Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ready the Ark

I built the Ark on runners, but an Ark's eventually got to float , so I made the cabin of nothing but scrap foam board. No two by fours. To keep light I added oyster shells to the stucco mix. Davey had bought the bag of oyster shells for chicken feed. It's supposed to make strong eggs, but Davey's chickens wouldn't eat any oyster shells.

All chickens love to eat foam building products though, and this Spring, a couple of my companion chickens pecked through the stucco from inside the cabin and ate out caverns in the walls. I stuffed them with foam scraps and plastered over thicker than the first time. I want the Ark to be tight for cold weather, and I want it ready for hard traveling.

Anyway, yes, recent events have made me take a good long think, and what I think is, I think I will soon have to pull the Ark out of here and head on up the lake.

Not right away, and not on a dead-line or with a time-line or any of your line items, but when I least expect it.
I could be set off by a sudden speed-up of of global warming followed by rising water, a break down of the power grid, or just some stupid thing Davey says.

In an experimental way, I actually tried to move the Ark down back of the house a notch or two, but in the middle of the driveway I saw it wasn't working.
Too much friction on the gravel. I had to saw up a pvc drain-pipe for rollers, and use a digging bar to lever the Ark back in place for now.
I guess the Ark got a lot heavier when I stuffed so much mortar into those cavities.
Still, the runners should slide really well on snow
But the beginning of Winter wouldn't be the best time to head north.
I'm thinking at the moment that I could cut the end off the digging bar and stick it through the runers as an axle for a couple of eighteen or twenty inch wheels, two thirds of the way back. With the right balance, a couple of poles and peg legs in front, Like a donkey cart, I'll be ready to roll. Might have to add some main deck with more floatation and spread, enough space fore and aft to stand and pole the Ark, but then I would have to think about more wheels. And a Yak. Heading up North by North West.

Summer Riot

Last Summer this hill was a desert, and this Summer it's a jungle about to clamber over the chicken house.
Never mind that the moisture is only a foot deep and the dug ponds have shrunk back into the deep shale trenches. The ground cover is so thick that roosters who ranged up and down and even across the road last year, now stay within a hundred feet of the chicken house, eating volunteer crops and everything in Davey's garden. Davey has been building cages for his vegetables , but the roosters still leap up just to knock down the tomatoes.

The deer had their fawns in Davey's orchard and wouldn't even run from the dogs. The dogs are agreed not to chase anything that won't run. Before the deer wandered off to see the big woods, they deer broke off some of Davey's fruit trees to get at the growing tips, so Davey as been building caging his rees.
But there haven't been any critters recently trying to eat the chickens themselves. The coyotes have gone wandering for the summer, and the foxes and weasels, and coons must be stuffed with a mincemeat of mice and fermented fuit, sleeping back in the cover.
We have never that I know of had a problem with the Harrier hawks, which are temporarily off their range, with the owls, even when we have illuminated white chicken roosting on the open deck. No problem with the crows who share the corn beside the chickens , or the vultures which only eat the dead. The skunks, which are technically weasels, are still living with a passage into the rooster quarters, where they eat with the roosters without conflict.
For a while, the neighborhood dogs were a problem. The Roosters do know that it's their job to guard the hens and, being also wide and bright targets, have taken most of the hits from the dogs.
Now that the neighbors have taken charge of their dogs, there has been no problem with them either.

So there would be little predator problem at all, except that the sexual predators among the roosters themselves are the worst threat to the hens.

One night a month or so back, when Davey was up at Lake Bonaparte to do some fireplace repairs, the roosters broke through one of the barricaded windows that he had slapped up to keep them from the hens.
The roosters mangled one hen, killed another, and kept the rest from getting to the food and water until I showed up.

I decided right there, this rooster rescue business has gone too far. We had to get rid of the three or four roosters most inclined to rush the hens, the ones that always wanted to pile on, to pull out their feathers, bite combs, and use their spurs. Some of these buckaroos have wicked spurs; they could ride a dog .

Maybe it was a mistake not to wring a few necks right then, instead of leaving the cull to Davey. But getting and harvesting is Davey's end of the chicken business here; my job is to keep them alive.
And anyway, There is road kill fresh every day on this hill , and I occasionally take a liver or bring back a pheasant from that source, but I long ago lost my taste or guns and killing . Mostly, all those years ago, when I shot the bear in Alaska and saw him l(ike I can see him right now) running around and gushering blood, with his head flapping on only a hinge of hide. So I left the slaughter to Davey.

Granny Get Your Gun

Davey (his grandchildren call him Granny) was really irritated when I told him how the roosters broke through the door and mangled the hens.
He said he would cull a bunch of them, but he didn't do anything until a few days later when the rooster Ruby came out of the dog-wood bushes and attacked his ankle bone.
So then Davey got seriously pissed and went to the house for the Winchester .22.

The Winchester had belonged to an old trapper who had carried it to deal with undead critters in his traps and gave it as payment of a debt to Davey's grandfather. It is the little pump model which used to be common in shooting galleries because it held so many shots, though pump rifles are not so accurate. Not that shooting- gallery owners wanted accurate rifles. It was also the rifle Annie Oakley used to break clay pigeons in about the first movie footage made by Edison. Maybe she used mini shot rather than bullets in the load. Anyway, even if Davey was Annie Oakley, that rifle would not so great a weapon choice for shooting a dodging rooster in the head.
But Davey came out of the house with the little Annie Winchester, told me to take the dogs inside, and went back down after Ruby.

Ruby ( who has markings like a permanent blood-splattered bib) is one of the half dozen birds smart enough to leave the chicken house back when the coon, or whatever it was got in there twice in three nights.
Most of them stayed outside after that, but Ruby went back to the chicken house when the hens were refusing to come out in the cold. He tends to rush them at the door, he pulls out the feathers, and latches onto combs, but scaring Davey might have been the bigger mistake.

I heard six shots from the .22 , about as loud as horse chestnuts dropping on his tin roof.

Then Davey came back up the path. He said "Shit "to me as he came in to exchange the .22 for the sixteen gauge Fox shot gun.

When he was back down at the chicken house he fired six more times in maybe three minutes. Each shot, as compared to the nut dropping report of the .22, was as loud as a telephone pole as it snapping.
With the first shot, the roosters and the hens inside all squawlled, as if one of the broken telephone poles had fallen on the chicken house and set it on fire.

Afterward, Davey walked the gun back up and the chickens were still squawling and the dogs barking, so Davey went for a walk, and took the dogs, partly so they wouldn't see were I put the dead roosters, which, shot from fairly close range with antique ammunition from before it was outlawed, were full of lead pellets.
When I came down and piled the ruined roosters on the plastic sled, all the roosters were still back in the brush, except for Ruby.
Davey had missed Ruby's head with every shot except for one, which took a nick out of his upper beak so he looks still more like a bloody warrior. . He stood a few yards away and watched when I buried the dead in the path of the bamboo.
Maybe he has an understanding of mortality now. Or maybe he has an illusion about being bullet-proof.
Maybe the other roosters were impressed by Davey's immoderate demonstration of power and mortality, but the best thing I could do for this place is stick another three or four roosters in the Ark and haul out of here for a little outward bound experience, or maybe even for a foreign war. Before the rioting and the shooting starts again right here at Dog's Plot.

I dreamed that a woman in blue jeans came up the driveway carrying a hand basket with something wrapped up in it, like it was a loaf of hot bread. Maybe it was a coyote skin.
That night while Davey was sleeping like a baby and I was sitting on top of the Ark with a smoke, I saw a coyote, jump out the window of Davey's loft. It licked itself all over quick, then trotted down to the chicken house.

Right there in that dream, I pulled the Ark out the driveway and down the road on its runners.

With wheels, I actually could go down the road. I'm just looking for the right pair of wheels.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncle Ernie

On his business card he was Ernest N. Warren, Counselor at Law, and students addressed him as Professor Warren, but among themselves, they called him Uncle Ernie. I'm the only one who called him Daddy Ernie, and he wasn't actually my father, but without him I would have had no family. I emulated his high forehead, like the bluffs over Lake Bonaparte, tanned from rebuilding the boathouse, cutting firewood,, raking the leaves and shoveling snow, fishing, and canoeing, walking up the hill to the law school mornings, then back for lunch, and then back and forth again in the afternoon. Not that I could hope to develop a forehead like his, or wanted to do much of all that work.

He was a torts specialist who never tried a case, and an expert on law of the sea who never went to sea. In practice, he was a family counselor: too straight-forward, nonconfrontational , and dignified to be a trial lawyer.
He worked to help people avoid confrontations with the law and with each other. He comforted and protected those who were threatened by death and taxes. As Dean of Admissions and Dean of Students in the Cornell Law School, he not only helped hundreds of students into school, through school, and into careers afterwards, but also helped a lot of young applicants convince their fathers that they should not be forced into law school just because their fathers had wanted to be lawyers. By his example, he even persuaded some of those reluctant law school applicants that not all lawyers were liars, cheats, and bullies, and that there might be a place in the profession for themselves after all.
He was a pillar of kindness, civility, and prudence. Never cruel or tyranical. Only slightly impressed by his full professorship, only sometimes a ham.
Not only was he loved and trusted by most everyone, he had received the highest security clearance from the F.B. I and the Defense Department. He liked Ike and Ike liked him. He was a friend of the Attorney General William Rodgers, and he cried when Ed Muskie cried.

