February 5, 2023

Spring Bites

By Eleazer Peabody

It is mid May and the warm days have softened our cool souls from this past winter freeze. Not much rain yet, but the alder leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear and the black flies are venturing forth ready for a blood meal—Fishing Season Is On!!!!

Friday, last, I was passing along Twitchell Brook, heading toward Greenwood City, when I glimpsed a splash in a small pool formed by an eddy around a couple of large boulders. I got the truck off the road best as I could, and set the brake to keep it from rolling down “Falls Hill.” I slid my way down the gravel bank to the side of the brook. Standing on a rock at the edge of the pool, I shaded my eyes to peer into the slow-moving current. I looked long and hard for my first glimpse of a spring “brookie!”

I couldn’t see anything moving, so thought my tired eyes probably saw something else. I had a few minutes to spare, so I climbed back up the bank to the road and walked back down to the truck. Behind the back seat was the old bamboo, long stick and a brass Pfleuger fly reel. I slid them out carefully and fitted the three pieces end to end. After carefully aligning of the eyes, I strung the thick line through to the tip.

Selecting the first fly of the season might seem like an endeavor needing much care, but I am not so sentimental when the trout are hungry! Now was the time for action, and small, brown, anything should do the trick. Tying on the Burnt Miller tested my finger dexterity, especially as I was moving back up the road to the bridge beneath Bald Bluff.

I moved carefully to the side of the brook, taking care not to cast a shadow across the pool. I dabbed the fly gently across the water, using just a short length of line, employing an up and down motion with the rod. I expected a splash from a monster at any minute—the winter dream of any devout angler. Again and again, I tempted any finned creature, but to no avail. I moved downstream along a dead water until I reached the top of Twitchell Brook cascades.

There in the current, I used the flow of the water to add action to the fly. I let it drift back and forth behind all the rocks within reach, and carefully moved down to the next pool. There were a couple of shiners trying to eat a fly that was slightly smaller than them. When I’m fly fishing, I often feel that if there is a trout around, it would be more aggressive and take first pick of new food drifting into his domain. No luck…

In a short while, I came to the place where I first became attracted to this fine stream. Using extra care, I raised the rod from behind an old spruce stub. I pulled the fly back with my fingers, putting a little strain on the rod. I then let go, snapping the fly out into the pool. Splaaash!!!

Holy cow,” I might have said aloud. I thought a beaver had slapped his tail on the water!

I didn’t immediately react to this outburst.

Now, totally startled, and slowly retrieving the line so I can set the hook, my fly floats casually on the breeze back to me. I stepped back to grab the fly, and the moss under foot of the rock I was standing on, let go. The next second my butt was engulfed in a torrent of ice water. I’ve dropped my pipe, and I sucked in a deep breath from the shock.

I didn’t get totally wet, as the pool is only six inches deep there. The icy water now is soaking through my clothes that didn’t get directly immersed – and sends new jolts of incredible shock through my body to my surprised brain! Ahhh…

With my heart beating rapidly, I gulped more short breaths of air.

I pondered what to do next. “Could I possibly try tossing out the fly again? Surely any fish that might be in the water, have heard my cuss words and everything else loud and clear.”

My lower half, now really dripping wet and cold, I am beyond just being startled. I pawed around a couple of moments to find my, now drenched, corncob and instinctively stuck it back in my mouth. “I’ve got to get back to the truck.”

I mostly crawled, on hands and knees, up the bank through the bushes, black flies, and gravel to the side of the road. After I got standing, the tug of wet pants weighed me down more than my hurt pride. Step after squishy step, I dragged my sopping form down to the truck. I unceremoniously dumped my gear in the truck body? then reached in and quickly started up the truck to power up the heater. I worked my rain coat out from behind the seat in the cab to keep my wet form from soaking the truck seat. Sliding carefully in with soggy pants, I put the truck in gear and shudder my way home!

Hot tea and a hotter bath were in order!

Submitted with warming thoughts?
Eleazer Peabody



Mud Runts Kick Off Official Start of Spring

What does Punxsutawney Phil know about when Spring arrives in Maine? Nothing! Only two people, that I am away of, have the uncanny ability of seeking and finding the first emergence of an “official” Maine Mud Runt.

Ron Fournier, owner of Orion Outfitters appears to have been the first to sight a Runt. He wrote me:

“Just last week during the brief warm up, we took just enough time off from ice fishing to check some of the streams and trout ponds in search for early season open water trout fishing spots. As I walked the banks of the West Branch of the Pleasant River, deep in the National Forest I saw not one but two Runts! Each only about 12” long, sunning themselves on a distant branch that poked from the water. Their impeccable hearing was no match for the crunch of my snowshoes and they soon disappeared before I could get the camera.

But what was even more promising, and concerning…I then departed to pull off one of our ice shacks off of North Pond. The edges of the lake are getting a little punky and open in some spots. As I approached the ice, there in the slush was the telltale sign of a mud runt slowly coming out of hibernation!

This one was much larger, and it’s black beady eyes were quite visible above the surface. The distinct “croak” followed by 3 short whistles seldom heard from a mud runt quickly let me know that he wasn’t in the mood to move anytime quick. Not knowing how many more lurked in the slush and mud, I decided to leave the shack for another day.

Be careful out there folks, and if you can get a photo please do so. The state still does not recognize this invasive species as having a foothold in Maine.”

Eleazer Peabody, “noted” Maine storyteller and keeper of some of Maine’s best secrets, evidently has not yet spied on his own the coming out of hibernation of the Mud Runts. His only comment, upon hearing Ron’s discovery was:

“Here it is to be in the forty’s all day and overnight above freezing!! Certainly a day of some celebration….”

A man of wisdom and few words – and probably fed up with winter.


Stock Photo


Official Notice: Mud Runts Have Been Spotted

Yes it’s true! Spring is really here, a mud runt was spotted this morning in Albany Township just before seven o’clock. It was of normal size and seemed to be quite healthy from a long snowy, cold winter…hurrahhhhh….

Eleazer Peabody



Up To My Chin

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—March 9–Thursday

The last couple of days have been really nice, with temperatures up to the low thirties and sunshine—how about that for a change. There has been three feet of snow this last week, and homes, outbuildings, and camps have overburdened roofs. Two hardy souls left the warm, comfort of their homes, “Proc” and me, and spent some quality time workin’ at Willis Mills…

I happened to meet an old friend, Lewis “Proc” Proctor, at the Co-op store on Monday. I was over to West Paris to get some feed grain for my heifers, when Proc tapped me on the shoulder. He was off work from the railroad for three weeks, and needed some excitement. He is a conductor on the Grand Trunk Line and spends most of his time living in a shaking, rattling caboose at the backend of a freight train. We talked of the deep snows, and he mentioned that he should check his hunting camp at Willis Mills, in Greenwood. We decided to go up on Wednesday and spend the night, shovel the roof, play cards, and tell some stories.

