After driving north to check the water level in the North Branch of the Dead River for the weekend canoe trip, we took our ATV into Forrestís camp, a.k.a. The Tree House, to see how it faired over the winter. The porch has lifted a bit from frost, but thatís nothing that canít be fixed. His camp is on Penobscot Indian land and is the reason he, then I, started coming up this far north to Eustis: to be near the wilderness.
Itís a strange sensation, being on Native American land, especially when I remember that once past the access gate, I am in another nation - a sovereign nation. The thing that sets Alder Stream Township apart from the rest of the Maine backwoods is the limited right to use it granted to white man and the small number of natives that frequent it; therefore it is twenty-three thousand acres of rough country where wild things reign.
I have seen those wild things, but can only tell stories about them, because I constantly forget to take my camera to prove it. Like the time I watched a Fisher chase a coyote, or the day I witnessed a baby moose, just a few hours old, nudge Mama Moose awake to warn her of my presence. Mama Moose must have been napping after giving birth. Mama rose and reluctantly walked away, while baby followed on shaky legs. Baby Moose looked back over her shoulder at me several times as if to ask, "What kind of animal is that, Mama?" I was obviously babyís first human. It remains only a memory for me because I did not have a camera.
There are many other times I wished I had taken my camera with me on my excursions in the wilderness:The time I called a Bull Moose out during the rut and to my surprise he answered with his presence. The time I saw a chipmunk bite the head off a grasshopper and eat it for lunch. Or the day I watched a rabid rabbit drink a puddle dry.
Iíve seen a Golden Eagle. Iíve seen a hawk drown a pigeon.
There was the hunting trip that Forrest and I, armed with the confidence of a 30-30 rifle, stopped looking for the elusive deer long enough to watch mama and baby bear scratch the fallen leaves out of the way for the newly dropped Beech nuts hidden beneath. We used the rifle scope as a monocular for a closer look. Scope? Yup. Camera? Nope.
I donít have proof that the cat print in the snow on the Snow Mountain Trail was larger than my palm. Nor do I have evidence of the beautiful bobcat that magically appeared in front of me, and then just as quickly vanished. I donít have a picture of that squirrel perched atop a dead birch tree eating a mushroom. I donít have a photo of the hummingbird hovering nervously behind the woodpecker, waiting to drink the sap released from the holes punched in the spruce tree by the pileated bird as he searched for grubs under the bark. I have nothing but my mindís eye to remember these incredible, untamed things I have witnessed. Iíve seen more chipmunk, raccoon, beaver, coyote, muskrat, squirrel, otter, fox, mink, weasel, skunk, and porcupine than I can bat an eye at, but not through the eye piece of my camera.
I decided, today, to change that. I took my weighty 35 mm Canon camera, telephoto lens and filters in the woods with me. I carried the heavy thing around my neck as we hiked up the old skidder trails now known as Blue Barrel Road and Picnic Table Road. I carried the camera until the spot between my shoulder blades burned more than the muscles in my thighs and I thought my neck could not possible hold my head up any longer. The camera bruised my side, slipped around to my back to attempt to mark me there, chaffed the tender skin under my arm and thoroughly annoyed me the entire trek. But soon I would be rewarded.
It is hawk mating season and Forrest and I were lucky enough to spot four: two Red Tails and two Broad Wings in their flight of fancy- their mating dance. The male sat in a tree and screeched until the female heard him from afar and floated by, taunting him and the photographer in me. Then the hawks graced us with their presence and their beauty for several long moments in full view. I had plenty of time to open the camera case, focus, zoom in, re-focus and take a deliberate, planned shot. Finally, Finally! Praise be! Finally!
I will, from this day forth, forever and always take my camera in the woods with me. And hopefully next time, Iíll remember to bring film.
L.E. Hughes is a columnist, writer and owner of Diamond Corner B&B in Stratton, Maine. She welcomes your thoughts and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© June 2005 Lew-Ellyn Hughes. All Rights Reserved and Retained by the Author.