John Harrigan: Lost outdoors? Not me, just temporarily misplaced

JOHN HARRIGAN September 07. 2013 6:58PM

I was lost as lost can be. That is an old saying from navigators of the woods, and probably at sea. The most recent time involved riding on an ATV, not exactly my cup of tea. Now there's a poem.

OK, a flashback here from my Clarksville Pond days living with Rudy and Joan Shatney. This is where I more or less grew up.

In the early 1960s, when I was a teen, there came a November day when Rudy had more guests and wannabe hunters than guides. After helping with the breakfast dishes, I was available.

And so off I went with four clients and Rudy's father, Arnold, a man with a lot of years on his feet, into the depths of Labrador - not the Canadian province, but the northern New Hampshire swamp. Well, all right, it's marked on the top of maps as a brook surrounded by firm ground, but believe me, most of it's a swamp.

In those days, in a commercial hunting and fishing camp, success was everything. How could a guy who'd committed so much time and money go back home with nothing more than dirty clothes and a beard? So Arnold and I were focused on helping the clients tag out, which meant "Going home with a deer."

Scarcely had we gained what little high ground there was to be gained in Labrador Swamp then the weather turned. Poetically, this meant soft fluffy flakes of unique beauty wafting their way, sighing softly, to the ground. More practically, it meant snowing like hell.

Arnold and I had cut a deer track, and he was supposed to be on it like the Hounds from Hell while I circled ahead for a shot. Somehow I lost track of him. He had gone through an alder swamp and gone back out over his own tracks. In a few minutes I figured it out and came onto his tracks and followed him, at a trot, until I caught up. "Where were you?" I asked. He said "Where are you?" All I could say was "Labrador."

Arnold produced a compass and so did I. They were no good, and just spun around like someone with one hand on the dance-floor. We were in a shallow depression full of bog iron.

At that time, I knew the Clarksville-Stewartstown territory like the back of my hand. Wait - the back of my hand now has assorted scars and broken fingers. But so does the land.

So when my wife, Nancee, and I embarked on a two-day ATV ride around the territory last week, I was fairly confident. Navigating up George Van Dyke's old railroad bed from Colebrook to Beecher Falls was no big deal, and I'd hunted Hall's Stream all my life, and crossing over to Indian Stream and gaining respite at Tall Timber on Back Lake in Pittsburg was a lark.

But ah, pride goeth before a fall. On the return run, we went asunder. All right, I sent us under.

There was this place off the main bridge over Deadwater. My memory and instincts said to take the road to the old Raymond Ricker place, which would have been right. But we didn't, and took a left. Blame it on overgrown vegetation, many new tracks on the land and decaying slush on the mind (mine).

(I do not want any letters whatsoever here on the legendary thing about guys not wanting to stop and ask for directions. I have people in place to block such capitalist running-dog lackey swine messages. It is such a hackneyed thing. It is the same myopic stuff you get while at a restaurant, arguing about the tip. By the by, as a former waiter and bus guy, and those trays are pretty darned heavy, let me tell you what, the tip should be 20 percent of the bill, which by all rights gets shared by captain, ship and crew.)

Wait - back to the crucial junction. There was nobody to ask. Anyone else out there in that God-forsaken barren territory that even caribou would have eschewed (all right, I'm exaggerating, it's only a few ridges over from my place, which has plenty of heat and grub) would have to be starved out of their minds, wild and crazy, and would have lunged for our provisions, a futile effort, because we had already consumed them. And if there had been somebody with informed advice, I wouldn't have listened, even if that not-possible-to-be-there-someone had pulled out a map, perish the thought. (Hey, you with the map - take a hike, nerd.) OK, so it's a guy thing.

We wound up at Weir's log yard, where various people were cutting things, sawing things, splitting things and digging things. Where in hell we were I did not know. East of Eden was somewhat reassuring.

Once I got my bearings, it was fine. Over there, recognizable, was the Ferguson Place. Over there was the Fairholding opening (Shatney-speak for Thayer Holden opening).

Somewhere, just over a ridge or two, beyond the Great Beyond, was home.

John Harrigan's address: PO Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or

John Harrigan

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