Archive for December, 2011

Lynx Sighting!

photo credit: Conway Daily Sun/NH Fish & Game

Although Canada lynx do exist in Maine, they are extremely rare and most Mainers will go an entire lifetime and never see a lynx.  Which is why I can’t believe my good fortune – – I’ve seen two in two years, the most recent just two nights ago!  In both cases, I was driving at night when a lynx suddenly dashed across the road.  The darkness of the night, combined with the speed of the lynx meant that unfortunately I was unable to get a picture, so you will just have to believe me when I say it was definitely a lynx in each instance.

Today’s Conway Daily Sun (New Hampshire) has an article about Canada lynx, which I’ve reprinted below.  Recently there were sightings in northern NH, and since I’m only 6 miles from the ME-NH border and our property abuts the White Mountain National Forest, it doesn’t surprise me.  It’s always a thrill to spot wildlife in the wild!

Canada lynx documented in Northern New Hampshire

Dec 14, 2011 4:55 pm

CONCORD — N.H. Fish and Game biologists have confirmed the presence of four Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in northern New Hampshire. The fact that the lynx appeared to be kittens is evidence that the wild cats are breeding in the Granite State, an expansion of the population across the border in Maine.

This month and last, four lynx were seen and photographed in two locations in Pittsburg, on two different dates. It is unknown whether the four were the same on the two occasions, but it seems likely based on the close proximity of the sightings.

“The presence of lynx in New Hampshire demonstrates the effectiveness of the wildlife and habitat work that’s been done in this region over many years. It’s exciting!” said Fish and Game wildlife biologist Will Staats. “We expected the population to expand into the state eventually, and we’ve been seeing signs for a few years that they were at least passing through.”

Since 2006, there have been seven cases where lynx tracks have been seen and photographed in New Hampshire’s North Country. In spring of this year, Staats himself witnessed an adult lynx crossing a rural road up north.

“Until now, we’ve considered lynx in New Hampshire to represent animals that were wandering from the larger lynx population that is present in Maine as a result of recent declines in snowshoe hare abundance,” said Anthony Tur, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Lynx are highly reliant on snowshoe hare as a food source. There are an estimated 600 to 1,200 lynx in Maine, concentrated in the northern part of the state.

“Lynx are an amazing predator, and they were historically a small but significant part of the wildlife mix in New Hampshire,” said Steve Weber, chief of Fish and Game’s wildlife division. In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Weber stated, “We’re actively monitoring lynx in the state and taking steps to ensure the health and growth of the population.”

“Serendipitously, Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program recently received funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate formal surveys for lynx,” John Kanter, nongame program coordinator, said. “The sightings add a note of excitement to our efforts. The nongame program’s recent fund-raising appeal centered on the lynx project, and the timing of this discovery will hopefully help to engage more wildlife enthusiasts as supporters and donors to the program.”

Lynx are listed as “endangered” in New Hampshire and as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. They occurred in small numbers in New Hampshire through the 1960s; the last documented lynx in New Hampshire was a road-killed animal found in 1993.

At about three feet long and 15 to 30 pounds, Canada lynx are at least twice the size of the average house cat. They have long, strong legs; short tails; prominent ear tufts; and long sideburn-style hair on the sides of their face. Lynx are often recognized by their huge, furry paws, which help them travel over deep snow.

Because of lynx’s reliance on snowshoe hare, their preferred habitat is young, regenerating forests that offer excellent hare habitat. New Hampshire is at the southern end of the Canada lynx’s natural range.

A Little Maine Hu-muh

Yes, people from Maine realize they talk funny and love to make fun of themselves and their “downeast” accents.  I took this photo yesterday in Renys, a Maine discount store.

In case you haven't figured it out, that's "fire starter."

Go, Grandma, Go!