When Alaska was just becoming a state and had even fewer lawyers than it had cities, he sent a wave of new Cornell Law graduates to take positions in the government. During World War II he volunteered for the Navy and was turned down for being near-sighted, but during the Cold War, he belonged to a commission, the purpose of which, in case Washington was vaporized by the enemy, was to reconstitute the U.S. government in a secret. underground installation somewhere in Virginia. He could not even tell Mama Dot about his secret service, until Eisenhower's bunker had long since become a mushroom farm or a U.P.S. shipping center. He was asked to go to a new African nation and start a law school, but he declined in order to stay in place with family.

He loved the history of his North Country landscape, knew from his practice the real estate history of the logging and power company lands of the NW Adirondack foot hill country, and he wrote the incorporation document of the Eljah Lake hunting club, which from that beginning included his Mama Dot's father and her Gradfather Doctor Drury of Natural Bridge. Daddy Ernie was a hunter himslef because of family tradition, although he himself never fired a shot that I know of, except from on top of the boat house at cans in the water. He was a boy scout leader, though he had never been a boy scout. Or maybe he was. He had sponsors among the men of the church who helped him toward a schollarship at Hamilton college, where he placed second or third base, and half back possitions, and was called Stub by his teaj and classmates, and married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Drury Failing, the only child, of the only child, of Dr. Dury from Natuaral Bridge . She had gone to Elmira college with a banjo from her Gramps, and after she graduated there, and he from Hamilton, she moved to Ithaca. She lived at the Clinton Hotel and studied Oral English at Ithaca College in order to be near him until he could graduate from Law School and they got married.
She taught English in Camillus for one semester, then retired to become a homemaker. As a master of Oral English, after many private performances of HuckleBerry Finn, Stewart Little, her one recorded performance is of Davey;s Rhinocers hills story Daddy Ernie enjoyed so much, but like I said it had the dubious fictional flaw....that I was totally left out of the story. So its an antique and slanted story but Mama Dot has got to be good on it, although I haven't heard it yet. Davey has it on a tape sister Delight made, and I will ask him to figure out how to post it HERE, and when he does, I will have him activate the HERE so you can click on it and Mama Dot takes over. .

Mama Dot and Grandpa Ernie were a great pair for canoeing and fishing together. Up the Oswegatche Inlet where the grandfathers had gone before, with the same pack baskets, coffee pot, and thirty-inch frying pan, and the kids. Loved, as they went, to repeat the names of the landings and campsites along the way, High Rock, Griffen Rapids, Wolf Creek Spring Hole, Carter's Landing, the places
Daddy Ernie fished with every one , but never by himself. He loved fishing, never cared if he didn't catch any, always said, we saw a lot of nice country anyway, and that was the important thing. So he said. The truth is, he was a deeply social person, almost as deeply religious, with deep faith in law, but most of all social and emotional. He swam just under the surface and never broke it. He seldom said I love you because it would make him cry, and he could cry. His children could make him cry. I know from having been in the closet with the guns a couple of times when I was young and Davey had quit high school foot ball, and trumpet lessons or whatever.
Fishing with Family was sacred. I was joined onto what was a very fishing family back then, with several kinds of devotion to fishing, especially to trout fishing, Daddy Ernie's was probably the most spiritual devotion, with actual fish not being necessary. But he liked catching fish too, because then you had something to feed the family and something to show: it was a better yarn, and he loved fishing yarns.

He managed to work North Country yarns and refereences into his populsr Law school lectures. I never went to one of his lectures, nor even did Davey, unlike brother Herb who actually enrolled in the law school and now calls himself a recovering lawyer, but he was a star lecturer and he would sometinmes work out his lectures at the dinner table.
Like about the time he and Mama Dot actually went to Cannada to fish in a famous trout Lake where it rained and they caught nothing, but on their way back they stopped at the little Bonaparte inlet, and caught a dozen speckled trout ....... and one day we....and I was with him and Herb that day....we were on our way back from Jerden Falls where we hadn't caught a thing and he recalled that story, and so we stopped at Bonaparte Inlet, and caught half a dozen or maybe it was three, nice little brookies. The best eating. That's precedent for you.

Admirality was his favorite legal subject. It was the only sort of international law back then. The law of the sea.
We were a small time boating family,with row boats runabouts, canoe, and a sunfish he sailed around Little Sand Bay with Mama Dot in leiu of the trip to Europe which neither of them much wanted, or the trip to Alaska which he always said was the one, almost foreign place he would like them to travel to after he retired, but he would never retire..
By canoe, by row boat, by Mercury, and Johnson, and Evenrude we had always gone down the Bonaparte outlet to little Mud Lake for evening bass fishing and on down to the small dam at Alpine which had only raised the Bonaparte level a few feet, but flooded miles of connected swamps, bogs, and meadows. All that flow beyond Bonaparte's shore was within the Pine Camp, later called Fort Drum Military Reseration. Some time after the change From Pine Camp to Fort Drum, the military tried to keep boats and people from going beyond the outlet bay of the lake. But Daddy Ernie, who was always on the New York State Law Revision Comission was able to help settle the question of just exactly what a navigable waterway was, made it clear that rivers, and flows or lakes accessible by them are certainly navigable if you can drive logs, or paddle canoes. .
After that original showdown he would periodically have to deal with a new Fort Drum commanding general who thought he had spotted a pennetration of the legitimate defense perimeter And each time, Daddy Ernie would review for all, the past, the precedent, the course of reason and justice established, and each time it gave him satisfaction.
He was a satisfied man. Except,he was sometimes dismayed by his children and by me his charge.

Daddy Ernie's own father, a mild-mannered, northern Baptist pastor, died of cancer when Daddy Ernie was twelve years old. He was brought up by his mother, who had been an orphan herself before she was a wife and a widow. She had an uncorrected undershot jaw that gave her a bull dog look which must have helped her make way through the world. She was fierce as a bull dog an broody like a hen.
When Reverend Warren died, she, Bertha Bonney Warren, took over the church pulpit for a few weeks until a new pastor could be found, and later accompanied young Ernest to Hamilton college where he had a scholarship and both of them worked in the dining halls. Among the upstanding church and business men who sponserd her and her young Ernest, was a newspaper man, Charles Brownell, they called him Chucky, which was the name of a little memoir of the North Country he wrote. Often on Sundays he would come and take Mother Warren for a ride in his automobile, and the family always hoped something might develop there, but she stayed single and lived into old age as a rich old Box Factory Widow's head made and companion, traveling winters with her, the butler, and the maid to a suite in Hawaii. Besides Ernie, as long as he need her, she assisted a woman named Emma, an iillegitimate child of some family member, the note on the back of the picture in Mama Dot's hand, does not say who.
She looks like a lot of those Warrens and Lockwoods.
Having no father and having a single mother who went to college with him,
Daddy Ernie became various kinds of father to many, but, like i said, it was a little rough back home parenting Davey and me.

Davey was always worrisome to his parents: so inward and secretive, but there was still hope for him, if for no other reason but that, according to special tests, he was operating way below his potential.
In my case, I showed no particular potential so I could hardly dissappoint, but I did my most to dismay.

Setting Free the Boys

After he had gathered a couple of degrees and spent three years as a college instructor, my brother Davey quit academic life to do yard work and odd jobs, with a specific goal of working his way up the outside of houses to a career peak of roofing, which seemed to him a colorful trade, yet dirty, dangerous, and difficult enough, that even in hard times, he would be able to work if he really had to.

Daddy Ernie didn't require another lawyer in the family, but he had been hoping for something beyond that..... like a philosopher. He himself admired the thought of Shopenhauer.
On his death bed, he told Davey that he had joined the Baptist church when we came to Ithaca, because his mother insisted....on account of his father having been a Baptist minister. Although a deacon in the Baptist church, he was not a believer in miracles or theological doctrine, excpept for the particularly Baptist creedo that the individual needs no priest to stand between him and his truth. Not that a person didn't need a couselor, a pastor, or a father.
Out of indecision, Davey had become a philosophy major, though he finally decided that he disliked the game as practiced so much that he tried to use the same term paper in all his philosophy classes. His unified theoery didn't go over well, so it took an extra term to graduate.

Davey did get a graduate degree and did publish a couple of weird little books back then, but his overstuffed suitcase of a story, Lake Bonaparte, My Grandfather, and the Treasure of the Rhinoceros Hills, (which he left me out of) was about the only one Daddy Ernie really liked, and and there seemed to be little hope for professionalization of Davey..

One day I had been helping Davey with a basement clean-out job and Daddy Ernie came home for lunch as we were trying to bungie cord a couple of his garbage cans to the roof of the car.
Bungie cords really suck for tying garbage cans to the top of a car, especially when you have no roof rack.
Daddy Ernie took his brief case inside, and came back out with a rope .
As Davey and I wrapped it round the cans and through the windows to each other, Daddy Ernie suggested that if there was anything..... any regular business..... Davey would like to get into, then he would be glad to help out in any way possible.
Davey balled up the rope end, ,n threw it over the garbage cans to me, then said well, he would kind of like to have a fish farm.

Daddy Ernie stepped back, and grabbed his chin to keep his mouth from falling open. As if maybe the reply had been a sarcastic joke. Maybe he actually thought that, or maybe he imagined a chaos, with fish in trees.
Anyway, the subject never came up between them again.

And what do you know!....Davey has his fish farm now, more or less.

As for me: there were no suspicions of underachieving and no fond hopes I could frustrate, but I had perplexed Daddy Ernie from the beginning, What did I want other than wildness and solitude? I was unsuited for public education or regular employment.
As I drifted more and more to the feral life, hitch-hiking back and forth form Ithaca to Northern New York, so that it was never clear whether I was lurking here or there, Daddy Ernie patiently tolerated my comings and goings, and my informal use of the family home. He would not see me for weeks, then one morning find me in the bath tub, asleep in my clothing, smelling like something the dog rolled in.
During those years, my main Ithaca area residence was the Ellis Hollow Beaver meadow, where I had banked the dirt up against the old beaver lodge and planted it around with concentric circles of vine crops from pumpkins which clambered over the meadow to potatoes, and then beans which covered the whole lodge by midsummer. And then I had half a dozen digs in the secret places of Ithaca, particularly in my Cemetery Gorge cliff shelter, where Davey would sometimes leave me a note on the stone with the quartz X on it,which served as my mail drop.