After I finished my chores Wednesday morning, Brinker and I headed for West Paris in my old truck “Molly”. Molly started a little hard, but a puff of blue smoke and a clattering roar sounded life within—she was off! The old Oshkosh plow had poked a hole through the drifts and piles of winter white. We bumped along, stopping only by the Hakala Farm to watch two disheveled does standing in an open, wind blown patch of field. They were apparently trying to paw up some old apples that had fallen from a nearby gray armed, Cortland, and slid along an earlier crust to the open space.

We eventually rounded the last bend into the Little Androscoggin Valley, and had a spectacular view of the countryside. The unfolding vista was like a Currier & Ives painting. The Ellingwood Farm was nearly hidden by the snow drifts, and the stack and plume of black smoke from Penley’s Clothespin Factory laid contrast to the view. I took note that the smoke was drifting up the valley toward me, indicting fair weather to come–better than any barometer in town.

The west side of the valley is covered with majestic white pines. Each bough wilting under the heavy load of snow, and an occasional cascading veil of falling flakes added motion to the rather peaceful and still scene. The east side of the valley, with its spreading red oak and interspersed ledges, appeared as a white canvas with dark branches penciling dark lines across it.

I might have driven off the road in my reverie, had Brinker not barked at the Ellingwood’s dog. The large white dog stood atop a snowdrift, even in height with the top pane of glass in the living room windows. I now paid more attention to the steering wheel and keeping Molly out of the drifts.

I met Proc at his brother, Leon’s house. Lewis often stayed here on his breaks from the railroad. The sweet aroma of Rita’s apple pie glided me into a chair at the kitchen table. A large slice of pie and tea had been set for me already—apparently Molly was not a silent arrival in this neighborhood and had signaled the hostess to be ready. We discussed the weather, as all good Mainers must upon first greeting a new arrival. Leon described how the horses he had in the woods were having a hard time breaking trail. He was off work for a couple of days, as the roads were not yet plowed. Andy Benson was staying with the horses, since he tended them over the weekend and just stayed on at the woods camp.

We finished our morning treat, and packed another pie with our provisions for the overnight. Brinker kind of liked Leon, because he got to taste a little bit of pie dropped accidentally on the floor in front of his nose. I had to grab Brinker’s collar to get him started out the door. Leon had quite a chuckle and puffed out a long plume of Prince Albert from his cherry wood pipe.

Proc and I went downtown West Paris to the Co-op store to get a few groceries. We picked out some plump chicken, onions, potatoes, bacon, eggs, bread, cans of string beans and peas. A quick stop at the Gammon & Martin store, procured our wedge of sharp cheese—sliced off the big wheel, a quart of milk and a pound of butter fresh this morning from Erlon Whitman’s farm on High Street.

We set the groceries in our “on the go” cooler–the snow in the body of the truck worked quite nicely for this purpose. We piled in the cab, with Brinker half standing in Proc’s lap and a juicy nose sliding around on the windshield. I drove back along some of the way I had traveled earlier, but now most of the snow had fallen from the oaks and pines. A deep blue sky contrasted the sparkling white flakes.

The logging road into Willis Mills was very narrow. It was really one lane with six foot high snow banks on each side, and an occasional turn out to get by other vehicles. Willis Mills was once the center of activity in all of Township Number Four. Here stands a large elm tree, whose strong branches once shaded the meeting of the area inhabitants as they voted to incorporate the Town of Greenwood in 1815. The Massachusetts legislature voted in January 1816 to incorporate three grants, Phillips Academy, Raymond’s, and Mosher’s into the Township of Greenwood.

I stopped on each of the two bridges over Sanborn River, so Brinker could push his nose out the window and sniff the smells drifting down along the cool, dark waters of the river. At both stops we could see the whimsical paths and tracks of a couple of frolicking otters. They had one very long, steep slide with a jump in the middle. You could see the untouched space of snow under the jump, and by the evidence they tried this thrill ride numerous times.

The truck rattled by the couple of old buildings at Willis Mills now used as hunting camps, and traveled along a couple of hundred feet of the Patch Mountain Road before turning west toward Long Mountain. We arrived at Proc’s camp in just a short minute, and parked in the nicely plowed turnout that barely missed the front step of the camp. The gable porch poked out of the snow bank, and was well framed with plowed snow. Well at least we wouldn’t have to shovel out much to get into the place.

Proc opened the front door and stepped into the small structure, and let out a deep breath that could be seen rolling from his lips through still frigid air. He made quick work of the fire preparations, and soon had a billowing plume of smoke coming from the old stove pipe on the back end of the camp. I had set in a new smoke of Half & Half in my corn cob, and set about changing the musty air with the fragrance of the Virginian leaves. I made several trips to the truck to bring in food, bedding, and fresh lamp oil for the lanterns. Each trip I had to wait for Brinker to go in, then out, and try not to stumble over his excited, twisting body.

The first order of business for me was to shovel out a path to the outhouse. It is a small familiar outbuilding in the Maine Woods not just for doing one’s business, but to store some small tools or other equipment. I had to get the bear paw snowshoes from a peg on the outhouse wall. I then trekked out a path a hundred yards or so to the spring. I lugged two pails I had brought from the camp and lead Brinker along, with him sharing the back six inches of the snowshoes with me.

The spring consisted of inch and a half iron pipe stuck into a steep bank on a hill. The water flowed from the pipe and out of the ground just down hill of the pipe. The water from the pipe had made an elaborate ice sculpture from the open end. I swished away some snow, and chopped off part of the artwork beneath the woodland faucet large enough to allow me to get a pail of water. I filled both pails and followed Brinker back to the outhouse and hung up the bear paws. The trail back was now along a smoothly packed trail.

One pail of water went directly onto the now rattling stove top. Once the stove was set, we went outside to shovel the mound of snow from off the roof. I started on one end and Proc the other. You had to shovel the eves first to get a foothold, then work toward the peak. I would shovel and slide the snow off the icicle festooned eves, and hear the soft thump of the weighty snow hit bottom, and the tinkle of the occasional broken icicles. As the roof was cleared, the pile below climbed higher and higher. I met Proc about in the middle and worked another row higher up the roof back toward the porch and road. The sun shone in brightly, and was warm on my neck. I had to shed one layer of wool, and roll up my sleeves. The one drawback was that the footing began to get icy from the sun’s glare and packing from my felt lined boots.