Dot Ela with the seven-point buck she shot Nov. 23. credit: Conway Daily Sun

Great-grandmother bags a deer and moose

Conway Daily Sun
Dec 09, 2011 6:45 pm

FRYEBURG — An 83-year-old great grandmother of eight scored an incredible hunting double play on either side of Thanksgiving, as Dot (Charles) Ela of Haleytown Road bagged a 175-pound, seven-point buck Nov. 23 and a 610-pound cow moose Nov. 25.

“I was pretty excited. I had not gotten a deer in three years, and this was my first moose hunting permit in 31 years,” said the sharp-shooting mother of six and grandmother of seven.

Physically fit, she says she likes to stay in shape by taking walks on hiking trails near her home.

She said she has been hunting since her oldest, now grown son Charles was 10.

“My brothers and dad hunted when I was growing up in Chatham,” said Ela, who was one of 11 children raised in a log cabin. “I started hunting about 53 years ago, when my oldest son turned 10 and needed someone to go with him. That’s when I got my first license.”

Her late husband Donald, who operated Ela’s Sheet Metal Shop that is now run by their son Ronald, “hunted once in a while, but not as much as I did,” she said. “I started by hunting with friends, a couple, and they told me what I should know, I guess. I just liked it.”

She bagged her buck the night before Thanksgiving off Haleytown Road in late afternoon, accompanied by her sons Ronald and Bruce Ela. They had been out since about 3 p.m., having headed into the woods after that day’s heavy snowstorm had ended.

Because it was getting dark, they did not know for certain if she had bagged the buck, so they went home just down Haleytown Road and did not return until the next morning.

“Sure enough, it was right where they thought she had shot it. It was a perfect shot,” said Dot’s daughter, Rhonda Ela, of Conway.

The day after Thanksgiving — Black Friday — was the next-to-last day of Maine’s moose hunt by permit season.

When many women her age and younger might have donned their shopper orange to head to the outlet malls on the traditional kick-off to the holiday shopping season that day, Dot — once again accompanied by Ronald and Bruce — put on her hunter orange and went out at dawn. They got her cow moose at about noon, also off Haleytown Road.

“In both cases, it’s a spot where I waited. I didn’t track them. I have seen tracks there going across the road all the time,” said Dot.

She used Bruce’s .270 rifle for both kills, giving him her .35 Remington to use.

“It doesn’t have too much kick on it, no,” she said to a reporter’s question. “I shot the deer at maybe 50 yards; and the moose a bit further away but not much.”

She said she has bagged approximately 20 deer over the years.

A great cook, according to her daughter Rhonda, Dot next will set about making roasts and stews.

“I like to roast and stew the meat, and cook up the hamburger meat, too; stuff like that. The steaks I’m not so fond of,” she said.

‘Unusual feat’

Bill Swann, director of licensing for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Augusta, said 10 percent of all Maine hunting license holders are female.

“I would say this is pretty unusual, yes,” said Swann, “although we do have a lot of [male] hunters who are in their 80s. I often hunt with a good friend of mine’s dad who is in his 80s, and he is amazing. He would walk circles around most 40-year-olds.”

Swann said 3,862 moose permits were issued in Maine this year. Information on this year’s hunter success rate for moose is still being tabulated, Swann said. The last day for regular firearms hunting season for deer was Nov. 26 in Maine, and those tallies are also not yet available.

In New Hampshire, Kent Gustafson, deer project leader of Fish and Game, says the total deer kill as of Nov. 27 was 9,723, up from 9,339 at the same time in 2010. The deer regular firearms season ended Dec. 4. The deer archery season continues until Dec. 15 except in Management Unit A.

As of Wednesday, Oct. 19, a total of 212 moose had been taken in the 2011 New Hampshire moose hunt (147 bulls and 65 cows). That means that 52 percent of hunters holding moose permits had succeeded by the midway point in the state’s moose hunt, which is in line with a typical year. The nine-day season ended Oct. 23.


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It was not an easy decision but we are staying in Maine for Chanuka.  I feel a bit bad about it, because it’s a nice holiday to celebrate with grandchildren, though our presence is probably not required as much as our presents (phone call from grandson:  “Are you coming back for Chanuka? I remember what you got me last year!”)  I am pretty sure I will be single-handedly responsible for getting the US Postal Office out of its financial woes after sending presents to a dozen grandchildren (and counting, bli ayin hara).

