistry is of course,widespread among trout fans. We fish for trout with tiny lures and flies, using refined tackle. The clothes-pole rods and crude reels used by bass fishermen will not take our sophisticated trout.

All these thoughts were pretty much tossed out the window today when I knelt down and began cleaning my fish. The largest trout, a hair over 11 inches long, was extremely fat. I assumed its belly was filled with ephemera, mayfly larvae, the only suitable fare for such a royal fish. I was wrong.

Pulling out the viscera, I notided a long, thin object protruding from the stomach. It looked at first like a stick, but it wasn’t that. Then I assumed it was a partly-digested minnow, a coarse thing for the “sacred” brook trout to eat, but everyone falls short of the mark once in a while.

I grasped the long object and slowly pulled it from the trout’s stomach. It was a frog’s leg. This revolted me, as you may well imagine. I kept pulling and found, much to my horror, that the leg was attached to a body and in fact, it was an entire and very live, frog. The trout must have only recently eaten it.

I recoiled, dropping the frog. It crawled away without even thanking me for its untimely and unexpected deliverance.

I cannot fully express my feeling of disgust. How far the noble have fallen. Chivalry is dead, virtue meaningless.

It will take me some time to recover.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Opening Day 2012

I have faithfully participated in opening day of trout fishing season for nearly 60 years. Floods, blizzards, freezing temperatures often dampened my spirits, but still I went out.

It is my habit to awaken before dawn in order to hit the streams at daybreak. But this year, at least for a while, it appeared that my record would end. I had caught a cold that turned into something even worse and this included chills and even a 4-a.m. case of hives.

So I called my fishing buddy and told him he would have to go it alone this year. He was worried, since he knew how much opening day means to me. But I was physically unable to participate. So I went back to sleep and slept until 9:30, at which point I dressed and prepared for church. I’m a member-in-discernment at Brooks Congregational church, which is to say I’m a lay preacher in the process of becoming licensed.

And this was Palm Sunday, my first Palm Sunday. I had worked hard on the service and dearly wanted to attend, and I did. But it was on shaky legs, to say the least.

While walking into church, I met my friend Ray and the first thing he asked me was “How many did you catch?” I revealed the sad truth that I was ill and did not go fishing…for the first time in nearly 60 years.

During the service, Ray asked to make an announcement and he told the congregation my story about being too sick to go fishing. And then he passed me a can of sardines, saying that now I at least had some fish to take home.

Everyone broke out laughing, including me. I was touched, too, to know that people cared.

After church I went home and sat down. The sun shone outside and the temperature was nearing 50. I still felt poorly, but not quite as bad as earlier. While I wasn’t quite up to a long or extended trip, it seemed that a brief excursion down a local stream (one that few if any people fish because of a dense, alder jungle that makes travel terribly difficult) and at least give a try at redeeming myself.

As it turned out, the stream was red-hot, filled with trout. I lost many, because it was impossible to lift them out of the water on account of the dense canopy of alders, vines and other impediments. But I managed to release four and keep 5.

Returning home, I pondered my day. And while I was grateful that I was able to once again hit the streams on opening day, I thought about my morning’s catch, that can of sardines.

I think if I had to rank the morning and afternoon in order of importance, I would choose the morning. That can of sardines meant more to me than all the trout in the world.