I was about to the end of the camp when Proc went down to stoke the stove, and get things ready for lunch. I would reach up under a pile of snow and jack the shovel up and down a couple of times to loosen a big chunk of the weighty white stuff. I would slide my shovel down the roof, with the chunk atop, all the way off the edge. I was working my way back along the ridge pole toward the middle of the camp, when I lost my footing and slide down to the edge of the roof and stopped. My shovel and a large slab of snow were right behind me and bowled me right off into a drift beside the camp.

I landed flat-footed on the harder packed snow facing the camp, and the momentum pushed me backward on a fulcrum of boot heels down into the softer pile of snow. My butt hit first with my feet and head quite uncomfortably too close together. I was pinned! I tried to laugh, but a yell was what really came out. Proc and Brinker came out to the fromt of the camp, and yelled and barked back, but couldn’t see me at first. Proc had to climb up into the bed of the pickup to see my predicament. I had one hand pushed deep into the snow, and couldn’t wallow very well on my own to get out. I was up to my chin in snow, and it took Proc with a shovel and Brinker with a few sloppy, wet licks to get me loose. After much wallowing and cussing I was freed—time for lunch!!

Our lunch was of toasted cheese sandwiches, pickles, some of Margie’s pickled eggs, tea, and of course a slice of Rita’s pie. The camp was nice and warm now with the old cook stove showing a red glow on the rear covers from the dry hardwood fuel. Between the full bellies and warmth, a short nap was definitely in order. Even Brinker didn’t balk at a little rest. The dish detail was finished in short order, and we each selected a low bunk near the stove to close our eyes on the world and dream away an hour.

I was up first and let Brinker out to do his business. We dressed in our woolies and headed out to finish up the roof work before darkness set in. No more mishaps like mine this morning. We finished before dark, and decided to drive up the logging road to see the woods operation near the base of Long Mountain. We banked the stove and loaded old Brinker into “Molly” and rattled up the road. We had seen the woods foreman pass by the camp a half hour ago, and he was always the last to leave.

The truck navigated the narrow path of a road until we reached the wide turn around in the road. Here the wheeled, trailer dinner shack sat off to the side, and still had a hint of smoke coming from the stove pipe. On the left, and set just up from a small brook was the horse hovel, where a half dozen mixed breed horses spent the winter. There was a large, canvas covered pile of hay beside the slanted shed hovel, and a pile of old bedding and manure in a small sledge below the only window. The snow had been shoveled off the hovel a week or two ago, so with the new snow it looked snug, but not over loaded with weight. Directly ahead on the landing there were a couple of log cribs built of hemlock logs. Each stack had alternating logs to raise the end of the crib to the height of the truck bed. The other end set just up hill of the truck side and was where the horses skidded the logs. The 8 to 12 foot logs were held in place with a vertical stake until the truck sidled up. Loggers then used their peavies to roll and stack the logs on the bunk of the truck.

The beech logs were stacked on another crib after the bark was peeled off, and these were then taken to Penley’s Mill to make the “Worlds Best Clothes Pins”. While Proc and I checked out the logs and landing, Brinker made use of the skid trails to get away from us and find a fresh rabbit track. It wasn’t long until we heard the long drawn out baying of the old hound. There was nothing he liked doing more than chasing a rabbit for shear pleasure. He would often just chase until dark, which he did again today. He didn’t return after much calling and whistling, so I took the old saddle blanket out of the truck and lay it next to the wheel of the dinner shed.

I drove back up to the dinner shack before super and retrieved the old hound. As usual, he came back in his own good time and fell asleep on the blanket. He was glad to see me and gave me a couple of licks on the ear, after he barreled into the truck. He was glad to be heading back to camp, and the warmth of the big cook stove.

Supper turned out to be a veritable feast. Proc made boiled chicken, sautéed onions, mashed potatoes, green beans, and peas. It may seem like a rather bland fare, but a few spices and lots of butter made it taste great after a long day of shoveling. Dessert was another round of Rita’s pie with after supper tea. We sat for awhile before doing dishes, and Proc filled me in on the goings on at the Grand Trunk.

The wind came up a little, and made our little warm space seem that much more snug. The tree limbs snapped as they slid by each other. The door on the porch would pound lightly on a loose hinge, and a low moaning sigh would often be heard from the front eves. Proc and I played a few hands of cribbage, before turning out the kerosene lamp and crawling into bed. Of course Brinker became my foot warmer when he climbed up onto the foot of my bed.

We were up early as usual, because Brinker had to water the snow bank. The camp was still dark, even thought the sun was peaking over the eastern hills. The pile of snow beside the camp was above the top of the windows. Proc stoked up the stove, and I got the leftover potato ready with more onions for breakfast. Soon the smell of bacon and eggs spread throughout the camp. I think Brinker was kind of jealous, because he had only the crunchies with warm water for his breakfast. Later he did get some delectable titbits left over from our breakfast—mainly to lick out the big cast iron fry pan.

It didn’t take to long to pack up old Molly, and bid farewell to the camp until spring fishing season. Our ride to West Paris was uneventful, except for the occasional drift left from last nights blow. Proc bid us farewell until his next break from the railroad, and Brinker and I headed home for Albany.

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.


Talk of the Town

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—February 12—Sunday Abe Lincoln’s Birthday

It is snowing lightly now. The snow flakes are like little glittering crystals of glass, fluttering down quietly as they pass through the light from the kitchen window. I need to put down here the events of last night; as only you, dear journal, will know all the facts. And you, like the falling flakes of snow, will be quiet of these things that I will pen below…

Every month Margie and I trek over to Richardson Hollow to spend the night with friends Peter and Gilda Martin. We always have a nice supper prepared by Gilda, a superb cook, and then we spend the evening playing cards. Yesterday afternoon, we drove the old truck, affectionately named “Molly”, over Patch Mountain Road. The road was well packed, and the truck managed to wallow through a couple of drifts near the Verrill Farm. We stopped at the Suomela house to leave Brinker. He likes to visit too, but not with the Martins as they have an old Shepard who doesn’t like company.

We arrived about mid afternoon, and Margie and Gilda immediately were involved in the meal preparations and catching up on all the local happenings. Peter had to show me his new Winchester. It is a .30-.30 carbine with fancy checkering on the grip, and a deer etching on the blued receiver. After many shots at imaginary bucks, we put the Winchester in the rack, and ventured down the hill to the sauna.

