Posts Tagged ‘hunting season’

Shmoozing Strangers

My 2006 Honda CRV’s passenger-side front airbag was recalled, so I drove through Evans Notch to the border of the towns of Gorham/Berlin NH to the dealership to have it replaced.  It’s the closest dealership to my home one hour away, although when they close the mountain pass to vehicular traffic in the winter, the roundabout detour ride is at least 30 minutes longer.  Therefore I always avoid scheduling service from Winter through the end of Spring whenever possible.

Seated alongside and across from me in the car repair waiting room were 9 other people.     At the end of the room was a huge flat-screen TV, and turned to very high volume was a show called The View.  I had never watched this before.  Actress Whoopi Goldberg was talking about all black people being victims of racism and targets by police.  The white co-hosts apologized on behalf of all white people.  But Whoopi went  on and on and on, and it turned into an anti-white hate fest.  It was ugly and her language was crude.

Finally one of the people waiting for their car spoke up. “Would anyone mind if we turned the volume down?”

That was all I needed.  “Would anyone mind if we shut off the TV altogether?” I piped in.

Immediately there was a tangible release of tension; everyone had been afraid that they were the only one who didn’t want to watch the show.  Everyone was happy for the silence – – only there wasn’t silence.  People began to chat with one another, and everyone participated.

What I loved was that no one mentioned current events.  No one said “Hillary” or “Trump.”  So what do people in rural NH talk about?  Where I live, in a district that has many lakes and ponds, people tend to swap fish stories.  But Berlin/Gorham is moose country… so people swapped moose tales.  We all concurred that no matter how long we’ve lived in the White Mountains, and no matter how many times we’ve seen moose, it doesn’t get old, and that each time we are thrilled anew.

There was a young man in his twenties, who was a policeman.  He told of some of his encounters with wildlife, which he said were his favorite part of his job.  He confessed that when things are quiet, and he sees a moose nearby, he often parks his patrol car off the road and turns his speed trap radar on, so he can convince himself that he is doing something productive, but in reality he’s just enjoying watching the moose, whom he called “goofy creatures”  much to the agreement of the crowd.

Once he came upon a moose who looked sickly and dazed, who was walking around and around in circles.  He realized immediately that the moose suffered from the end stages of a terrible tick-borne disease which eventually affects the moose’s brain.  After conferring with headquarters and Fish and Game, he took his rifle from the trunk and shot it, putting it out of its misery.

“It was delicious,” he added.  (He said that the Fish and Game told him the disease does not taint the meat for human consumption.)

When he was a brand-new rookie, during his first month on the job he was not allowed to go out on calls solo, and was accompanied by his sergeant.  One night, they got a call from a resident in town, complaining of a neighbor’s barking dog.  When they arrived at the house, the dog was indeed barking, and would not stop.  When they knocked on the owner’s door, he apologized profusely.

“I don’t know why he won’t stop barking,” the man said.  “I swear he’s never done this before.  I tried putting him in the house but he just kept barking.  This has been going on for hours.  I looked around outside but couldn’t find anything out there.  I’m at my wit’s end.”

The rookie and his sergeant decided to investigate.  They walked around the property with their flashlights, but couldn’t see or smell a thing.  All the while, the dog was barking incessantly.  As they stood in the driveway talking about what to do, they suddenly felt a whoosh and  heard a huge thud.  A sleeping bear had fallen out of the tree above them, and missed the sergeant by only a couple of inches!  The bear scampered away; the dog stopped barking; and everyone was happy.

Another time, he got a call about a skunk whose head was stuck in a peanut butter jar.  The rookie cop figured this might not end well and that he would be the laughingstock of the guys back at the station.  He decided to video the encounter from the dash-mounted camera of the police car.  If it didn’t go well, he would be subject to a lot of ribbing, but if he was able to free the skunk without getting sprayed, it would make him look good.

He slowly approached the skunk, whose head was indeed stuck.  The cop gingerly put his boot on the jar at an angle, holding it steady.  The skunk was able to free himself and scampered off without incident, and the rookie cop breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It was only later, when he reviewed the video, that he noticed that the skunk had lifted his tail!  To this day he doesn’t know why he wasn’t sprayed but he’s not complaining.

His last story involved seeing a white (albino) deer.  His only wish was that it would not fall victim to hunting season.  He passed around his cell phone so we could all see pictures of this beautiful creature.