That said, it is a bit of a risk we are taking, giving up Chanuka with our family in hopes of finding more Jews in the woods.  Out of sheer desperation, I swallowed my pride and placed a display ad in a local paper:

I got my first call early this morning.  “Hi, my name is Miriam, and I’m calling about the ad I saw for a Chanuka party in the paper.”  Miriam moved to the area (two villages away from us) about three years ago, and she’s “been looking for something Jewish ever since.”  She told me that she had thought of putting an ad in the paper when she first moved here to find other Jews, but in the end she “lacked the courage . . .but am glad that someone had the guts to do it!”  She told me that she wanted  “to find people to have Torah sessions with.”  She asked if she could bring anything to our party, and I told her I had it covered, plus we keep strictly kosher.  “Well, I don’t keep as strictly kosher as I used to,” she said, “but I do keep separate dishes for milchig and fleischig and eat only glatt kosher meat.”

Needless to say you could have knocked me over with a feather.  And by the way, as of now our Chanuka party guest list  is up to 14 (ken yirbu):  from Sweden ME, Albany ME, Portland ME, Old Orchard Beach ME, Bridgton ME, and even Montreal Quebec.

Winter Calorie Burn

Today’s Boston Globe reports the following (their source:

  • A half-hour of snow shoveling burns 206 calories, slightly less than running 2 miles at 5 miles per hour.   (Caveat: shoveling can trigger a heart attack, so if you have a history of heart disease you should avoid this activity and/or consult your physician)
  • If there’s no precipitation, 30 minutes raking leaves burns 135 calories
  • A mere 30 minutes on the sled burns 234 calories, more than 20 minutes jumping rope — and sledding is a lot more action-packed.
  • In just 20 minutes of wood chopping, you can burn 138 calories — 36 more than you’d burn in 20 minutes of moderate calisthenics.
  • Even though you’re sitting on a snowmobile for the most part, a mere 25 minutes of this activity will still burn about 78 calories.
  • An hour and a half of cross-country skiing burns 1,160 calories. If you’re more the downhill type, fear not: Two hours on the slopes burns 1,188 calories the fun way.
  • Spending 45 minutes ice skating burns 256 calories, nearly the equivalent of 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer.
  • 45 minutes of housework burns 148 calories. Add on 15 minutes of mopping duty, an additional 77 calories burned, and you’ve burned 225 calories in an hour. A half hour on the stair step machine only nets you 13 more calories burned.
  • An hour and a half of shopping burns 242 calories. But if you’re speed-walking (4 miles per hour) around the mall, tack on an extra 526 calories burned. All of which equals a grand total of 769 calories burned, more than the 715 burned in 90 minutes of low-impact step aerobics.

I was kind of disappointed that neither the Boston Globe nor included snowshoeing, so I looked it up on

  • Snowshoeing burns 551 calories per hour.

That said, I cannot vouch for any of these figures’ accuracy.  Indeed, various sites quote different numbers for identical activities (,, etc. etc.), but the point is, you’re definitely burning calories when you are active in the winter.

Here is the really good news:  the more you weigh, the more you burn.  All the above calculations were based on a 150-lb person. Using the snowshoeing  example above of the 551 calories burned by a 150 lb person, a 175 lb. person will burn 643 calories, but a 125 lb person will burn “only” 459 calories.

For once, it pays to be fat!  Take that, you Skinny Minnies!

Hansel and Gretel

In an area that was heavily logged, a clearing provides a nice view. That's our nemesis, Speckled Mountain (see previous Nov. 7 blog entry entitled "Hiking Fashla"), in the far right distance. (click to enlarge)

With the days so short it’s difficult to go on a hike of any real substance, but on very beautiful sunny days like today, it’s hard to just sit around twiddling our thumbs.  We decided to go on a walk through the foothills, around the myriad of logging trails that crisscross the more remote areas of our woods.