This sauna was more or less a community asset, being that everyone in the neighborhood used it at some point or other. It is actually on the land of Sylva Polkinen, and had been built by Sylva’s grandfather. As a child I had often wondered who lived in these windowless cottages that dotted the countryside. They most generally were near a small brook, like this one, and I imagined small trolls of some sort hiding until dark to venture out.

The building, approximately eight feet by sixteen, set just a few steps from the small brook. It has a foundation of piled stones, although they are snuggly beneath a couple of feet of snow at this time of year. We opened the outside door by pulling a rope hanging down from high on the left side of the door casing. This rope lifted the wooden latch inside, and exposed a small room (about five by eight) that is used for changing and storing firewood. This room feels damp, moist and quite warm. There is a short bench along one wall to sit on, and wooden pegs up on the other side to hold towels and clothes. The thermometer on the wall, barely visible from the yellow light of a lantern, shows 75 degrees. Peter told me he had already started the fire after dinner, so we just had to stoke it a little for my bath later and for some other Saturday night bathers.

A latchless door with a spring opened to the right side of the sauna room, and opened outward, as did the first door. The doors opened out to provide some safety should the building catch fire, which was not an uncommon occurrence. The three tiered cedar benches wrap around two sides of this room to the left of the door. The room is a box sheathed in cedar, and has a lantern providing the only light. Set into the right hand corner is the heater for the sauna. Sometimes the heater is an old pot bellied stove, small cook stove, or like this, a custom built contrivance. This heater is built with a stone base, sides and chimney—uncommon to most saunas, but of quality and for safety. A cast iron plate, possibly from an old cook stove top, has been carefully set down into the top of the masonry and stone. On top of this plate are carefully piled river stones; larger stones with various smaller sizes intermingled. These stones have been carried from some distant river or stream. They are worn round by tumbling in the swift waters, and range in size from chicken egg to a small cabbage. These stones are piled in such a way that water poured on the heated stones will turn to steam and vapor before it reaches the iron plate. If the water continually hits on the plate, it can crack or explode causing sparks and metal to fly about. A cast iron door, about half a yard square, has been carefully set into the side front of the stone heater.

Peter opened the door on the heater and exposed a thick, glowing bed of yellow, orange coals. He carefully set in a dozen good sticks of red oak, and using an iron poker spaced them around inside. I sat on the low bench, wiping the sweat from my brow. I could easily make out the temperature reading on the large round dial thermometer nailed to the back of the door—145 degrees! We hadn’t stayed inside very long, just long enough to set the bed of coals. I found myself in a kind of problem, as I stepped outside to the crisp night air. My glasses had frosted over, and the moisture on my mustache had crystallized making me appear to be “Old Man Winter”.

We walked up the hill past a couple of houses that cast light from their windows onto the snowy roadway. Stomping our boots off on the porch, we announce our presence to the women. They have the feast all spread on the table; certainly good timing on our part. Gilda had again outdone herself with this supper banquet. The roast beef was delicious, the potatoes with gravy were divine, and the string beans—well, if I liked beans, would surely have been wonderful. Margie’s pumpkin pie finished off this delightful meal.

We all took part cleaning up the table and washing all the dishes. Then we set the table for our match. Usually Peter and I would team against the ladies, and tonight was no different. Peter and I were bantered about the thrashing we took last month when we played whist. For tonight’s games we conspired and lobbied successfully for hearts; surely we could change our bad luck to good fortune.

The night went all too quickly, and if it weren’t for my running the hearts and having the queen of spades in the last hand, Peter and I would have been beaten as bad as last month. Margie and Gilda must have a signal system to help, surely we aren’t that bad—or maybe we are.

Gilda was serving tea and oatmeal cookies, but I passed and decided to head for the sauna. It is a treat that I have always enjoyed, and I had especially looked forward to since my visit earlier this afternoon. I almost always went alone, as the Martins liked Friday night baths and Margie rather liked the tub at home. I put on my wool coat and hat, slid on my boots, and stepped out into the night air. It was cold, not like the frigid night Brinker tried to do me in, but rather seasonal and in the mid twenties. I lit my corncob and strolled down the hill; savoring the quiet and the memories flowing from my pipe smoke.

The lights shining into the roadway were fewer now, but the fading moon held enough light to navigate the way. I arrived at the sauna and could see that some of the neighbors had been in recently. I hailed the doorway, and received no reply. There is an informal reservation system used in the neighborhood. It is by word of mouth discussion and habit that sort out the times of use. The arriving person would try to arrive after the earlier party had left; as a naked dip in the brook or roll in the snow were common finales to the sauna experience. I wouldn’t want to be racing out the door, naked as a chicken’s egg, and run smack into someone coming down the path for their turn at the sauna. They may be as embarrassed as I would be surprised!

I pulled the rope latch and entered the ante room. I shed my coat and hat, and stepped into the sauna room and stoked the fire with some quick, hot burning pine splints. I returned to the eighty-eight degrees of the other room and shed my whole attire, carefully hanging my clothes on the wooden pegs and sliding my boots under the bench. My towel and I stepped into the dry heat of the sauna, the thermometer read 165. I sat on the lowest bench and acclimated to the temperature. I checked the two pails, and they were full of water. A tin dipper hung from the lip of one of the pails. I now was sweating quite easily, and skipped the middle row and sat now on the top bench. My head was just below the ceiling boards, and I wondered how Bernard Hutchins manages with his six foot six frame. The pine had ignited and flamed the temperature to 192—I don’t think the thermometer is weather service calibrated, but it’s only relative anyway.

The time was now to start the steam process. I stepped down and carefully edged my way toward the hot stones nestled above the crackling fire. The boards on the floor were spaced slightly and were still a little slippery and wet. I carefully picked up the hot dipper with my towel, and skimmed a dipper full of hot water from the pail nearest the heat. I spread the water across the superheated stones with a sweeping motion. By just pouring the water down on the stones, the steam would rise more quickly than you could move your hand, leaving your wrist and hand with severe burns! Experience is my teacher.

Three dipper volumes of water make all the steam I can comfortably endure. I sit still on the top bench feeling the steam swirl past my face and body. I breathe slowly so as not to overheat my lungs. The sweat I had earlier is now running down my body, and dripping from the lathes of the bench. Every pore on my body has opened up and my skin is being cleansed by the vapors. I glance over at the thermometer, it is pegged out at 220, now I know it has to be wrong or my body would be boiling over! I have been sitting only a short time when I know I’ve reached my limit.

