Wolves - the howling from the swamp, the stalking. Many people have an instinctive fear of wolves. And for good reason. In Europe, in times of starvation, wolves moved into villages and scavenged the dead. They are omnivorous, like the coyote and the bear and the vulture.
But in a perusal of many New Hampshire town histories, the noted Fish and Game author Helenette Silver found only a few accounts of attacks by wolves, and even in those there was scant firsthand testimony.
In all of my travels to the Far North - Labrador and the Arctic included - I remember only one firsthand account of a hostile wolf. It came from Corey Roman, who for many years ran camps at the Menihek rapids. In the main lodge a banged-up paddle adorned a wall. All of the boats carried a paddle, in case the motors (one for traveling, one for trolling) failed. "A wolf was swimming the river," Corey recalled, "and I tried to kill it with that paddle, and it chewed the hell out of it."
Why? The question never met the table.
Years later - we made 13 trips to Menihek - John Lanier and I were fishing in the river and we both saw flotsam and jetsam in the water. Lanier was below me, trying for salmon. "Hey," I yelled, and he looked upriver to see two caribou swimming. It was that kind of place. The wolves by then were long gone.
"Wolves are recovered and they are now in good hands," Daniel Ashe, director of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, said at a Washington press conference announcing the plan to delist the gray wolf from endangered species protection. Wolves are doing fine in the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes region, he said, and there is no need to keep viewing them as "endangered." The individual states, he said, can manage wolves.
What about the hunter with boots on the ground? It is deemed all right to shoot a coyote, any coyote. There is no protection. Yet our coyotes have been steadily evolving into a brush wolf. They're bigger than their Western cousins and have learned to hunt in packs and take down larger prey, which they have to do to exist in a cold climate at the northern extent of their range.
At one time, there was a federal plan to reintroduce wolves to their ancestral range in the Northeast. This did not sit well with me, and I wrote, many times, that if the wolf is to come back, it should do so on its own four feet. This was not because I hate wolves. To the contrary, my stance was, and is, that the wolf is too great an animal to be sullied by human hands.
I've been seeing lots of deer. Two back-to-back mild winters have resulted in a good crop (here comes that word "harvest," which I loath) of 1- and 2-year-olds. Why I haven't hit one with my truck is a wonder.
The other day, I was on a mission to Canaan, Vt., when I came upon a dead deer, last year's fawn, on the southbound shoulder. When I came back a few minutes later, it was gone.
In states such as Pennsylvania, where the road kill often surpasses our entire hunting kill, deer are often not picked up. It's too dangerous on many highways. Instead, they are run over repeatedly until they resemble road pizza.
In New Hampshire, there is an unofficial list of people who want road-killed deer or moose and will be out there in a heartbeat, cleavers in hand.
Why not me? I've been writing about mountain lions (cougars, panthers, painters, catamounts, wildcats, you name it) for nigh on 40 years, yet never have been in the right place at the right time. Neighbors have seen cougars, one crossing the road right behind my outdoor wood furnace, but not me, curse the gods.
Fellow outdoor writer Gary Moore, who is a syndicated columnist in Vermont, was driving east on Route 26. He wrote me about his experience, best told in his own cryptic words:
"Wednesday, 5/29 4:15 p.m., light rain, drizzle, good light. Rt. 26, Errol, MM23 West of jct. with Rt. 116, 3/10 mile from Androscoggin.
"Cat came out of south side of road, trotted across to north side R-L, went up a small embankment and into woods. Tall as my St. Bernard, very long tail."
John Harrigan's address: PO Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576, or firstname.lastname@example.org.