Many of the roads are maintained seasonally by the Forest Service, which means that they are open only in the summertime, and gated and locked at other times (though hikers are welcome).

Now that hunting season is pretty much over, we feel a lot less vulnerable walking in the woods.  Some of the old logging roads are in pretty bad shape, since once the area is harvested there is no reason for the huge logging trucks to use them again until many years in the future, so the Forest Service will close them off to all motor vehicles until the area can regenerate on its own and go back to being truly wild.  It was on such a road – rutted and eroded beyond repair – that we trod today.  Over several segments we resorted to bushwhacking.

Besides evidence of past logging, we saw many places with old stone walls, a hallmark of 200-year-old former farmland and property boundaries in upper New England.  Because of the snowstorm on Thanksgiving that dumped 12″ of snow, then quickly melted when temperatures became unseasonably warm, the ground was extremely soft and boggy in some places, and seasonal streams were flowing high, hard and fast.  Ponds’ shorelines were filled to their topmost levels.

The biggest surprise of the day was the Hansel-and-Gretel-like “camp” – a Maine word for a seasonal rustic cabin – – that we came upon, far from any functional road, standing alone in a quiet part of the forest surrounded by heavy woods, streams, and pleasant mountain views. It looked like it belonged in a storybook and the only thing missing was a Wicked Witch.

It was clearly uninhabited and had been that way for a few years.  They had two large “Welcome” signs and the door was unlocked so we took a quick peek inside.

sign on the unlocked cabin door

Mice had shredded the fiberglass insulation and droppings were everywhere so I guess the place wasn’t completely uninhabited after all.  A rowboat dumped outside was last registered in 1995, but an old newspaper that was lying about was dated only 2 years ago.  The cabin held basic supplies that were neatly arranged, from a bow saw and axe for firewood, to .22 caliber bullets and orange hunting cap, to dry goods and first aid supplies, and a dart board.

kitchen and first aid supplies

simple interior of the one-room cabin with woodstove

The stairs against the back wall lead to a sleeping loft.

The outhouse (no, I did not make use of it) was clean and even provided toilet paper, reading material and Purell.

The outhouse sat about 30' from the cabin. It was open on one side, facing a beautiful view of a brook.

Inside view of outhouse (for the morbidly curious).

"The best seat in the house" - the view from the outhouse. There's plenty of privacy - the camp is about 3 miles from a road that has maybe 6 cars a day passing thru.

The outdoor grill and table told of pleasant summer picnic meals.  All in all it was a picture-perfect example of a Maine camp (including the Welcome sign and unlocked door, which is not unusual around here).  It also served as an ego check:  a reminder that wherever one treads, someone trod before you!

outdoor grill

We continued our walk and as the area got boggier my first thought was, “this is perfect moose habitat.”  Sure enough, although we didn’t see moose, we soon  saw very fresh moose and deer tracks so it seems they must have heard us coming.  Eventually we reached the uninhabited side of Horseshoe Pond, a beautiful pond where we went kayaking earlier in the summer.  Even though it was 90 minutes til sunset, once the sun falls behind the mountains darkness descends quickly, so we headed home.

the pristine waters of Horseshoe Pond

It wasn’t a dramatic or overly exciting hike (it was only 4 miles total), but a very pleasant and relaxing day nonetheless.  It’s so nice to know that we have endless walking and hiking possibilities literally just outside our doorstep.

a topo map shows where we hiked (click to enlarge)

Drum Circle

drums made by Rusty Wiltjer

About 10 years ago, I visited a certain State Park in Maryland.  There, in the parking lot, was a woman sitting in the back of her open van, listening to a tape of Middle Eastern music.  She was playing a djembe drum.  The hypnotic beat mesmerized me and I stood there for a long time, listening.  From that moment I knew I wanted to take drum lessons so I, too, could play the djembe!