My finger-farming in the beaver meadow was maybe my one independent activity that looked something like a working vocation. but it was often a bust, because of the deer . i could keep out the rabbits by surrounding the plot with a many layered palisade of bramblle stalks , but even three feet deep, the deer were jumping right over it.
A gun seemed to be the answer. I loved guns. Partly because I was such a little guy, but also they were the artifacts of family tradition. When I was younger, we each had our own B.B. gun which we were free to roam and shoot out the eyes of birds with until we graduated to twenty twos, and exploding frogs, but even at that young age, I would sometimes stand in the dark at the back of that same closet among the real guns: the Remmington pump twenty two which Grandpa Failing had taken to pay a debt at his garage and which Mama Dot considered to be hers. Grandpa Failing's Fox double barrel, the two Marlin thirty-thirty carbines deer rifles, the bolt action twenty gauge shot gun Daddy Ernie carried , and the Civil War musket with four notches, which we sometimes brought out for our war games Davey and I had cap pistols we converted to zip guns which could break a Coke bottle at ten paces, and I became a fast draw maniac. When I was old enough, I hunted with the Fox double, and usually got off both barrels before the bird was twenty feet into the brush and either pulped it with lead, or missed it entirely.

In defense of my vine patch, I hitched in from Ellis Hollow to borrow the the Fox double barrel. It was late afternoon and I had entered by way of the wysteria vine and the front porch roof deck, so as to disturb no one, but Daddy Ernie came home a little early , so when he stepped into the clostet to hang up his tie,he found me standing there , the gun in my arms,
It wasn't exactly my gun, but it was the gun I commonly used. Daddy Ernie and I had gone hunting together the previous Fall, and I had nearly shot his face off when a grouse flew up beside us.
I got the grouse though. And Daddy Ernie seemed to be more impressed by the hit than by the near miss.

Surprised by me in the closet, he maintained his equanimity. And of the gun was still in its two component parts and it the case, so it was not like I was going to be triggered by my own surprise . I froze.
Daddy Ernie deliberated for a few seconds.
Then said, You know, young man, you will always have a home with us here at Edgewood Place, any time you care to actually move back in to a room and a bed.
But, he said, if there is some place you would like to go, something you would like to accomplish, or make of yourself, I would be glad to help you in any way possible.

If there had been a just war going on then, and even if there was not, I like many another boy of that time, although I had not killed anyone so far, would have cheerfully gone off as a soldier, and, with very little coaching, I would have made an excellent sniper or assassin. For worse or better however, I didn't meet the Army minimum requirement for formal education, and of course I would have come up short at the Army physical.
But every since I ran off from Aunt Sammy in Florida and my confusion about the term "North Country" had led me half way to Yukon before I got redirected .....ever since then, and more so as I had heard it talked of at the family talble and picture in the National Graphics by the hearth at Loon island... I had kind of wanted to go to Alaska.

Alaska, I said, I want to go to Alaska.

Daddy Ernie stepped back just a little into the light of the room, but he looked up and far away through the dark closet sky, then he looked down at me and said Alaska was not completely out of the question.
He must have been of two minds about it.
I sure was.

Why did I want to go to Alaska? I had learned to survive on the edge of civilization, but up there, in those boreal forests I would never be able to feed, comfort, and protect myself.
And the bears! In the Geographic pictures, there appeared to be more bears along the rivers of Alaska than fisherman on opening day anywhere. Black Bears, Brown Bears, Grizzly Bears, Kodiak Bears, and Polar Bears.
My experience of being dragged off by a bear, however well meaning she might have been, had made me shy about them, to say the least. I must have wanted to kill one.

Real North

One day in May 1962 l found a note held down by a pebble on top of the mail rock by my cliff digs in the cemetery. Brother Davey was the only one who left notes there, or even knew about that particular hide-out at the time.
The note said I should come to dinner at home the next night and be sure to wear my legs.
Dinner this time was for Buzz Miller, a law school graduate Daddy Ernie had sent off to be an assistant attorney general in Alaska, and who was back for a class reunion and had been invited to a dinner cooked by Mama Dot. An invitation like that was greatly prized among the law students and graduates,
Since I had been specially invited to dinner, Mama Dot, knowing that instead of washing my clothing, I just wore it out and discarded it, had put a shirt, and some new underwear in the downstairs bathroom where I went to wash up. I changed into the new clothes and and disposed of the old. Then Davey took offense at my underwear stinking in the bathroom waste basket, tried to flush it down the toilet, and flooded the floor. But we got over that before the guest came, and all went smoothly from there on.
Daddy Ernie introduced me as an Outdoorsman, which was a polite way to charactrize me.
Dinner was Mama Dot's unbeatable Chicken Divan.
Buzz Miller had seconds because Daddy Ernie said we needed to put some fat on him for the winter hibernation up there, and when Buzz refused any thirds, Daddy Ernie said, what's the matter, don't you like our food?
And then he told the traditional Mooseflop joke, which was his only joke I remember, but he told it regularly after the don't you like our food embarassments.
It must have come from His Eligah Lake Lake Hunting Club experience, where cooking duty was not popular but complaining about the food was.
You probably know the deal; they made a rule that, If you complain about the food , you have to take over the cooking.
There was no other provision in the camp rules for rotating the Cooks job. And one very reluctant cook, who would have quit if it were allowed, produced some very bad meals, but couldn't seem to cook badly enough than any of the others would complain.
Finally, he has an inspiration in his sleep, gets up, goes out in the moon light with a canoe paddle and slides it under a big moose pie about the size of a tire,
He walks it back to camp with it, puts it in in a crust, bakes it all day, and serves it with a sprig of parsley on top for supper.

So the first guy to take a bite of this soufle sits back and says , says Daddy Ernie, Great Balls of Fire! That's Moose flop.....he says...........but Good!

That's it.
After the moose flop we went into the living room and discussed Anchorage, whose people, if they didn't have a float plane parked at the biggest float port in the world, needed only drive to a crossroads or a bridge at the outskirts of down to shoot an elk or snatch salmon which they bring back to huge rented cold storage units down town. Anchorage where under the midnight sun cabbages grow big as dog houses, where odd people went to start new lives, if not maybe to grow new legs, where, seeing as I was such an Outdoorsman, abd if I cared to experience the true Great Outdoors, he could put me up for as long as it took me to find some interesting work..

Less than a month later, about a year before the big earth quake shattered the Alaska permafrost and sprang hundreds of miles of rail road track. Daddy Ernie loaned me money for a plane ticket and handed me the belted suit case which he had carried to college. Mama Dot contributed a tooth brush, and paste, note paper, and ball point pens, a few pairs of new underwar and socks. I packed my harmonica, and a fly reel with a weight forward line, a jack knife, and a carton of Winstons. I hadn't smoked before, but I was starting another life.

Wearing my traveling legs, underwear and denims cut off right out of the package, I took the first plane ride of my life, most of it over endless Canadian lake-splattered lowlands, and most of the rest up the icey spine of the continent, all of which would have been dizzying even wtihout the narcosis of the nicotine.

I staggered off the plane in Anchorage, and was met at the gate by two native prostitutes who seemed to have known I was coming. I had no idea what they wanted as they approached with tubucular coughs, but I gave them each a cigarette .
They accepted, and hung on, but I was soon picked up by Buzz Miller.

He had looked into the employment situation and we discussed the job possibilities as we drove to his home.
The possibilites were limited. The idea of crewing on a fishing boat appealed to me, or I thought it did , but any captian wanted an investment from his crew members in the expedition, and though noting was said about the issue, I am sure none of them needed a youthful lurch-about on projetile prosthetics.
There was also work at remote oil drilling sites, which appealed only by virtue of the remoteness, but rough as my general nature is, I was no rough neck.
There were a few openings for men to camp alone with a rifle at the mouths of Salmon spawning streams in order to make sure that the commercial fishermen did not approach closer than the law allowed. This had some appeal for me of course, being a job with a gun, involving pirates, but it was a job that usually went to ex soldiers trained to kill.
The next day, we visited a National Fsheries department station, but they wanted to hire college boys in a fisheries major for seasonal work there. About all this left was working in a cannery with the native women, or working on the railroad.
Working on the Railroad sounded good, almost musical.
At the Railroad office, I learned that all I had to do was pass a physical exam and sign a statement that I would not try to overthrow the government or form a union of railroad workers.

Of course the physical exam was the problem, and I dreaded the outcome..
Dr. Starr was tan and rumpled as a veternarian. He noted that I had come from New York State, and he had too, but he didn't see how people could stand it there. When I had dropped my pants for the exam Dcotor Starr asked how in the hell I expected to be a Gandy Dancer, with those legs of mine, such as they are.
I didn't know what a Gandy Dancer was, but I shifted around unseasily and looked down at my naked prostethics as if I had only just discovered them there myself, flexing like I was trying them for the first time, then I pulled up my pants and bounced in place a little, then bounced around the room some, a good foot and a half each bounce.
Dr. Starr said that was some Damn Gandy Dancing with such feeling that I thought maybe that was what it was. He had meo walk around some more, and wanted to know who made the phosthetics and all about them, so I told him how Doc Howe had cobbled the legs out of fly rod parts .
Doctor Starr proceeded to examine my main body, and concluded that I had after all, a sound and sturdy pair of legs and feet of my own, that I was in excelent health over all, and that with the adidtional advantage of my amazing prosthesetic devices, I might do just fine on the job.

