By Douglas Franklin, Brunswick, Tenn.
Everything happens for a reason, right? At least that’s the thinking for those of us who can’t always make sense of life’s twists and turns that seem to come at us faster as we get older.
We try to lean on our faith and give thanks for the little things and big influences in our lives. But reminders of our mortality often make that easier said than done.
That’s the way our conversation was going anyway. Maybe because it was a dark, rainy day at the end of one season and the beginning of another, the brief “cast and blast” window in the North Maine Woods in late September when fly fishing and bird hunting opportunities overlap.
Scott Story paddled my wife, Gigi, and me out onto pristine Round Pond where the loons were feasting. The brook trout weren’t interested in our offerings, but the “fallfish”—tiny, feisty chubs—snapped up everything we were throwing. Thank goodness for the little things, we laughed and agreed.
Slogging back to our cabin later in wet boots and slickers, we also agreed that it would be a good day to start a fire and dry out everything. When we came around the corner, we could see smoke curling from our chimney. Someone was already way ahead of us.
The day before had been the grouse opener, and we’d had almost the same experience. On her first-ever hunt for the elusive king of the forest, Gigi had only one fleeting chance at a shot. It was there, and then it wasn’t. But all wasn’t lost. We had blue skies, lobster rolls for lunch and two more days to find the birds.
At the lodge that evening, we were pretty sure we weren’t at the cool kids’ table. There were five of us that first night, but we must’ve rubbed one of them the wrong way, because he was sitting with another group at breakfast the next morning.
A couple of delightful couples eventually joined us, but only for a day or two. And then the bear hunters arrived—to hunt moose—with big guns, big personalities and a decidedly “Northern” point of view as compared to our Southern sensibilities.
Unbeknownst to us, we were also sitting in “their” seats.
Gigi and I exchanged a quick “uh-oh” glance, and just tried to stay focused on the meal in front of us.
The getting-to-know-you process, though, took a quick and unexpected turn. Maybe because Steve offered me a “white can,” he called it, of his favorite beer. And maybe because he was accompanied by his lovely wife, Lori, and their daughter Jordyn, who was there with her parents’ college graduation gift to her—a hard-to-come-by moose permit for the first week of the season—that for the first time coincided with the first week of grouse season. It would be Jordyn’s first moose hunt, but she wasn’t overwhelmed, just excited. She knew Libby Camps from previous visits, loved the woods and was completely confident in herself and her shot.
Scott had that same confidence in his and his dog’s ability to find grouse. Gigi and I weren’t so sure. Especially when he released his black flushing Lab, Fletcher, who tore through the woods like they were on fire. And they were, we would come to learn and trust, with the scent of birds we couldn’t see, sometimes not even when they were right in front of us.
Gigi got her first grouse that morning, with super-setter Finnigan on point and Scott right beside her. And at the end of the day, with the guns put away, he offered a special toast to my still-smiling wife, at a place special to him.
Jordyn got her first moose the next morning, and there were hugs and high-fives and even a few happy tears in the field with her folks and their guide Toby “Moose God” Montgomery.
Back at the lodge that evening, Jordyn entrusted a moose tenderloin to Scott, who tended it on the grill while easing “grouse fingers” into the fryolator. And in the fading light of that late-September day, the two hunters shared their firsts and good fortune with everyone gathered there. It might’ve seemed like a little thing, but by then we knew better.
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