Three or four years ago, someone was making aliyah and had a yard sale.  When I saw her djembe for sale, I knew I had to have it.  But once in my possession, it just sat there.  I was always running around doing errands or helping someone with something, and I just didn’t have the proper “alone time” to really get into trying my djembe.  By then it was terribly out of tune but I had no idea how to tune it.  And then the goatskin “head” (the part that you beat) split and needed replacing.  I contacted several music stores but no one knew how to replace the goatskin “head.”  So my djembe continued to sit, unplayed.

Maine has an interesting mix of people, and that includes a tremendously creative and artistic segment of the population.  Craftsmen, artists, musicians and writers abound.  It seems like every town, no matter how small, has concerts and cultural activities.  So I made sure to bring my broken djembe to Maine.  Even though I don’t live anywhere near a music store, I had a feeling that I would find someone to fix it.

Sure enough, in the next town over, just down the road from the bison farm,  lives a man by the name of Rusty Wiltjer.  Rusty is both a successful drummer and a potter.  In the last few years he has combined his two passions:  he throws giant drums on his potter’s wheel, adds the goatskin heads, and then plays and sells the very drums he has created.  On weekends he plays drums for different jazz bands (some gigs take him all over the country), but he also sells his drums at crafts shows, drummers’ festivals,  and via the Internet.  After speaking with him by phone, Rusty Wiltjer confirmed that he could fix my djembe, and invited me to his Wiltjer Pottery house/studio near Bear Pond in Waterford, Maine.

just up the road from Wiltjer Pottery is this bison farm. Too bad they don't do kosher slaughter. But I do get bones there for my dog!

A view of the inside of Rusty Wiltjer's still-unfinished house that he built single-handedly.

Rusty owns a beautiful piece of land where he single-handedly constructed his home (still a work in progress); another building that serves as his potter’s studio; and a huge kiln for firing his work.  He had many giant djembe drums for sale, no two alike, each with beautifully colored glazes and wonderful range of tone.  He also created several other types of drums, all with very unique shapes and sounds.  The drums cost $400 – $1200.

Rusty Wiltjer's one-of-a-kind djembe drums for sale

Pipe drums

Rusty Wiltjer built this huge walk-in kiln next to his house

To ensure that the kiln's heat is evenly distributed, he places small clay cone strips around the kiln and does a test firing. If all the strips look identical, then he knows the kiln will fire his drums evenly. The temperature is so hot, that the outside bricks of the kiln actually glow. It takes 3 to 4 days for the kiln to cool down once firing is completed.

Amidst the clean but somewhat cluttered environs, Rusty told me, “I have a couple of rolled-up African goatskins lying around here somewhere, but I’ve looked and looked and I just can’t seem to find them!  I will have to order a new supply, and then as soon as I get them, I will start working on your drum.”

Meanwhile he invited me to a drum circle he facilitates, which meets in the winter months every Thursday from 6 pm – 9 pm at the Harrison Fire Station.  Harrison is a pretty little town next to Waterford, which is about 20 miles from my house.  The fire station has a “community room” which the town uses as a gathering place for various classes, meetings, etc.  In the summer, the drum circle meets at the beach next to Long Lake.  (Imagine the intoxicating beauty of a warm summer night, sitting on the sand next to the water; a bunch of people beating drums as the sun sets over the lake.)

Now I know what you’re probably thinking:  if I enjoyed the drum circle, then I’ve turned into some sort of New Age Hippie Earth Mother.  In fact, many drum circles do attract this type, or emphasize a certain spiritual-worship facet, but Rusty’s drum circle was nothing of the sort.  Instead, it was 40% drum lessons, 40% drumming, and 20% shmoozing.  Although anyone can beat a drum, there is actually a “right” way to do it, and getting in the habit of using proper technique and correct hand order takes more advanced and quicker-paced drumming to the next level.

When I was invited to join along, I felt very self-conscious, so I told the group that I would just sit and observe.  Soon I found myself beating my thighs, as the rhythm was irresistible.  While this was useful for reducing cellulite on my legs, I was soon itching to try the real deal.