He signed off on the papers and said that if I could make my way back to Anchorage on a weekend, I could fly with him and a buddy a few miles inland across Cook Inlet to a small lake where he had a cabin. He had built it entirely out of materials flown, in strapped between the pontoons of a Cesna float plane.
He said he lake was full of trout you could catch them with a frying pan.
Trout so wild they are tame.
Moose and Bears the same.
As a matter of fact, a bear had invited itself to dinner that Spring, and he had killed it right in the doorway.

Gandy Dancer

The Station Master in Anchorage gave me a pass to ride in the Seward train caboose, with instructions to get off the train as it rolled past the side track between the highway crossings of Portage and Moose Pass, up in the remote valley where Extra Gang number 2 was sidetracked.

The two conductors sat with their feet up on the cold stove of the caboose, playing cards from their laps.
One said I could ride in the cupola if I wanted. I should just keep an eye out and holler if any of the cars were on fire or had left the track.
I climbed up and watched intently, but only saw a million pointed firs, a hundred track-side moose, three mountain goats, a dozen rivers milkiy with rock powder, valleys that narrowed into tunnels opening into bigger valleys with green ice walls that had white tongues lapping down them from glaciers fields in even higher valleys,
I blew for a while on my harmonica burt I oouldn't hear it over the clack of the train and rumble of car sized boulders the glacierl melt water tumbled along the river bottoms. .
This was the goddamn life, flowing through me, me through it!
But of course, working on the railroad, is not the same as riding on the railroad.

After a time measureless to me, the conductor hollered up.
We were due within a few minutes to roll on the down grade past the Extra Gang #2 side track.
Throw your baggage out first, the conductor told me, and then wait until you're past it before you jump. And hit the ground running.

I threw the suitcase clear of the train, and then the sleeping bag; waited until we were past them, jumped, and hit the ground running......and bouncing. on my prosethics.
I bounced right into one of the several men standing there: a fire plug of an Indian who turned like a roller and chuckled me off. but did not fall, totter, or cuss.
When I had gathered up my belongings an nodded toward the approaching assistant foreman , who took my papers, and showed me to my bunk in a sleeping car. He said there was still time for me to get a snack down at the supper car if I wanted and anyway I would need to be bouncing out of bed at six the next morning.
I was very tired from all the landscape and river that had consumed. I closed the door looked out my window at a mountain wall. I could see just where I was in the morning. I closed my eyes and was lost in space.

The assistant foreman on the coal stove with a fire poker woke me and the men around me in the morning fog dim and milky with rock powder or ice crystals.

Breakfast, served up all at once by the assistant cook, was pancakes, cereal, donuts, eggs, bacon, ham, toast, and fried potatoes , juice, coffee. There must have been fruit there somewhere. Do they have bananas on the moon? Anyway there was far too much food for the ordinary human with an untrained stomach. These men shoveled it down like they thought they were fueling steam engines. I did my best.
I never saw the cook until after we had eaten and she came out to see how we were doing and when she stepped up to the table, I stood right up like the chair was suddenly hot. Aunt Sammy!
No not Aunt Sammy I realized, when I was introduced as the new hire, and she spoke a hello, but she resembled Sammy enough to have been her sister, and she could well have done her own radio show.
She was a radiant, red glowing woman, like a farmer, or a fire tender, and fire tender she was.
i would learn that she owned a restaurant in San Fransisco, and left it for Alaska each summer when the extra gangs did thier work, the reasom maybe being that these men were the best and most grateful customers. Nobody complained about the food, and nobody complained later on in my stay when she broke regulations and cooked game one of someone shot, oer about what the two women may or may not have been doing in their private quarters at night.

The work crew was eight or ten common gandy dancers, a heavy equipment operator, a spiker and his holder, plus the foreman and his assistant.. The gandy dancers and the tamper operator shared a couple of sleeping cars with two bunks to a compartment, though there was no one in the other bunk of mine for the first weeks. The foreman and assistant forman shared a sleeping car, the cook and her assistant another. The dining car was between the cooks' car and the wash car, then there was tool car, and a water car. Join one end to the other, whirl it off, and it would be a suitable space station.

I didn't see the brief dark of night for several weeks, but there must have been a night because it was cold every morning.
And then, about as soon as the sun made it through the mountain gaps, the temperature went into the eighties and nineties for rest of the day as the sun circled just over the peaks.
Each day was eight to ten hours of bending to shovel gravel and then jumping, on the shovel to tamp the gravel under the ties. . The foreman and assistaant foreman alernated supervising us, with one of them often going up and down the track above and below the job, laying and removing explosive warning charges in case a rogue train were to come along, and going back to the sidetrack for a trunk packed full of soup and sandwiches. I ate a man share , and then stretched out on the gravel with my head on the raill for fifteen minutes of deep sleep, until the iron hit the rail, then it was back to the shovel.
Except for lunch, you could only stop to drink or piss. I drank a lot, but mostly only pretended to piss so I could rest, because we sweated so we were about pissless. And the sweat evaporated so fast that by the end of the day our backs and shoulders were streaked white with salt like potato chips.

Joe, the spiker who came behind us was the Indian I had bounced into when I had jumped from the train. His helper placed the spike and Joe drove it in. I never could figure out why the head of the spiking hammer was so impossibly small: the same size as the head of the spike, why he never missed, or why he never brought it down before his helper got his hand away. .
Joe didn't read, but he was a great admirer of reading and writing. We didn't talk much, but sometimes, he would come sit in my compartment chair watching sometimes as I wrote notes to Carmella Mignano that I never mailed, Not that she was expecting any. She was Davey's ex girlfriend and I had a crush on her she didn't know about.

But in the first days there was no note writing, because I couldn't sit down and stay awake unless I was eating. After another huge meal at supper, I would generally flop down in my clothes and sink into a sleep l wouldn'tt wake from when the regular train came through at one or two in the morning passing within twenty feet of my head.

Already by the second or third day, my back was totally sprung at the base of my spine, and I couldn't straighten up without climbing up the shovel handle.
I had to pretty much leave my back out of it and do l the work with my arms, legs, and prosthesis.
Since none of those guys seemed to ever take their pants off either, I am not sure what they knew about my limitations and additions in the leg department. .
Wiith a few more days behind me, I would be still up a while after supper each night, when the cook's helper carried the scraps across the tracks and threw them off the berm.
Then the bears come out to feed. Sometimes five or six of them. That is a lot of bears in one place, seeing as bears are mostly lone rangers or protective single mothers with cubs. The news had spread about the great new free-lunch. Now and then there was a little quarrel and one went off and under a bush . A couple of the collge boys insisted on approaching and feeding cookies to the bears by hand. They Indian;s frowned at that.

The track patrolman was called Boomer (as maybe they are all called) after his very loud track car as he came a few hours before each train to insure that there were no sprung rails, no rock slides, dead moose or bears on the tracks.

He also brought the mail and liked to shoot the bull. He carried a .22 on his ride, and used it sometimes to urge on any moose or bears too dumb and puzzled to get out of his way.
This worked, except, according to the foreman, there was at least one bear whom Boomer had managed to lame with his little rifle, and the bear had developed a bad temper as a result.
If we ever saw one of the after- dinner bears with a limp and a snarl, and if the foremen were not around, we were to come and get his thirty ought six and put the animal down.

We often worked eight and a half hour days so that we could quit early on Friday, and then the foreman would take those who wanted to go in the man-haul, to the Porrtage station from where we could try to catch a ride into Anchorage.
After the first week I was too tired to do anything but sleep all weekend, but after the second, I just had to go in, beause the shoulder of the shovel blade and the rough gravel of the track bed had worn through the soles of my lower set of shoes, and was beginning to hack into my shoe stretchers.
So I went into Anchorage, stayed with the Millers, bought a pair of army surplus combat boots, a soggy fly rod to go with the reel and line I had brought from Ithaca, and then I went to a pawn shop on 4th Street and bought a twenty two revolver for sixteen dollars.
I also called Dr. Starr and made an appointment to fly with him to his lake cabin the next weekend. A bush pilot would drop us off Saturday and pick us up Sunday.

I rode back to Portage in the caboose again. I shot out of the window with my little revolver. I don't suppose that was something the conductor would have encouraged or the railroad approved, but I couldn't even hear the shots myself. Firing while we were in a tunnel, I could see flames shoot in all directions from the leaky chamber. It was a cheap little thing.

Shooting The Bear

Beside the pilot as we flew over Cook Inlet to Dr, Starr's Lake, it was me and the Doctor and his friend Ben who taught at an Indian school out in the bush, and whom you would have to describe, even in another story, as a big bear of a man, except with more facial hair.
As we came in over the lake I could see a moose grazing in the shallows and hundreds of trout swarming to spawn in the tiny inlet.
Rainbows, said Dr. Starr.
And when the chartered float plane left us at the dock and we started to the cabin with our supplies, we saw that the cabin door was open and hanging half off the hinges.
Bears, he said.

Nailed up on the side of the camp, was the skin of the bear which Dr. Starr had shot as it was trying to break in while was cooking supper one evening that Spring.
He had meant the skin to warn other bears away, but it had apparantly worked more like a clan flag.

This time, a bear had come in through the kitchen window, ravaged the cupboards, bitten through all the cans in the place, including fly spray, sucked out most of the contents, shat and puked all over the place, and then left by the door.
Of course Dr. Starr was pissed, but he seemed hardly surprised by a bear that comes in out of the woods to shit, and he was probably used to gory messes of all sorts.