Next, an older gentleman who was an avid hunter told us his moose stories.  Of the time a few years back when he saw 21 moose on his property in a single day, and how this year due to the tick scourge there are almost no moose.  He also told a story that happened a few years ago when he got into his Ford Ranger pickup truck one morning to go to work.  Before he could turn on the ignition, a bull moose in rut (mating season) approached his truck, apparently mistaking his vehicle for a moose cow (female).  The moose began rubbing against the car, and pushing it back and forth like a toy, trying to get this weird truck-moose to respond to its amorous endeavors.  At first the man was amused, but after 20 minutes of continued moose-humping against his truck he realized that not only was he going to be late for work, he was in danger of the entire truck tipping with him inside of it.  He quickly turned on the engine and sounded the horn, and the disgruntled moose lumbered away.

Then a different man spoke up.  He was on his father’s farm one day and he saw  three deer, two moose, and a bear, all side by side, munching away in the corn field.

This man was the black sheep of his family, since he was the only one in his family who hadn’t followed the farming path of his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents.

He told about growing up on his father’s farm.  His father harvested 60 acres of potatoes annually.  They had one measly tractor but most of the work was done with draft horses or by hand, with the entire family involved in sowing, reaping, and harvesting from sunup to sundown for many weeks.  In Aroostook County in northern Maine, children to this day have “Harvest Recess” for 3 weeks during the school year, in order to help their families bring in the potato harvest.  (You can read about it here.)  But things are changing.  With the industrialization and mechanization of farming, school boards are evaluating the need for such a break.  But traditions die hard in Maine.

The man continued, “my brother is 77 now, and he is still out there farming every day.  He wouldn’t do anything else.  But his farm is very very different from that of my father’s.”

His brother owns not only his father’s original 60 acres; he now owns an additional many thousands of acres, 600 of which are devoted strictly to potato farming.

“It took my father weeks to harvest his 60 acres,” he said, “but my brother harvests 60 acres in a single day.  That’s 20,000 lbs. of potatoes right there!  He has a shed that looks like an airplane hanger.  It’s the size of a football field, with the highest point in the center being 45′ tall.  And do you know what?  It’s absolutely chock-full of potatoes! One of his fields is 2 miles long!”

Our conversation was interrupted by the service manager.  “I’m so sorry,” she told me, “but we’re running very late today.  It looks like we won’t get to your car for another hour.  Would you like to come back another day?”

I explained that I lived an hour away, and that I’d be leaving town this weekend; so it was today or nothing.  I was enjoying the conversations so much, I honestly didn’t mind waiting.

“How about if we give you a loaner for the next few hours – – maybe you can do some shopping in WalMart?  Or we can drive you home, and then bring the car back to be fixed?  Or we can pick up the car from you tomorrow, so you don’t even have to come here, and bring it back to you tomorrow at the end of the day?”

I assured the service manager that I didn’t mind waiting, but I was amazed that they were so accommodating.  “This would never have happened at my Honda dealer back in my home town,” I thought to myself.

From another person waiting I learned that he was a survivor of a terrible car accident, along with his wife.  “We used to love hiking just like you,” he told me, “and we hiked to the top of Mt. Washington and all the other Presidentials numerous times.  Then, in an instant, our lives changed,” he said.  “I was driving with my wife at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a pleasant day, when we were hit head-on by a drunk driver who had just turned 18 years old.  At one o’clock in the afternoon, and he was drunk!  My wife was in a coma for 76 days.  And she was in the hospital for five months, and needed many surgeries.  Then came months of rehab.  We shouldn’t have survived, so I feel blessed.  But even though it’s a miracle she can walk, she can’t bend her knees very well, and she’ll always be in pain.  So our lives are very different than how they were just a year ago,” he sighed.

Due to their accident, with too much free time on their hands, they became amateur genealogists.

“I was able to trace our families back to the 1640s,” he said proudly.  They came to Maine from Nova Scotia at a time when Maine was a territory fought over by the French and the British, long before the United States entered the picture.  “The only other people around were Indians.”

Eventually the service manager returned with keys in hand.  “We washed your car for you, and it’s ready now.”

