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Of moose and men

So far, we have veered wildly off the path John Steinbeck took 50 years ago — the one that led to his book, “Travels with Charley,” and the one we intend to loosely follow in the months ahead.

Rather than go to Deerfield, Massachusetts, we went to Provincetown. Rather than go to Deer Isle, Maine, we went to Bar Harbor. Wise decisions both, as it turned out.

For while Steinbeck was out to reconnect with, and take the pulse of, the country, we’re more in search of people and places that have a special connection with dogs. Though it’s one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors – and one I would never be so bold as to take shots at — there was never enough Charley in “Travels with Charley,” for my tastes.

Bringing the dog along was, in fact, an afterthought — a concession, in part, to his wife, who had concerns about Steinbeck’s health and safety alone on the road.

After a few weeks, as he ventured into Maine’s more northern reaches, it was Steinbeck who had concerns about Charley’s safety — mainly that his poodle might fall victim to hunters.

Steinbeck wasn’t real big on hunting, describing some sportsmen as  “overweight gentlemen, primed with whiskey and armed with high powered rifles. They shoot at anything that moves or looks as though it might …”

Worried that Charley might be mistaken for a deer, Steinbeck wrapped a red kleenex around his dog’s tail, fastening it with rubber bands: “Every morning I renewed his flag, and he wore it all the way west while bullets whined and whistled around us.”

As we got back on Steinbeck’s trail, heading to the northeastern-most reaches of Maine, I borrowed his idea — not tying anything to Ace’s curly tail, but, not long after we passed Maine’s highest mountain, Mount Katahdin, replacing his brown bandana with a bright red one.

I-95, north of Bangor is a glorious stretch of road (for an Interstate) — especially at the peak of fall. It’s billboard free, and designed in such a way that you rarely see the lanes of traffic bound the other way. We followed it to Houlton, then headed north up Highway 1, through Presque Isle, Caribou and Van Buren.

Then we followed along the Canadian border, enjoying the sight of the leaves turning in two countries, and stopping for the night in Madawaska, Maine’s most northeastern town, where we checked into Martin’s Motel.

The accomodations were perfectly fine, but Ace seemed jumpy — like he is when we camp.

Something was bothering him, and I’m not sure what. Maybe he’s road-weary. Perhaps it was an upset stomach; he was flatulent during the whole drive — making it a heat-on, windows-open kind of day. He’s scratching a lot, and may need a bath and a flea treatment. Maybe he was picking up a hunting season vibe — sesning that it’s that time of year, in these parts, when testosterone rises like maple tree sap and men venture into the woods to kill animals.

The lead story in last week’s St. John Valley Times — “Teen bags moose in first 20 minutes” — recounted how Corey Daigle bagged his first moose in Madawaska. It was 1,050 pounds, with a 55 1/2-inch rack. In the photo accompanying the article, Corey is straddling the dead moose, with one hand on each antler.

“I feel good about it,” the newspaper quotes him as saying. “It was a picture perfect day.”

Last week was first week of moose hunting for eight of Maine’s Wildlife Managment Districts, or, as they’re called in the abbreviated form, WMD’s.

All other news took a back seat to that, including the other story on the front page, about a woman in Fort Kent who hand knits mittens, hats and other winter gear receiving a small business grant from the state.

The newspaper’s police blotter, meanwhile, carried crime reports from previous weekend:

Friday, 9:04 a.m: Female called to question leash laws in town. She claims a woman walks her dog without a leash and the dog does its  “business” on the lawns of everyone and owner does not pick it up… 4:51 p.m.: Female called to question: Is there a street dance. Advise didn’t know…

Saturday, 7:21 a.m:. Individual called to find out what time is parade …  8:11 a.m.: Female called regarding a missing dog … 12:56 p.m.: Individual called to report found a dog on a local road…

Sunday, 9:43 a.m.: Female called to report a lost poodle….10:43 a.m.: Vandalism to mailboxes, relay to officer … 9:01 p.m.: Male called to report a skunk with a bottle on its head…

A good half of the items on the blotter were animal related –  lost dogs, mostly — and it got me to thinking about how man can pamper and pine over the loss of one animal, then go out and shoot another. There are the species we love — dog, cat, horse – and the species we love to hunt, kill, eat, and have mounted as trophies.

“Somehow, the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how,” Steinbeck wrote.

I don’t, either. But I know this much: Until hunting season is over, my dog isn’t leaving my side.

(Dead moose photo: St. John Valley Times)

(Other photos by John Woestendiek)

Comments

Comment from Kelly
Time October 7, 2010 at 7:25 pm

It’s mouse hunting season here, & I’m game.

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time October 7, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Once I lived on 10 totally fenced acres in a fairly remote part of mid-Michigan. Late summer I would begin posting numerous “private property” and “no hunting” signs, only to see them torn and tossed at the end of nearly every day. My 4 dogs and I were never safe for several months of legal and illegal hunting season on my own dense, deer-rich property. You have stated it so properly and succinctly: how can man pamper and pine over the loss of one animal, then go out and shoot another. How can hunters profess to love their hunting dogs while tormenting, pursuing and maiming or killing another animal? Well, I promise to attempt to respect hunters if they in turn respect my right to walk safely with my dogs on my own property, or in public woods where hunting is clearly not allowed but they still tread. After so many decades of this autumnal fear, I still await the opportunity for that compromise. Yes, I have learned: Keep your dogs colorful and close! Thanks for a great perspective, JW.

Comment from Kim
Time October 8, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Sweet boy! (John, too). He wants to come back to NC. The photos are so beautiful.

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