We cleaned up, rehung the door, blocked the broken window, then we went fishing.
Actually it was more like harvesting than like the hope-based thing I had known in New York state as trout fishing. If not with just a frying pan, I could have caught all we wanted by dragging a fly behind the boat, but the Dr. insisted I do some of my fancy casting for them. The rod was shit, but I did some sloppy sky writing, and two more trout managed to leap and catch me on the fly. It was almost annoying.
Supper was trout fried in a pan cured with bear grease, along with potatoes , and whisky, and the back-up elk meat sandwiches, then more whisky. Afterward we threw the left-overs out on the garbage pile twenty yards from the cabin, so a visiting bear would not need to come in to get them.

When it was time to turn in, the doctor and Ben agreed that, since both of them happened to have already shot a bear that year, I should be the one to sleep out on the screen porch with the bear rifle......just in the unlikely event of the bear coming back again.

I put my mummy bag on the porch cot, leaned the gun against the wall by my head and lay awake for a couple of hours during which the bear did not come.

Then I fell asleep. I dreamed I was in the dark of the railroad tunnel shooting and shooting my revolver, but hearing nothing at all....... until I heard the sound of claws on screen, as the bear, standing on it's hind feet at the top of the steps, gently tested the door as if he were measuring for a replacement screen.

I rolled over reaching for the rifle, but fell onto the floor because I hadn't unzipped the mummy bag.
This knocked the gun over, alerted the bear, woke the two men in the main cabin.
I unzipped and got out of the bag, picked up rifle, and got to the door, rifle raised, just as the bear was headed off over the garbage pile.

I guess I was going to put a bullet in his butt, but merciful Ben came out and pushed the rifle off target before I could take aim......... and I didn't shoot. In that situation, he explained, I was unlikely to do anything but badly wound the bear, and then we would have had a much more serious problem. Now I feel like he stopped me just because he himself was a bear.

But as Daddy Ernie used to say every night, tomorrow is another day, And every day is a new opportunity, sometimes an old one knocking for the second or third time
. One evening few weeks later, back on the railroad, a new bear showed up feeding among the the usual free-loaders and it seemed to to me that he had a limp.
The three boys from Nebraska said maybe. Joe said nothing. The foreman was not there. So I went in and got his rifle.

I shot the bear. Three shots before all motion stopped. Two bad head shots, which totally missed is head, but blew most of his neck off, showering blood clear across the track, and a final heart shot that stopped the thrashing and spouting.. I don't know why I aimed for the head at first.
The bad misses or the mess didn't seem to bother much of anybody else.
The assistant foreman had a mamal skull collection which lacked a bear specimen so he helped me finish beheading, then skinning and butchering the animal.
It must have been nine o'clock already by the time we put the head in a five gallon can over an open fire to boil the flesh away.
We all but the cooks stood around as it boiled and bounced , even into the dark of night, the first I had seen in weeks, Darker than you might expect, given the short day. Like looking up through the chimney from the fireplace at Loon Island once, when I saw dark sky with stars in the day time.
And you would want to believe, that the Great Bear of the North Star constilation was looking down at this little circle of men around the glow of the bouncing skull, as they told bear stories.
But the bear encounter stories were soon exhausted and the white guys began telling jokes, not including the moose flop joke, but including the classic about the new arrival in the north who wanted to become a real Sourdough, as the old timers are known up there.
So he finds him a Sourdough in a bar who tells him that to become a Sourdough, he has to shoot a bear, hump a squaw, and piss in the Yukon.
So the kid goes off into the bush .
And he comes back to the bar a month later, all beat up, scratched and scabby, and he finds the same old Sourdough, buys him a drink. And then he says, " Allright, now where is that squaw I've got to shoot."
That's it. Maybe it is funny. I took it kind of personally.
The next evening I mostly finished scraping the fat off the hide. I took a shaker of salt off the table in the dinner car, sprinkled it all on the hide, and left it spread out in the line shack for a few days while the flies worked on it some more.
The Alaska Railroad was not supposed to feed us on non government meat, but the cooks barbecued bear for several days and it was so tender and good that you had to think that's what it would be like to eat a human. I don't know how much it had to do with the fact that they were eating about the same thing as we did. If so Davey's chickens should taste like bear meat. It was just the best meat I ever had except for the raw bass Pike and I ate one night at Indian Lake in another story later on.
On Thursday of the next week, before the hide could get too stiff, I rolled it up and wrapped it, then took it into Anchorage Friday and sent it by U.S. mail addressed to brother Davey in Ithaca. I figured it could be a rug in front of the fire place at Lake Bonaparte. Or maybe I could have it made into a blanket I could present to Carmella Mignano.

A month or so later I got a ride with shared gas expenses and driving stints down the Alaska Higway to Seatle. Then I hitch hiked and ended up riding the bus ........ all that way with a stone like a penis I had picked up from the railroad gavel, a souveneer railroad spike, and the revolver with some remains of my clothing in Daddy Ernie's suitcase. That long trip would be another story, and one worth telling, but I hardly remember any of it.

I arrived back in Ithaca and came in through the porch roof, because the family was up at Bonaparte closing camp. I left the suitcase with the spike and the stone pecker and the gun in in a closet on the third floor and then curled up beside it right there in the closet and slept for eighteen hours.

I looked around the house when I woke but couldn't find the bear hide. anywhere.
Later, Davey said the package with the bear skin in it had arrived pretty foul smelling before he and Daddy Ernie even opened it.
They never brought it inside, but opened it right there on the front porch, and might never have opened it at all, but he said they wanted to make sure that it wasn't my dead body in there, shipped back for burial.
The bear skin and all the wrapings went into a garbage can which he and Davey took to the dump and left there, can and all. Carmella Mignano would never know the difference.

When I went back to get the gun from the suitcase in the closet a year or so later, the stone pecker and the spike were there, but the revolver was gone.
After he died, I discovered the revolver's cilinder and the frame in two differnet drawers of Daddy Ernie's bureau, so that I guess he could probably have made a case that the gun no longer existed..
Daddy Ernie never even mentioned it .....or the bear me.
He died about twenty years ago, and I can't put him together again, but there once was such a man.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Secret Sharers

The other night I went to close the the chicken house door , and saw a skunk in there eating sunflower seeds from the feeder.

At first he (or she) didn't pay any attention to me . Skunks don't have to fear much of anything not on wheels, and they can't see beyond a few feet anyway.
When I spoke to him about how he might possibly leave for the night, the skunk only hid behind the feeder, so I went back to the Ark, giving him a chance to disappear.
He didn't go far. He (or she) has been around since early Spring, and has had a few mild encounters with the dogs, so they don't bother him anymore.

The next morning when I was hosing back the roosters so the hens could get out and forage, our skunk walked through the flock like just another fancy-tail chicken. The dogs pretended not to see him.
I guess I can live with him here if the dogs and chickens can.
I wouldn't even know how to kill a skunk. Because If a chicken can run around with his head cut off (and he can because i have seen it) wouldn't a skunk still be able to shoot at me after I shot it?
We can spare the sunflower seeds. I'm not forgetting that skunks are a large member of the generally viscous weasel family, that they do have a taste for small birds, and that occasionally one will kill a larger bird and bite off its head to drink its blood. Those vampire skunks must be the exception. I think mostly skunks eat seeds and grubs, and you can't blame them for being opportunists when it comes to naked little, grub-like baby animals.

That was the day before yesterday.
Yesterday evening I went out a little late to shut the rooster's door, carrying a flash light and walking slowly in case of a skunk.
And a big skunk at the feeder jumped straight up into the air when the light came on him.
I backed off and went to the house to tell Davey I hadn't forgotten to close the door, but was just going to leave it open until the skunk was out of there.

It wasn't my idea for him to go down there with his camera. But he did.
He didn't get sprayed for his intrusion, but he got pictures of, not one big, but two little skunks which pottered about and then went into a hole right there in the rooster room which goes under the main quarters of the hens..
So that answers the question as to wether the big skunk was a male or a female. And she lives with her family, not just near by, but with the chicken's floor being her ceiling.
Davey tells me we might as well keep the skunks on as guard animals.
What can I say to that?
I guess that will have to be alright until a coyote applies for the job.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Most Frequently Asked Question

So, who and or what were my biological parents?
Where and how did I live until the Warren's dog dragged me in? Was I a child of some unspeakable conjunction, kept in a root cellar until I howled, and was then put out in the woods to die or to be raised by wolves or dwarfs?
As I said here a while back, Daddy Ernie tried to trace me to my source before moving the family to Ithaca, but the original question was never settled, and to tell the truth, it matters more to other people than it does to me.
I might as well have been born the day I showed up in the Warren's garden.
I remember that day mostly from having been told about it so many times, and I have no memory at all from Pre Warren time.
And no, although I have lived with beavers, I can't even imagine that beavers raised me, because not only would beavers have no inclination to adopt a human child bigger than themselves, I would have starved on their diet of assorted wood products.
And it wasn't wolves like most of the feral children in the books Alan Pike brought me on that subject when I was living in the library attic. It's all pure folk lore if you ask me. Wolves anywhere are too smart and wary of getting involved with humans. It would be impossible in my case anyway, since during my youth, we had neither wolves, nor even coywolves in this part of the country.

Bears would be far more likely to try such a thing.
Bears often lose their wariness, because of gluttony due to nut crop failures in their normal range and their need to put on weight for the winter....... besides which they have a tendency toward sentimentality and inappropriate attachments a lot like you find in people, but not in wolves.
Now I'm not saying that I was raised by bears or that it is even likely, ..... but when I was twenty something.....a man in years, but still small as I happen to be, and living in the wild again, I was actually kidnapped by a bear.