Grasping the djembe between my legs, at first I stumbled and felt very intimidated, but not only did the group set me at ease, they stressed that the purpose was not to be perfect, but to simply relax and have fun.  I gave myself a pep talk and decided to just “go with the flow.”  Much to my surprise, I found I actually had some natural talent for the djembe (who knew?), and was able to master some complicated rhythms using proper technique within seconds, surpassing even the more seasoned beginners!

There were all levels of drummers present, and the group was extremely diverse.  Ages ranged from 30s to 60s.

The woman who sat next to me was a neighbor of Rusty’s, who was at the drum circle for the first time, too.  She is an artist, and for the past 2 years has been building her own house.  When I say “building her own house,” I don’t mean that she’s paying a general contractor.  Not only did she design the entire house by herself, she even cut her own trees, peeled the bark and stacked the logs for the exterior.  Everything – plumbing, electricity, carpentry – – has been installed by her and her SO.

In the summer she works as the art director of Camp Wigwam, which is a boys’ sleep-over sports camp on Bear Pond that has a Native American Indian theme.   As a result of her working for the camp, she became interested in Native American culture.  She built an 18′ diameter teepee which she has been living in for the past two years while her house is being built.  She is also creating a wigwam as a separate outbuilding.

When she mentioned the wigwam, that got the attention of another drum circle member, who is a Native American from the Abenaki tribe.  He began discussing various components of wigwam architecture, and mentioned how his father would build temporary birchbark houses and longhouses and heat them by building fires on the outside, then digging trenches leading into the structures which would act like heating ducts and carry the fire’s heat into the inside of the wigwam.  This was living history – it was so interesting!

Meanwhile Rusty’s neighbor mentioned that she has two Labrador retrievers who like to wander the neighborhood, and she was wondering if they may have ventured onto Rusty’s property.

“Oh, so they were your dogs?” Rusty asked.  “I was on the roof of my barn fixing something and they were barking at me!  I was afraid to come down because I didn’t know if they bite!”

The neighbor assured him that they didn’t bite, but that they are very curious and “get into stuff.”

“In fact,” she said, “a couple of weeks ago they brought home this weird looking piece of rolled leather.  My husband took it away from them and stuck it on top of a shelf.  I forgot all about it until just now.”

My eyes practically popped out of their sockets.  “Rusty!” I exclaimed, “I’ll bet the dogs stole your goatskin “heads!”

Rusty looked at me, and it was as if you could see a light bulb turning on in his brain.  “Wow!  It hadn’t occurred to me, but now that I’m thinking about it , I left the goatskins in the garage with the garage door open!  So yeah, the dogs could have taken the skins!  I mean, what are the odds – – you finding me on the Internet and coming last week for the goat skins, and then my neighbor showing up tonight for the first time at the drum circle, and mentioning that her dogs retrieved  some “weird looking rolled leather!”

I guess you could call it Doggy Divine Providence.

Then the group discussed the upcoming Xmas parade this coming Saturday.  Small towns throughout Maine love to hold parades.  There is a Memorial Day Parade, a Veteran’s Day Parade, a Homecoming Parade, and a Xmas parade.  Local interest groups put together “floats” – usually flat trailers pulled by tractors or pickup trucks – decorated with streamers and ridden on by members of the group.  The only problem with the parades is that everyone in the towns likes to participate, so there are always more participants than spectators!  Rusty wanted the drum circle to play the drums on the float, accompanied by . . . belly dancers!  Apparently another woman member of the drum circle is a professional belly dancer, and brings in several of her belly-dancing friends to dance to the drumbeats.

Needless to say, this is one parade I would not be participating in.

But I did have a question:  “How do belly dancers dress when performing outside in the Maine winter?”  The forecast was for temperatures to be in the 30s.

“Oh, we have velvet costumes for winter, which keep us plenty warm.”

Who knew?

To see a drum circle in action (although not the one I participated in; I found this video on youtube), click here.