I said goodbye to these wonderful strangers, who were serendipitously brought together out of onerous necessity, for a delightful afternoon in a car dealership waiting room.  With all the strife affecting the United States, it made me realize that we have plenty of “average,” kind people in this country who don’t judge others based on how they vote even if their personal, religious, cultural  and political agendas might differ from one’s own.  (In fact, they believe it’s none of anyone’s business but your own as to who gets your vote.)  It was also an affirmation of the life I’ve chosen to lead in the White Mountains, where people value human interaction as well as spending time with Nature, instead of running marathons with their techie devices, seated immobile indoors; alone and anonymous.

 

 

 

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Deer Season

We left Maine a couple of days after deer hunting season opened and headed back to our hometown to celebrate the bar mitzva of our oldest grandson.  At dusk I was reading in the den when I heard what sounded like large pieces of plastic broomstick handles clicking against each other.  I looked out the window but couldn’t see anything, so I ventured outside.  Just outside our chain link fence were two bucks in rut, clashing with their antlers!  I ran to get my camera.  The bucks were oblivious to my presence, and were focused exclusively on one another.  Their antlers actually locked at one point but fortunately they were able to separate.  I was standing no more than 3 feet away, on the other side of the chain link fence.  A few times they actually lost their balance and fell against the fence where I was standing, so I stood back a little further!  Eventually one must have overpowered the other because they went their separate ways once they figured out who was boss.  It was only when I looked at the resulting photos up close that I noticed that the tip of the antler of the deer on the left was bloodied, and the deer on the right had some small wounds near his shoulder and ear.  The irony was not lost on me that I was not witnessing this show in Maine, but right in a major east coast city neighborhood in the mid-Atlantic!  Our hometown backyard in the city is visited by a herd of about 20 deer (Bambi fawns included) on a daily basis.  If not for our chain link fence, the garden would be stripped bare.   In Maine, I do see deer sign (pellets, scrapings, and tracks) on a frequent basis, but I don’t actually see more than one deer a month.  So far in Maine, the deer have left our apple saplings alone, despite the lack of a deer-proof fence.

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Two bucks locking antlers 3 feet from where I’m standing, on the other side of a chain link fence in our backyard.  The tip of the left antler of the deer on the left is tinged with blood from this battle.

Two bucks locking antlers 3 feet from where I'm standing, on the other side of a chain link fence in our backyard

The base of the right antler of the deer on the left is bloodied. I’m unsure if his right antler is puncturing the shoulder of the buck on the right, or if the point of the antler broke off upon impact.

I may be imagining this, but it looks like the winning buck has a smile on his face

I may be imagining this, but it looks like the winning buck has a smile on his face

Moose Zone

I am living on the edge – – literally.  My side of the street is Moose Zone 12 –  – but if I step across the street I’m in Zone 15.

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This sign was posted on my street at the start of moose hunting season

The way it works is this:  every year a certain number of permits are issued to hunt Maine’s 70,000+ moose.  Because the demand is high and the number of issued permits low, there is a moose lottery conducted in the summer for the following Fall’s hunting season.  Maine residents have a better chance than people from out-of-state:  no more than 10% of the permits in each District will be issued to non-residents.  The lotto costs $15 for one ticket, but if you actually win, you will pay $52 for the permit if you are a Maine resident, and a whopping $585 if you are from out-of-state.  Ten additional permits are granted to the highest bidders at an auction.  This year the highest bidder “won” a permit for $11,734.56!  The amount of permits issued differs based on the zone.  Northern Maine, which has a prolific moose population, issues as many as 800 permits in a single zone and there is more than an 80% success rate in getting a moose;  but southern Maine, which has far fewer moose, may issue only 15 permits, and the chance of actually getting a moose  is only about 15%.  This year a total of 4,110 permits were issued in Maine.  On my side of the street, Zone 12, 55 permits were issued and moose could be hunted only October 14 – 19.  Across the street, in Zone 15, only 25 permits were issued, and hunting is allowed November 4 – 30.  For first-time applicants who are Maine residents, the chance of winning a permit is only 1.9 percent, and for a non-resident, there is only a 0.2 percent chance of winning a permit.  There are a lot of applicants!

No one can deny that the annual moose hunt is a huge moneymaker for Maine:  the lottery and permits alone generate more than  $1.5+ million for Maine.  Hunting in general is a huge source of income for Maine:  it generated $1.4 billion in Maine in 2012.  It’s not only about the licensing fees.  Hunters are usually accompanied by friends and relatives.  Hunting parties buy food, gas, and lodging.  After a successful hunt, they will turn to taxidermists and meat processing plants.