At the time, I was still living in that first converted beaver lodge back on the Fort Drum reservation.
As I inherited it, the lodge stood there in the meadow which had been a pond bottom, and where Herb, Davey, and I had found the artillery dud some years before. The old entrance door was now in the open air. Beavers need the entrance underwater to keep out Fishers and Bobcats and Coons that would eat them or the kits, but I felt safe because those smaller predators would stay out when my human scent was in the place, and a bear wouldn't fit through the beaver- sized entrance. I didn't even bother to block it off, except in cold weather.

The year after I dug the floor down for more headroom and sawed a small window with a saber saw, I made a larger hole in the very top of the lodge so I could have a fire inside without being choked by the smoke..
Cutting the holes was a hell of a job .
You might picture a beaver lodge as a hollow shell of sticks, but the lodge wall is thicker than the air space it contains. This is partly because beaver engineering is rough and approximate, but it is also appropriate for their needs. A lodge that is thin and elegant like a Fuller dome, would be vulnerable to anything that wanted to break in. As they are, so thick and interlaced, dynamite or chain saws are generally required.
Sometimes young fool bears will try to tear into beaver lodges, but they always give up and go find something less troublesome , like a bee tree, to raid. That is unless the bear is a big, berieved mother and the lodge has already been opened at the top like a coconut for a straw.
It was late Summer and I had only had an occasional cooking fire there. No fire at all that day.
All summer long, I had been sleeping there rolled up in a sheet of plastic , just as I do when out in the open, whatever the weather. A sheet of plastic is all I really need for a tent, and even in mild or dry weather, it serves to keep off the mosquitoes and black flies, which of course were coming into the lodge through the smoke hole. Bugs don't like me all that much, but I don't like the bugs much either.

I was woken up by a stink so awful it seemed to have come right through my plastic wrap. I heard a snuffling at entrance, and knew by the deep throatiness that it was a bear After a few minutes, the bear gave up at the beaver door and, then must have got my scent from the smoke hole. To tell you truth, I don't see how it could smell anything other than itself . Bears generally smell like their food, or like something they have been rolling in.... garbage bears smell like garbage, grass bears like clover. This bear had been rolling in something that made it smell like a dead bear. The funk poured down on me from the smoke hole.
And then, with a big thump , a puff of ash, and a blast of bad air , she landed in the fire pit.
I didn't have time to unroll from the plastic and scat out of there, but just lay like a bear burrito in my plastic wrap.
She stuck her head right in the end of the tube and snuffed up a big whiff of my air, and then she rolled me over a few times.
Like a hot dog on a grill, I thought.
After a few minutes of this, she sat back and coughed a few times, then pushed me to the exit and stuffed me halfway through the hole. I tried to wiggle the rest of the way out, but tubed up.....I couldn't get anywhere..
She went back up and out, came down and got a hold of the loose plastic with her teeth and pulled me the rest of the way through. I shrank back in the tube as far as i could. Through the two or three layers of plastic, and in the dark, I couldn't see much of anything as I was dragged across the meadow and up over a saddle , thinking as I slid along ....... bumping over rocks and lumps.......that a plastic tube like mine would be a good device for pulling a dead body out of the woods. Anyway, she seemed to be taking care, so as not to bruise the meal I thought, and it didn't t hurt me a lot more than it would hurt a dead person.
Bears don't usually take their food home, but just gorge on the kill and then lay around in the bush nearby until hunger returns, so I was thinking, as I bumped along, that maybe she was taking me home to feed to her cub or cubs.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably ten minutes and maybe half a mile, she stopped a moment, then she gave me a couple extra tugs and it got darker, as she drew me into her lair......just a blow down brush pile, as I would see later. .
She lay there panting for a few minutes, and then went back out, I held my own breath and heard no other breathing in there with me. Though the scent was still stong.
So she had no cubs, or maybe she had one and lost it. Maybe it was the dead cub she had been rolling in. This was not an normal bear. This was a deranged bear. Maybe she had gone back out to hunt up some grubs for me. I imagined the years ahead of me as slave child.
As soon as she had been gone five minutes I wormed out of the plastic, rolled it up, and took off with it heading for the dawning light in the direction of Lake Bonaparte.

This brought me back to my lodge within a few minutes.
The bear would be able to find me there again even more easily than the first time, if she wanted to insist, and I thought she might not be so gentle the second time, so I picked up the few things I had at the lodge, then went to the Bonaparte shore and swam the channel to Round Island. I set up camp on the East point where . I figured I would wait there a couple of days to give her a chance to return to the lodge if she was going to, and not find me there.
In bear country I usually hang my food in a net hammock strung between trees I keep for that, but this time, Just in case she was a very determined bear, I wrapped my food , boots and the few clothes I wasn't wearing in the plastic on the ground , then strung the hammock high up the fork of a birch to sleep in.
And sure enough, she showed up again that night. And she was either more fooled than I had wanted her to be, or else she had a hankering for a pair of boots and some potatoes, because she dragged off the tube with my stuff in it.
Any how, the bear now had all my camp stuff, so I didn't see any choice but to hitch down to Ithaca for the winter, where I had my city legs and other stuff stowed in the mausoleum.

My next lodge would be out of the range of that bear, and on the side of the lake with a quicker access to roads out. I never will forget that mother bear though. Not just the smell. Actually, it makes me a little sad to think about her. I have never felt so wanted before or after.
But as for my actual upbringing, it was by the Warrens mostly, and I have nothing to complain about there, except for their eagerness at the beginning to get rid of me, and their general tendency to forget me.
So how so you forget your own child or brother, blood kin or not? That's the question I myself ask most frequently, even though I know the answer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Invasion of the Coywolves

I found only one morel mushroom this year, probably because it didn't rain at the right time, but a few weeks ago I walked up a wooded gully near here looking for more, this time without the dogs, on the alternate theory that, so far, the dogs had frightened the mushrooms into hiding every time we approached. If you don't ever allow for the unlikely, there will be few surprises, and nothing learned.
Stepping carefully, and sweeping the ground with my gaze, I came up the creek bed to within fifteen or twenty yards of a mother fox standing on a log, back to me, totally occupied with trying keep track of the six or nine kits all over the gully slope above her, chasing their tails and each other and each other's tails, or just jumping into the air like fleas.
After a few minutes of this fine entertainment, I turned to go, but something alerted the vixen, she barked three times, and the pups all disappeared instantly, like vanishing morels.

I saw no morels on that walk, and if I had brought the dogs, I would never have seen the foxes either, but the red foxes are all around us, more common than dogs and feeding mosty on mice, though they will eat most anything, probably including sour grapes, morels, and dog food, if you feed your dog outside, or have a pet door.

There are gray foxes around here too. Last year we had a gray fox den under the tool shed and I didn't even know about it until I heard a shriek one day and saw our pit-lab Tano, his jaws clamped on the vixen's neck, shaking her like a chew rope. I yelled at him, he let go, and she slunk off under the shed. I looked under there later and found her dead, with two kits latched onto her nipples.
She had a pretty face, brown and black and gray, like a hawk.
I took her out and buried her. Davey gave the pups milk and grapes and bananas, bread and peanut butter and whatever he had in the refrigerator. They hung around for a few days, then went off to forage and multiply.
The grays are a little bigger than the reds, and you might mistake them for coyotes, especially if your idea of a coyote is one of the unevolved western variety.
Our coys are much larger.
Recently I was out with the dogs in the hickory woods at the head of one of the little gorges behind the farm . The dogs Deerdra and Tano were ranging out of sight ahead of me, when a redish brown critter, .... big as a small deer..... came streaking by me, not bounding in high arcs like a deer; but running flat out, persued by Tano, who was no more than ten yards behind.

I called Tano, and he came right back, brushed past me, to follow Deerdra back toward home. Just a few seconds behind Tano , came the r coyote. It stopped a few yards away and stared at the dogs, through me ....I looked down at my hand, to see if I was there.
That animal was not much like the twenty pound California coyotes that raid garbage cans and try, without much success, to carry off small children. After freezing his prey with those yellow eyes just like the ones in wolf paintings on velvet, this animal would be able to carry off a middle schooler or a small housewife. Or me.
After a few seconds, the critter turned and trotted away.

Coyotes are not native to the eastern U.S. The the large coy animals now thriving in our woods are the descendants of coyotes which have been moving eastward form the Rocky mountains and mating with wolves along the way. D.N.A. tests have established that. People here sometimes call them coydogs, and coyotes will mate with dogs, but would as soon kill them, or both, and when they do mate, dogs contribute a gene which causes the hybrids to produce litters not just in the Spring, when they will have plenty of time to mature before winter, but any old time, so that they don't survive well in nature.
Coywolves drink at our ponds, leave their furry turds on the chicken runs, stalk neighbors who walk their dogs on leash, and they have family picnics with group howls in the near woods.
It may have been A coywolf a few months ago that snatched the roosters off the deck rail here and then set them free without their tail feathers. Coyotes eat probably half the fawns born around here each year. Deer are over abundant most everywhere in the East and adapt to fawn mortality and abundant food by birthing twins or triplets, so the coys don't have much effect there, but they also eat most of the Ring Necked Pheasants stocked here by the state, and for that offense, they are chased by organized packs of hunters. Some kind of active hostility is probably a good idea, because if you yield the woods to the coys, they will take your yard, your duck, your dog, and your cannairy. Years ago, when every country boy carried a rifle, coyotes and wolves were not know to attack people. They are loosing respect.
Watch dogs are not not usually enough to keep the coyotes away from homesteads, particularly in thickly settled areas where dogs no longer run free. The Dog's Plot dogs bark constantly on nights when the coyotes howl near, and will not go more than a hundred yards from home anytime, unless a human is with them, and then they are foolishly unafraid. They have probably heard the stories of coyotes luring dogs with playful bows, bounds, and dashes, further and further away from home, to where the pack waits.
The coyote which wandered into Central Park and into the news lately, may been an exception for the island of Manhattan, , but there are coyotes living in the city of Ithaca glens and cemeteries , and they are probably in your town too.
Sitting In your home, working in your yard, or searching the park woods for fern fiddleheads , if you don't see any kind of wild canine, it is because you have been seen and are being watched from cover.