I move down to the lowest bench, and walk quickly out the doors. I stand naked and tingling in this cold, quiet snowscape. Experience has also taught me that a roll in the snow is invigorating, but it must be done right off or the thrill is a chill. I lie down on my back in a blanket of fresh snow. I melt slowly down under my weight and hot body. When I start to feel the coolness creeping into my feet, I gather myself up and stride back to the sauna. The briskness of this whole atmosphere quickens my thoughts and movements. I reach up for the rope and snap it down to open the board door, but to my stark surprise the rope pulls out!

I yank repeatedly on the carved handle on the door, yet it still resists every effort. I push, twist, lift, and pound, and the door stays locked. Now I’m getting cold. What should I do? I can’t wait I’ll freeze. I can run up he hill to Peter’s, but I’m naked and all. That can be only my last resort, which I must decide quite quickly. My mind flashes to the stories that will be told of Eleazer’s Folly in Richardson Hollow. Vanity—ahhhhh! I have a flash of inspiration, and a smile comes to my face. I step into the deep snow beside the sauna and break a thin stem from a striped maple. With this I will slide up the latch board from through the crack along the edge of the door. I cannot see as a shadow is cast by the building, so I feel for the edge of the door. I prod the stick, small end first, into the cleft. It only goes so far and stops bluntly, even as I slide it up and down the crack. No use, the good Finnish craftsmanship has foiled me.

That’s it! I’ve got to go before I become an ice cube. I run as swiftly as a man my size can run. No clothes, coat, hat, or glasses—just a streak. My numbing feet follow the path to the plowed portion of roadway and I start up the hill. I can only think of the gossip’s fodder I will now become. A bright ray of light from the first farm house, draws my attention to the white bark on a large paper birch tree standing beside the road. I break my wobbly stride, and snatch a strip of loose bark from the trunk of the birch. I hesitate, should I continue on, or try the door again before I freeze my feet and other things. A choice is made and down again I go. I felt the edge of the door and slid the pliable bark through the crack. I bends around and goes right on through the jam and stays stiff enough for me to lift the latch—viola!!

I immediately ran into the sauna to thaw any frosted parts; it still took a few minutes. Then I calmly dressed in the anteroom. I smiled to myself and gave a sigh of relief at my good fortune. The water pails were refilled from the brook, and the lanterns snuffed out. I repaired the door opening mechanism and walked out into the night a changed man, and fully clothed this time. I lit my pipe and sauntered up the snowy way. I thought of the lady in Paris who spent the day with her head stuck in the porch railing, until a passerby spied her. She is embarrassingly famous—I don’t want to be famous, I certainly don’t want to be the “talk of the town”.

Warmly Submitted,
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.


Sweet Success

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—March 21–Tuesday

The days are getting longer, and the sounds of birds returning from their southern haunts certainly brighten each day. The cool nights and sunny days bring the maple sap to peak flow. This season Margie and I bottled up just over eight gallons of the liquid gold…

I will relate to you dear journal the highlights of the syrup season. After a false start near the end of February, brought on by unseasonably warm weather, the maples produced less sap flow than in other years during the March run. I still bottled eight gallons or so of medium amber grade syrup, but it took more time and effort.

The preparations are often as time consuming as the gathering of fine sap.

Due to the deep snow from January and earlier February, I needed my Snocraft bear paw snowshoes to pack trails to the maple trees. I like to have well packed and hopefully hardened tracks by the time the sap flows. My path was devised to be the most energy efficient on my dear old body, as I would have to carry the sweet daily drippings, or pull a sled. I drilled a hole in the maple outside the kitchen window to help me determine when the sap starts to run. Each day I would check for a wet spot of running sap on the side of the tree indicating its time!

I cleared the snow off the roof of my boiling lean-to, and stacked the wood pile up to the eaves in preparation for the boiling of sap. My stove or hearth is built of old bricks hauled from a cellar hole at the old place up back on the hill. I stacked them in a double thick wall with no mortar. Wired on the front is an old front door off an Atlantic parlor heater, and is big enough to put good sized wood into the stove. There is a new piece of galvanized stove pipe that includes an elbow and three straight sections wired sturdily to the rear of the firebox and to the side post of the lean-to. My fifteen gallon sap pan–fabricated at Longley’s in Norway, Maine–sets neatly onto the open top of the fireplace. I had them solder a spigot in the side to drain the syrup off.

Margie helped me rinse and clean the sap pails, covers, spiles and the glass jug. She pawed around underneath the cupboard for the old metal pot she used to evaporate the syrup to its finished state. I cleaned out the half dozen metal milk cans and rigged a harness on the old wood sled to hold one ten gallon can. Brinker was curious of the preparations and followed along trying to stay out from under foot.

I spotted the sap dripping quite freely from my test tap one afternoon; so the next day we were off and running. I finished up my morning chores as early I could, so the packed trail would still be frozen to get around with my sled. I drilled a hole or two in each of the maples I wanted to tap. (When I was a kid, my mother wanted to know what I was doing on that fine spring day with the little hammer in my hand. I replied, “I want to tap some trees of course.” Guess it was a premonition of things to come). I bored each hole at a slight up angle with a bit and brace. I drove in a spile and put an eight penny nail just below to hold up the sap pail. The lids slid over the top of the pail to keep out rain, snow, or other debris from getting on the spile or into the pail. I had to be sure that the taps weren’t too high, because when the snow melts the pails could be too high to handle. By late morning I had the whole setup done, but not before the snow started to soften up. I wallowed through the last two or three tree preparations.

I finished lunch on that first day then set a pail on the maple outside the kitchen window and near the back steps. I also hang the glass jug on this tree, the one you probably were wondering about. I like to sit at the kitchen table and watch the dripping sap make little rings of disturbance in the glass jug. I like to get a nice cool glass of sap for my lunch each day during sap season, so this is a handy place to get the sap. Sometimes I think I would like the sap more than the syrup, but sap tends to spoil over time.