Over 300,000 fishing licenses were sold last year, as were 210,000 hunting licenses.  Even if only a fraction of that number of hunters were successful, that’s a lot of dead animals.  But old-timers say that coyotes have overtaken Maine, and greatly and adversely affected the balance of wildlife here.  “Hunting is not what it used to be,” they insist.

There are people in my town for whom killing a deer means they will have meat this winter, so I do not judge.  But I do not hunt, nor do I have a desire to do so, and it’s not only because I am not permitted to hunt for religious reasons (according to Jewish Law, animals may be killed only within the guidelines of kashrut).   In fact, I somewhat dread hunting season.  I make sure to wear a  fluorescent orange vest whenever I leave my house for a walk, and my dog wears a fluorescent orange bandana, lest we be mistaken for dinner.  I have run into many a rifle-toting, camouflaged hunter in my backwoods walks, and they have always been polite and not at all scary.

But I  mourn the loss of any moose, whose grace despite its ungainly proportions never fail to awe and inspire me.

The only animals I shoot are with my camera.

BD”E, Mr. Bear

The trouble started this summer.  My neighbor down the road, who hails from Massachusetts and was spending the week at his self-built rustic cabin in the woods, made a careless mistake:  he left his picnic cooler on the porch.

A young male 150 lb. bear that must have been tired of the abundant wild blueberries, was most appreciative.  He climbed onto the porch, opened the cooler, had a little feast, and lumbered away.

The neighbor thought it was a great adventure: no real harm done, and a bear on his porch!  But the next time, my neighbor said to himself, he must be more careful not to leave food in the cooler.

So the next night, the cooler lay empty on his porch.  The bear came back, looking for more.  I know this because at 11 p.m. I heard my neighbor shouting, “Get away! G’on now! Git!” and my poodle was barking like crazy at the commotion.

The following night, my neighbor was out for the evening.  My neighbor wasn’t taking any chances, so he made sure that the empty cooler was inside the cabin.  But this was one determined bear, and when he didn’t see the cooler on the porch, he decided to check where that cooler disappeared to.  As no one came to the door when the bear knocked, he invited himself in by climbing through the window (breaking the glass with his sheer bulk) and sure enough, the cooler was inside.

Unfortunately the cooler was empty, and the bear did not take this well.  Disgusted, he threw the empty cooler out the broken porch window, and decided to find some dinner elsewhere in the cabin.  He rummaged through the kitchen garbage and made a heck of a mess.  But I guess Mr. Bear was conscious about his dental hygiene because he then ambled over to the bathroom, where he proceeded to eat a tube of toothpaste and jump out the bathroom window, all before my neighbor returned home.  By now even my poodle was getting used to the sounds of the bear down the road, and after a single “Ruff!” the dog settled back into the comfort of his bed:  so much for protecting me against wild animals.

I got an email.  “If you see a bear that has peppermint breath, you’ll know he’s the one,” my neighbor wrote.  He also mentioned that should Mr. Bear return, the next time he would be greeted with a shotgun.

Alas, the following night the bear did indeed return.  Again I awoke late at night to my neighbor yelling, “Git! Git! G’on now!” and then… KABOOM!  But I could tell from the gun’s report that the neighbor had aimed over the bear’s head just to scare him away.

This was only momentarily successful.  With my dog on alert due to the gunshot, and barking like crazy, the bear ran onto our property.  It was pitch dark and I didn’t see him personally, but I know he was there because nervous Mr. Bear very inconsiderately pooped in the middle of our driveway, and let me tell you, bear scat  does not come in size small.

He did not return for a few days, so my neighbor stopped sleeping next to his shotgun, and I was now able to sleep through the night without interruption.  Alas, it did not last.  Taken by surprise, my neighbor was nowhere near his gun when the bear once again entered his cabin.  Thinking quickly, he sprayed him with the entire contents of his fire extinguisher.

“He should be easy to spot,” my neighbor told me the next day.  “He’s the one that looks like a polar bear.”

After meeting up with the fire extinguisher, the bear did not return.

Two weeks later, bear hunting season began.  The very first day, a hunter shot and killed a young male bear, around 150 lbs., about 1/2 mile from my house.   Unlike most of the bears in the area, he seemed to be used to humans.