The coy ones may be sitting out in the dark watching your television through the window right now. They are very aware of you, your children and pets, your livestock, your waste stream, the limits of our perception and of your tolerance.
Don't feed them. Don't trust them. Scare them if you can.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sleeps With Beavers

I've remodeled and inhabited a few abandoned beaver lodges, but I actually lived with beavers in their unimproved lodges only on and off for a few years, and never for a whole winter. Even so, my short time as the so called "Beaver Boy" will probably always be my main claim to fame, and I've mentioned it so often here that a lot of you have asked me to tell about it before I choke on a stick and die.........or as is more likely, before I have the Ark hauled down the hill to Cayuga Lake and head North to the Barge canal and the Great Lakes, never to be heard from again.
Fair enough then, and thank you for asking.

The beavers were only just beginning to return by the nineteen fifties when I was a kid paging through the old New York State Conservationist magazines by the fireplace at Loon Island.
There I learned that the last beavers in New York State had been trapped out of the upper Oswegatche in the late nineteenth century by Cannadian Algonquins on contract.
I had still never even seen a beaver lodge or dam before the day Herb, Davey, our dog Binker, and I went across the lake to put out trot lines for bullheads in Hidden pond.
Hidden pond is out of sight, but less than a hundred yards from the West shore of Bonaparte. That shore is the border of the Fort Drum military reservation, then called Pine Camp: a huge wilderness, most of which is not used by the military, although the shore line was posted with signs saying,
"Danger Duds
Impact Area
Do Not Enter"

Up on the curving, cirque-like bluff just behind the pond, there is an old mica mine. It's just an open pit which was probably not worked for more than a season, but Grandpa Failing or Daddy Ernie would lead a family expedition up there once a summer so that we could bring back a few more chunks of mica for the flower bed border and mantel piece.
Old Irv Priest, who ran the store and informal post office at his marina, had a little printing press on which he produced a series of booklets on the lake history, and also local post cards , one of which was a simple map he drew of the lake and surroundings, including Hidden Pond with an X on the west shore and one on the northwest, which were both labeled "mica mine."
Herb and Davey had noticed the second X on the post card but nobody seemed to know anything about the second mine.
So Herb and Davey decided that while our set lines were fishing for bullheads, we would just mosey over to that second X and check out the other mine.
Those woods had burned over in the eighteen nineties, leaving some low places nearly untouched and burning the trees and soil right off of the long granite ridges, so by the nineteen fifties, the slopes were coming up with thick second growth but the ridge tops were still like broad and bare or mossy roads which suddenly dive into swamps and bogs. It was an easy mistake to follow these false roads, and even on our adult guided trips to the known mine, we sometimes got disoriented. Usually, all we had to do then was listen for an outboard motor or just get up high enough that we could see a piece of the lake..
As you've already guessed, we boys didn't find the lost mine, and we very soon lost ourselves. We realized it ourselves when Herb e found a fishing lure which he didn't know
he had dropped.
Either there were no boats on the lake, or we were out of range of motor sounds. The day was overcast, with no sun to give us a sense of direction, moss grrows on all sides of trees, and Herb the Boy Scout was not prepared with a compass.
We tried to walk straight by following the false roads of the burnt ridge tops but were frustrated when the roads ended suddenly in swamps.
They sent me up a ridge back pine e to look for the lake, but the largest pine up there , rooted in moss on the rock, was no thicker in the trunk than me, and so bushy I could hardly see out of it, no matter how much the brothers shouted at me from below. It was cool up there though and I stayed until they got mad and told me never to come down.

Each time we came down into the flats with nothing to follow or to force us one way or another, so that we could try to follow Herb's nose, we proceeded in unconscious circles, diverted now and then by deeper swamps and ponds.
We saw no beavers that day but where there was a narrow neck between swamps, there was usually a small beaver dam ponding the former swamp. and domed, stick- built beaver lodges in the open water, just like in the magazines. The ponds were ringed by the stumps of Aspens which appeared to have been cut by cub scouts with stone axes.
Some of the dams were in disrepair and the ponds had become meadows, their bottom level raised by the accumulation of forest silt and pond debris grown over with grass, with shrubs growing on the abandoned lodges. To me, this was better than finding ten lost mica mines.
We found Burnt Pond, which we had visited in other years on family blueberry expeditions, but it seemed to be in a different place that day; we found Indian Lake, which we had never seen before and is long way from Bonaparte, and then, three hours into our wanderings, an hour or so after the first time we found Burnt Pond, we were coming down another false highway, ramping down into a large meadow of tall grass and ferns.
From the ridge, we could see at the center of the meadow, a beaver lodge, so big that even Herb probably could have stood up inside. The meadow would have been a pond maybe three or four years previously. Here and there we could see a silver bend of the brook winding through it. We could have walked right up to the lodge on dry ground.
Despite being lost and desperate, we came down the ridge and headed right for the beaver lodge as if it were home.
But the grass and Ostrich ferns were so high that as soon as we were in the meadow, we couldn't see the beaver house any more.
And we didn't see it again that day.
We were no more than a few yards out into the meadow when a deer exploded from the grass right in front of us, and then it was if it really had exploded.
But about where the deer had been was what seemed to be a Giant Bullet ,as if somewhere there was a Giant Six Gun and a Giant Cowboy.
The effect was to blind us all to the obvious fact that this was simply an unexploded artillery shell, like we had been warned about......a thing to be touched at risk of life and limb. Danger Duds, etc.
I myself was not as intrigued by the magic bullet as by my after image of the big beaver house which I still wanted to explore, but Herb and Davey were so inspired by the dud that they forgot about the beaver lodge, forgot they ever had been lost, forgot they hadn't just stepped away from hidden pond to fetch this magic bullet.
Herb picked it up and set off y as if he knew where he was going and, though it wasn't exactly a bee line, we did march more or less straight to Burnt Pond, which of course was not the goal, but once we were there again, Herb was even more sure of his directions. He handed the dud to Davey, said to follow him, then five minutes later Davey handed it to me, and within another hour we were back at Bonaparte's shore.
Herb set the dud in the boat and we all walked right into Bonaparte and drank from it like dogs, including the dog, who would never again get into the boat with any of us, and who died in Ithaca the next summer.
Davey wrote and published a wandering story about the danger dud and his grandfather and what he called the Rhinoceros Hills where we were lost. If you read his exagerations in a magazine or went to his father's memorial service where he read it aloud, you will remember that we were halfway across the lake on our way home and just about over the second shoal when sister Delight met us in the other boat, having been sent by the worried parents, because we had been gone for six hours and were already late for dinner.
And you might remember how she pointed out that what my brothers were calling " the Giant Bullet" was actually a dangerous explosive, as in Danger Duds, etc. and she convinced us to dump it overboard which we did.
But in reality, as opposed to Davey's version, the thing did not then explode under the presusre of the lake depths, killing the huge Walleyed Pike Davey found on the beach a few days later - the giant Walleye which had broken Grempa Failing's line near his boat earlier that summer........ and so on: A cracking good yarn maybe, but a dud is a dud.

And as long as that story was, it fell pretty far short of the whole truth, seeing as I , who carried the dud for the last hour of the struggle out, was totally left out of the whole account.
So, how do you forget your own brother?
This is a question I have often asked myself, but it has happened to me repeatedly, and I have decided that the answer is simple: it is easy, if you only want to. You don't even need to try.
But that doesn't matter in my memory and neither does the dud stuff. For me, the big discovery that day was the land of hills and flows dotted with beaver lodges, and particularly that one big green meadow with a brook curling through it and the big lodge in the middle.. Walking down the moss road into that vision was like discovering a place I had dreamed of. Once in a lullaby or something.

Although I didn't get back there that summer, I had decided before we had even found ourselves back at Lake Bonaparte after being lost, that some day I would live in that meadow, in that lodge, and that winter in the bath tub, I dreamed it again and again.

The next summer, I had my first contact with beavers and it was right at Lake Bonaparte.
I liked to go swimming out on my own, without my short-winded Warren brothers, and without a boat....who needs a boat to swim? But Momma Dot and Daddy Ernie insisted that I always dive near the anchored row boat or the canoe so that I would not be run over by motor boats, especially as this was the early water ski era when people operating the towing boats were likely as not looking backwards. The folks also wanted me to use the snorkel with a flag on it, but I don't need a snorkel and I usually left it in the boat if I was far enough away that they wouldn't know. .
Mostly I took the canoe, which suits my body better than a row boat. With the row boat, I had nothing near enough to brace my feet against, but in the canoe, I could stand where others had to kneel to get the best leverage. I can out paddle any fool who just sits there using nothing but his arms.
I liked to head out for the west shore in the morning before the wind was up, and I usually took along a creel full of of raw potatoes to eat like apples. My taste for raw potatoes isn't something I share with many other people, but it turned out to be one I share with beavers.
I was swimming off the canoe near Plow Point, when all of a sudden the water began errupting around me as if someone were throwing boulders, or as if the Pine Camp artillery, which had been known to hit a barn and kill a cow, was wildly off again.
I got back into the canoe in a big hurry and was about to paddle off as fast as I could, when I noticed the two beavers circling the canoe.
I knew that they probably wouldn't harm me, and I had wanted for a long time to make contact with the creatures, but my unconsidered reaction was to start bombarding them with potatoes.
Each of the thrown potatoes plunged and then rose slowly to the surface to bob gently until one of the beavers appeared and blasted it with his tail. This happened again and again until one of the beavers bit into one.
I don't know if the first bite was an attack or a taste test, but the tail slapping stopped completely and before the potatoes were half eaten, the beavers began diving with them, swimming off underwater toward the near shore, and then returning for more.
There was no beaver house near.....there were none at all on the lake shore at that time, so it was a mystery to me just where they were going with the potatoes or where they lodged.
When I was out of potatoes, the beavers did a few more turns around me, then dove and were gone.