My daily routine starts the next afternoon when the sun starts toward the top of Peabody Mountain, in Albany, Maine. I trod along on snowshoes to collect the sap from the trees along the field in the milk can strapped to the sled. The pails near the road are collected in milk cans set in the back of “Molly” my pickup. The milk cans that are filled with sap are consolidated near the fire place. I fill the pan with fresh sap, strain out insects and other debris, and start the fire in the stove. It takes a lot of stoking for the sap to come to a boil, but when it does the aroma outside the back shed is wonderfully sweet! I try to keep a boil on through out the day and night as long as there is sap to keep in the pan—sometimes the sleep gets a little ragged. When I think the color and thickness are about right, I drain off this last gallon or so to finish on the kitchen stove. Margie will strain the thin syrup through cheesecloth to clear out any cinders, and gently boil the syrup to perfection. I sometimes give her a hard time about being particular about cleaning out the few bits of charcoal from the fire. I like the faint taste of smoke in the syrup; as it reminds me of the syrup my grandfather put up. She assures me that it will be smoky enough.

The season ran on with some days of overflowing pails to days with just a piddlin’ amount. It depended on the amount of warmth and sunshine–both in short supply. I worked through the snow early on, but ended in the mud before I was through. There were many long nights keeping a fire going under the sap pan, and hauling wood for the fire. There were some times that were randomly inserted in my sapping life to keep things on the lighter side. One afternoon I was on my last trip up the field on my snowshoes, when a snowshoe tip caught under a piece of crust. I don’t know if it was me being tired, trying to hurry to get done, or just one of those things; but I fell down big time! My knees punched through the snow and I was lying flat on my belly. In short order I could feel a cold chill run down my spine; as a leaking sap can splashed a couple of gallons of the stuff down the back of my wool pants. Fortunately Brinker was able to lap up some of the sweet sap and offer his form of a smile at my state. I struggled to right myself and plodded home soaking wet from the belly down.

Another morning I was getting ready to fire up the stove under the full sap pan, when I spied a red squirrel flitting around in the woodpile near the stove. I had one arm holding a half dozen pieces of nice oak, so I quickly scooped up a hand full of snow in my woolen mitten. I took a couple of good squeezes on the snowball and felt some water run out. I was about ten paces from the wood pile when I hurled the snowball at Mr. Red. Murphy’s Law struck my life the same time the snowball struck the squirrel. The squirrel had seen me loft the snow projectile and ducked into a crack between some sticks of wood in the pile. He was quite high up near the eaves of the lean-to. My throw hit the exact crack he ducked into and hit with enough force to push him all the way through. Yes, you guessed it—he landed plop right in the middle of the full pan of sap. He, to say the least, was quite disturbed by my intrusion and his unplanned bath. The squirrel crawled out, shook off, ran across the back yard to a tree, and climbed to a sunny spot to regain his composure. Now I had to decide if the pan had be emptied and cleaned—sanitation right? Were there hairs in the sap? Were there squirrel things now as floaties? What a quandary—I knew what Margie would say, so I didn’t say anything. As I said before we had lots of great syrup this season.

I often think of the time and energy we put into this endeavor, but it is certainly appreciated almost each day I use a little for my tea or cereal. Margie likes to make scrumptious baked beans and fudge with maple syrup—and I can’t forget the whoopee pies!! So every jug full is certainly a “sweet success”………..

Sweetly Penned’
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.


Just Smeltin’ Away

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—March 21–Tuesday

The days are quite nice with just a little chill at night. The lakes down country are opening up, and the brooks are roaring with snow melt. Fishing seasons is just around the corner. Smelt runs will be beginning here very soon!

Oh, what a night last night. I spent the late, late evening following my friend Jack
Stevens around to all the local smeltin’ hot spots. And I must report that some were actually very hot! I left my truck at Leo Cole’s farm in Greenwood City and rode with Jack down to Herm Fuller’s Store. Well Herm’s Store was certainly a store in the general sense, in that there certainly were things to buy. Most of the merchandise came in bottle form by the “six pack”. The location of the store was near the Paris Town Line—Paris is a “dry” town, so the customer base here at this small out of the way location is immense on weekends or special nights like this.

Jack was fond of the Black Label, which was lucky, as the choices tonight were slim to none. I would settle for a cold Moxie, for I need to keep my eye on Jack tonight. When we left, I would be doing the driving in Jack’s Studebaker pickup. We got to Herm’s store just in time to stand in line by the one of the slide top coolers. Herm picked out a half dozen cold ones from the cold water and ice inside the rusty sided cooler. I had to search for some time through the cold water in another cooler for just two twelve ounce Moxies. Jack also got a pack of Raleigh Chew so as to draw up a spit—as if a fella’ needed to chew a cud! The old National cash register had a bell that almost chimed out a song, because it was opening so much during our time in the store. There were some other homemade snacks and some candy for sale, but they were not to popular this dark night.

There were a couple of guys from South Paris in front of us, and they were headed to Bryant’s Pond smeltin’. They stocked up as if they were to be there a week. Cecil Farnum happened by as we were getting loaded into the truck and checking over our nets. He told us that most of the smelters were at the north end of Bryant Pond, South Pond both sides, and into Indian Pond. He said “Red” Martin wasn’t to happy with the fellas last night getting stuck in his field in near Indian. He made them wait until this morning to haul the truck out with his Allis-Chalmers Model B tractor. This probably wouldn’t be a bad place to go; as the walk was too long in the back way for most of the smelting crowd—especially with Martin on the warpath. We figured that this might be the best bet for later on, after checking out the action around the other places.

We finally headed out up Old County Road toward Bryant Pond, Maine. The road was rutted from the freezing and thaw we have had over the last week. The Studebaker bounced along and slipped from side to side the whole way to the Howe crossing at the foot of Bryant’s Pond. I had to stop and clean the headlights, as the mud had splattered them over. Jack was working on his second brew by now.

I suggested we stop at Stowell’s Mill and look up Mose or Oliver Swan. They worked the night shift as watchmen and boiler operators. Mose usually would take a side trip down to the mill brook pool from his regular rounds. He surely would know if the smelts were heading up under the railroad through the twin stone culverts. We bumped into the mill yard and stopped at the foot of the hill near the tall water tank and parked by a pile of sawdust and shavings. This mill produced turnings from hardwood, like pail handles, brush handles, and so on—similar to those of Mann’s Mill. I pushed open the door to the boiler room and met a blast of hot air pushing out through. Oliver was shoveling scrap wood into an open fire door with a broad blade shovel. He noticed the chill on his back, and turned to greet us. Jack offered him a swig on the Black Label, as we sat on the long “bummer’s” bench just inside the doorway. I had a few sips of my Moxie, as Jack and Oliver caught up on the weather and things. Mose was off tonight, but Oliver told us that they had seen a few smelts early this morning before daylight in the mill pool. Ah, another place to check later when all but the diehards, and those under the heavy weather, were home snug in bed. We relished the last bit of heat, before heading around the lake.