I returned the next day with more potatoes, anchored in the same place, and began chunking quartered spuds into the water. Before long the beavers appeared and I actually saw one as it exited an underwater opening in the rocky shore. One of the many caves, large and small in the Adirondack borderlands , where acid waters off the pine lands had disolved veins of limestone.

By the end of the day, I was swimming with the beavers, trailing a mesh bag nearly out of potato chunks.
Later that week, I entered their cave and got as far as the second air chamber, but not to any living quarters. it was completely dark and stony.... not really where I wanted to be. Anyway, I had discovered the potato way to the hearts of the beavers.

Many days that summer when I was thought to be swimming from the canoe, I was actually tromping pond to pond on the reservation flow lands. It didn't take long for me to learn my way around back in there well enough that the distances seemed a lot shorter than they had on day of wandering lost with the boys. Bearing potatoes, I found and befriended two active beaver colonies. I made my way back to the big abandoned lodge in the dreamy meadow of tall grass, and sat there on top of the lodge for hours at a time whistling and singing non-tunes. I built a few little dams in the brook that wound through the rich bottom and I excavated the floor of the lodge to gain another foot and a half or so of overhead. I brought along a hack saw and spent a day cutting a small window on the east and glazed it with a clear glass mixing bowl.
I told noone about the beavers and my back country wanderings, not even Aunt Sammy.

It wasn't until several years later, after I had been to Florida and Alaska, and the family had gotten used to not knowing where I was days or nights, and to not thinking of me as living with them, in fact to more or less forgetting about me for lengthening periods of time, that I really moved in with one of the beaver colonies, spent day and night with them, and got to be accepted as a member of the household , if not exactly as a beaver.
I got to know the beavers as individuals, and I can assure you that they have personalities as various as chickens, dogs, or people, and I could write a book about them (as some people have suggested I do) but I will be damned if I am going to. I would sooner build twenty dams across the Oswegatchie River than write a book. It would be too damn much work with a lot less result. That much I figured out from just doing this blog.
But those of you have written to prod me into these recollections, were curious about some very specific aspects of my life with beavers....and I will be happy enough to answer briefly your most frequently asked questions:

1.) Did I take a beaver wife?
2.)Did I have sex with beavers?
3.) Did I sleep with beavers?
4.) Where did I go to the bathroom?
5.) How did I keep dry and warm?
6.) Did I eat beaver food?
7.) How did I first meet and become accepted by the beavers?
8.) Was I originally raised by beavers?
9.) Can I tell one beaver from another?
10.) Do I still have friends among the beavers?

I think I have already fully answered question number seven, about how I met the beavers, and, from the way the first three questions were asked, I interptet them to be all essentially all the same purient inquiry, posed with different degrees of delicacy.
The short answer is, No,

However, I did literally sleep with beavers.
Until there began to be a certain amount of attempted juvenile screwing around which lead to the annual expulsion of adolescents, at age two or three , there was not much that goes on in a beaver lodge other than eating, playing, and sleeping.
Of course it is not that other people would want to sleep with beavers, or that it is a real option for you regular, long-legged people, but sleeping with the beavers is the best, cheapest, and greenest way I can think of to keep warm in winter.
A sleep group of beavers makes an electric blanket seem to me about as appealing as an electric chair. And it sure would beat sleeping in a pile of sticky humans....... like the rural peasantry in medieval times who often slept through the winter in communal heaps, and got up only occasionally to eat and defficate. That is true. I know about it because I found it on the internet. On the internet you can even find groups of people who claim to be interested in joining human sleep piles. Not for me.
But sleeping through cold weather with the beavers, besides the furry comfort of it, saved me a lot of calories which I would have otherwise expended foraging when there wasn't much to be found.
In sleep season my metabolism slowed way down and my body clock was reset to about a three day schedule. Ordinarily each beaver, as needed, would leave the lodge by the two underwater entrance/exits, to shit, piss, on about the same three day rotation as me. If it was remotely warm or sunny, the beavers would exit the pond through a hole kept in the ice . Out there they would chew winter buds I guess, but if they didn't go out and about they would maybe pull some aspen stock or lily roots from the underwater storage area pile to carry back to the lodge so they could eat a bit.
Although I am something of a bark eater myself, and am known for my iron stomach, I haven't quite got the gut for digesting straight cellulose.
I like the yellow jelly that forms on spring cut birch stumps, I like cattail stalk hearts and root, and I can deal with fresh cambium, but you can have your aspen twigs and raw lilly roots; I meat and potatoes are what get me through winter. Beavers have something in their guts that ferments the wood. They fart a lot from that , and the smell is kind of like bread rising, not too bad actually. I bet you could run an engine on beaver farts. Beavers are pure herbivores, and there aren't many herbivores in the North Woods.....not chipmunks and not humming's generally not a good way to sustain yourself up there, but beavers have their special guts, plus a sophisticated agricultural business plan they work hard at, and that gets them through.
The trouble with my own food supplements is that is the beavers would immediately eat any potatoes I tried to store in our quarters and if I were to try keeping meat anywhere in the lodge or nearby, they would drag it away and bury it like a dead realtive.
About the only thing I was able to keep for my own use was a metal canteen holding a kind of gravy I made I made from milk, vegetable oil, and mashed potato, flour, or bread crumbs, all borrowed from camp cupboards and refrigerators. I can't say I liked it, but I needed it.

Contrary to what you might expect, I myself slept naked in cold weather. Otherwise my wet clothes would freeze on me or dry very slowly in the beaver pile, which would annoy the beavers.
My skin got all greasy from the oil which waterproofs their fur. This in itself was insulating. The oil comes from a gland near the base of the beaver's tail and I sometimes used my hands to extract a bit to apply , and at other times some Big Mothers would groom me, but in all of this close contact, I never once got bitten by a beaver, at least not so as to break the skin. I was slapped a few times, and often enough clacked or snapped at, but never really hurt.

My three years spent mostly with the beavers was all with one colony back on the reservation. It was a large family with an uncle and two aunts (which I don't think is typical) in a bigger than average lodge , but since a few new kits were born each season, a few of the older ones had to move on each Spring.
I mostly ran around with the adolescents, making superfluous little dams and individual mud piles which the beavers marked with their sent, while I modled my mud piles to resemble something I didn't consciously intend as mud women, but which I found myself humping like a dog. Maybe the resulting mud puppies are running around back there now.

And for the information of the person who asked ( and those who just wondered) : no I did not suck beaver milk. It is too rich for my taste and would have been too much of a drain on the resources.

Drain, strain, or not, after I had been more or less a constant presence for those three years, the big Buck, father of most in the colony, began to snap and slap at me, as he did the others who had been around that long, which was the message that we had to go out into the world to make our fortunes in a new valley.

Any way, I am just not a beaver. Greased up or not, hairless quadraped that I am, I could not go out in the open air and wander about in winter like my beaver companions , so in the depths of winter I found it easier , like the raccoons, to move closer to civilization and live in its border areas and off its excess fact, I lived with the raccoons at times, particularly at Bridge house later on. But that's another story.
After the expulsion, some more wandering, and my stint in Alaska, I lived often in abandoned lodges. The first was that same grand lodge on the Fort Drum reservation we found on our day lost. Then I moved to one handier to a road , in the Bonaparte Cave State Forest, and later on I fixed up a lodge on the mid reaches of Cascadilla Creek above Ithaca.
In all of those places I banked soil against the lodges and grew potatoes and squash, Indian tobacco, sometimes broccoli , and always peas or beans up over the lodge, protecting it all with a stockade of bramble canes or buck thorn brush. I got the best crops down in Ithaca were the summer was a little longer and the soil sweeter.

I am sure that the pleistocene aboriginies who lived with the four hundred pound beavers of that era had similiar operations. It seems like a lot better system than the more modern Iroquois practice of burning woodlands to create openings in which to plant and then posting women and dogs to sleep by the crops in order to protect them from predators. In the old way, beavers do the clearing, the pond fertilizes and build loose tillable soil, and the abandoned lodges provide housing on site.
I was never so happy as I was alone in my green valleys, and I would have stayed a lot longer if it weren't for women. I got a couple to visit, but none wanted to live there.

Stuck here on Davey's farm for now, I am no longer farming beaver meadows. My old lodges are no longer kept up, and none of the beavers I knew in the old days are living now .
Beavers in general have changed. Now days beavers are more likely to move in with us, In fact they seem to be everywhere now. They have built a lodge right in the Loon Island boathouse, which is o.k. since the boat house has been pushed off its cribbing by the ice and is beyond repair. But I have not been feeding these beavers or attempting to befriend them. There are enough beavers now that, though their hides are not worth a whole lot anymore, people are trapping them again, and there are those who would not be above dispatching one with an oar or a gun if it came around panhandling. So you should please not feed the beavers.