The old Studebaker sputtered by the ball field and over the railroad crossing. I could see yellow circles of light from kerosene lanterns on the water just ahead. We parked behind a half dozen vehicles, dirty from the “mud season” roadways. Jack was ready for some action, but headed off without his net. I trailed along behind just taking in the surroundings. At first the only sounds that could be heard were the quiet stirrings of the water in the lake from the light wind, and the gurgling of the water over stones in the brook. Jack had squished his way through a wet patch of alders and stood on the low bank of the lake. I arrived soon after and stood quietly beside him, as we watched two men with broad hooped nets. They gently moved the heavy nets across the area just off the mouth of the brook, and then lifted them into the light to check for silver fish. Both men had a quart or two of smelts, and poured them into a pail on the nearby shore.

I could see now through Jack’s flashlight that the school had moved out into deeper water ahead of a billowing plume of dark silt. There was now sputtering from other fishermen in the alder area along the brook. They had been waiting in the dark for the run to start; smoking, talking quietly, and apparently imbibing in the brew. The next thing I knew a beer bottle passed through the lantern light and splashed into the pond. One fella’ in the woods yelled for the guys in the pond to let the smelts run up the brook, so they all could get a chance. A rebuffing salvo, that included plenty of expletives, followed from one of the lucky pair. The ensuing skirmish was like a pair of bulls separated by a fence, in this case a net, bluffing and jousting about trying to force the other to leave. It worked for us, because I grabbed Jack’s coat collar and half dragged him into the woods. He wanted to protest, but thought better of it as I was somewhat larger than he. We could hear the occasional yell and shout as we were getting into the Studebaker.

We drove through Locke Mills, Maine to round South Pond. It was as quiet this Monday night, as a funeral home between funerals. There were a couple of street lights as we passed the corner store and garage, but quite dark otherwise. We had met only a couple of cars this late coming up the main road from Bryant Pond Village. Jack was now more than willing to let me be leader for the rest of the night, for he was rapidly losing his common sense—he couldn’t even get the last Black Label opened. Jack was a quiet fellow, and even more so when he was under this weather. He had told me he had his best rest and sleep after a good drinking night, right up until just before he opened his eyes the next morning! I headed down the west side of South Pond with Jack just a snoring along. I didn’t see anybody near the brook passing under the road, so I just stopped over the culvert and shined my light into the moving waters. Not a thing showing itself here.

I drove south toward Twitchell Pond. Sometimes there were smelts running in the brook on the west side of the pond just south of the Daniel Cole place. I would check this out before heading home with Jack. Sure enough, there was some goings on here! There were nearly a dozen cars and trucks parked along the road and in the edge of the field. Muddy footprints along the camp road attested to this night’s activity. I tucked in Jack, and trod along the beaten way through the alders. I walked back away from the brook, so as not to interfere with the smelters quietly dipping their nets in the running water of the pools. Everyone here seemed to be quite polite. No jeering or complaints, only cajoling and teasing—down right fun. Everyone was busy netting smelts, and no bottles being passed about. Well it didn’t take me long to see what could be the cause of this civility—the “Warden” was visiting.

Elmer Russell is the new local Game Warden, and he had stopped by the farm a number of times last deer season, so I had gotten to know him quite well. I walked up to Elmer to get the take on things tonight. He told me things here were much the same now as when he had arrived a short time ago. I told him about the fracas at Bryant Pond, with the verbal head butting and skirmishing. He chuckled, for he had been by there earlier and talked to the fellows, from down country, at the mouth of the brook. They assured him that they would let the run start before they started dipping. Well, apparently they couldn’t wait and run afoul with the locals.

Elmer told me about a crew of smelters from Portland that had arrived up here late one night after driving up from Sebago Lake. They swarmed into one of the brooks someplace in Waterford, and commenced to have a good old time of it. Apparently the smelts weren’t running very well, but the brown trout were up the brook checking things out. These yahoos started chasing the trout up and down the brook, until a couple nice two to three pound beauties were landed in smelt nets. Elmer and his partner just happened by when they saw the string of moving flashlights along the brook. They waited and listened to see what would happen, and ended their night writing up a half dozen summonses and hauling two belligerent guys to the county jail in Paris, Maine.

Elmer had followed the smelters north with the season, and he told me another story about this pair of smelters down country that were smelting quite far from the road on this quiet out of the way place. They had taken overnight provisions and plenty of beer. During the night one of the fellows passed out right in the peak of a hellish run. His partner dragged him up onto the bank out of the way and laid him down on a bedding canvas they had brought with them. He didn’t check him over very well to see if he was all right, but rather continued on smelting and filled their pails with the limit. The next morning the first fellow woke up from his reverie and climbed up from the canvas. He found the two pails filled with glistening smelts, but no sign of his friend. He searched nearby, but to no avail. He walked to their car and still no sign. A frantic call went out to Elmer to help find the missing smelter. Elmer found the missing friend later that morning near where they had been smelting. The friend had passed out and died from an apparent heart attack during the night. This smelting can be a tough business!

I said my goodbyes to Elmer on the way out to the truck. We checked on Jack, who couldn’t be any happier at this moment. Elmer headed back to Bryant’s Pond, and I bumped down past Shadagee Rock and the Hick’s Cemetery toward Greenwood City. This stretch of dirt road was rather lonely on a dark spring night with only a snoring buddy and the last few sips of my Moxie to keep me company. I would miss out on the happenings on at Indian Pond and elsewhere tonight, but I’d had enough for the season. I took Jack home with me and carried him in onto the couch. This yearly ritual would end in the morning after a full breakfast of Margie’s fixin’s, a trip to deliver a refreshed Jack home and pick up Molly at Leo’s.

I get my fill of smelting in one short night. If I really get hard up for smelts to eat, I can go down to Hutchinson Pond. The two little books on the back side of the pond have small, thriving populations of smelts that not many know. Other fella’s need to go out every night carousing, carrying on, and “Just Smelting Away”…………….

Temperately Yours;
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.


Flying Ghosts

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—February 25–Saturday

Today was fair and mild, and quite dark this evening due to the late phase of the moon. It’s late tonight for me to be writing in my journal, but I wanted to get this information down while it was still fresh in my mind. I drove to West Paris to Grange for an installation of new officers tonight and became quite enlightened by the happenings in the dark…

Margie had a cold for the last couple of days, so she decided to stay home and keep the fire, while I ventured off to West Paris for the installation of some of their new officers. I had old “Molly” warmed up by the time I had bounced along through the drifts at the end of Hick’s Pond. The road down to Britton’s Bridge was quite well packed and easy to keep in the road. From the bridge across Hawkin’s Flat was another matter! I had enough speed to plow through most of the drifts, but I had to shovel through one small drift just before “Christmas Tree” Charlie’s house.

Charlie heard my huffing and puffing, and came out the narrow path from his one room house to the road to offer me some assistance. I declined his offer not because he had one leg and a wooden crutch under an arm, but because I had finished making a cut to pass Molly through. Charlie was the victim of an accident in the woods many years ago, yet he didn’t let it slow him down. He got his nick name from the many Christmas trees he cut each year to sell on the roadside.

I came to the fork in Greenwood Street where I generally took the low road in the winter, as the hill on High Street often was slippery. Tonight I went through the length of Greenwood Street. I passed Leon Proctor’s, Widow Penley’s, and the Herrick place; just to name a few, before sliding to a stop at High Street intersection. The yellow glowing street lights cast a warm light on the snow banks lining the roadways. I was just finishing a momentary take of my surroundings and checking for other vehicles coming along, when I caught a shadow pass by a shed light at Walter Inman’s house.

Walter’s house sits directly opposite the Greenwood Street turn. I took another second to check again for other vehicles, but things were quite quiet on the road. I sat staring at the light from the one bulb, as it cast a dull light along the edge of the back shed. I must have been dreaming, I thought, when I spied another light up on the hill behind the garage. This light seamed to wink a couple times as someone or something passed. I thought it might be Raymond Farr checking his hens, but this was a little further toward the Howard Ellingwood Place from the hen house.

“Cousin” Beulah was running the meeting tonight, so her opening salvo would surely be long winded—no need to hurry to Grange with a mystery waiting to be solved. I drove into Walter’s driveway and pulled to a stop beside his Rambler station wagon. The door on Molly squealed open in the frosty air, but didn’t drown out the loud “Clear” shouted from the shadows behind the garage. I had intended to inquire at Walter’s door, but the call drew me over the snow bank. I walked in deep, well used footprints around the pile of snow and along a thatch of raspberry canes to the base of the hill. I stopped when I heard the sound of something sliding on snow above me. I looked up just in time to see a silent, dark form pass through the light of a white gas lantern and race to catch up with its ever faster shadow. The form, now a person on skis, landed near me with a ‘thawack’ and sped past following a vague packed trail past the illuminated window of Walter’s shed.

“Wow”, I spoke to no one in particular, but I received a response from up the hill near the lantern. A voice that I now could hear coming from a platform raised slightly above the ground said, “Forty-five this time”. Climbing the hill in the same foot holes I started with, I came to a lantern hanging high on a limb of a tall scraggly hemlock tree. Two boys, mid teens by the look, stood watching me from the platform. “Hi”, I said, “What are you fellas up to?” A chuckle from one and “Ski jumping” grunted the other. “Well, I can see that, but at night?” I smiled with disbelief—surely unseen by them. In their serious manner, I was treated to the full detail of this ski jumping stuff with all the background.

These were the Inman Boys from High Street, and often were interspersed with a Farr or two and a Hazelton now and then. They would climb up a raised tower back from the top of the hill, “seventeen feet four inches high” I was told. Each jumper would bind his boots to the skis, in whatever contrivance or straps he had. They only had the light from one candle in a hurricane lantern to assist their preparations. At the shout of “Clear”, the skier would slide down a long, snow covered ramp from the tower—let me tell you it was narrow and had no sides other than picked hemlock posts scattered randomly along the sides. The end of the ramp had a level section, like a table that was chest high. In a ‘wooosh’ the flight of the skier would lift from the end of the jump out over the landing hill. One or two others would watch from the “Judges Platform” and spot the flying distance based on fir boughs spaced along the hill. The white gas lantern was quite bright and illuminated the hill all the way to the bottom. Once the skier went past the transition, hill to flat, the light in the shed kept him from hitting the shed or garage—a near catastrophe one night when Grampa Walt shut the light off by accident during a jump. The skier would come to a stop just short of the snow bank on High Street, then hustle back to the base of the hill before checking to be sure all was clear. The “Clear” shout would go out again and the rotation continued with everyone shifting positions.

The boys told me that last year they had some friends over watching the goings on, and a communication snafu ensued resulting with a “Clear” from someone that didn’t know what it really meant. The resulting collision between two of the Inman Boys reddened the snow and left a tooth or two for the tooth fairy. The dads ended the night season then and there.

This year the jumpers couldn’t have anyone over but the “regulars” for the night practices. I felt somewhat privileged to stay and watch for quite some time. I was impressed that they didn’t fall—one told me that to fall was the end of jumping for the night because the repair would be too soft to jump on until it had time to harden.

I eventually wound my way down the hill and back to my car. Walter had seen my vehicle and greeted me when I got back. He chuckled his wry chuckle when I told him about watching the boys. He said he had tried to give them some advice, but figured they would do as they damned pleased anyway. He proudly told me they had competed all over the area in school events, and won their share of awards and provided some quite spectacular thrills and spills for those who took the time to watch these “Flying Ghosts”….

In Awe!
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.


Damn Near to Death

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—January 15–Sunday

It is another cold January night and the stars are as bright as I have ever seen them–just like on Friday. This is my first entry since it happened, and I’ll try to recall the experience as best as I can…

Margie, my dear wife, asked me to take Brinker, a very muscular hound with all the energy of his three year old body just a quiverin’, out for an evening walk. I looked at the thermometer and it was just shy of ten below zero. Why, oh why, must I do this tonight, especially with the wood stove just a humpin’ in the corner, and the smell of fresh apple pie cookin’ in the oven. I peered out the frosty window and saw bright stars everywhere in the sky, and sharp, dark shadows cast by the full moon on the crusty snow. I thought well why not, it is nice and crispy and may be good for both Brinker and me to get some fresh air.

I bundled up in my wool coat, fleece lined leather mitts, felt lined boots, and a woodcutter’s wool cap. Brinker was constantly underfoot as he twisted and turned in his excitement to get out the door. As I opened the heavy front door, I grabbed the leash, a twelve-foot long rope with a loop in one end and a large clip on the other, and tramped outside. Of course Brinker was sniffing everything and charging from here to there with the energy of a horse leaving the starting gate.

The air on my cheek felt like it was just slapped by a cold hand, but the brightness of the moon and stars let me forget this first smack of the frosty night. I tramped out into the yard with my boots squeaking on the cold snow with every step, trying to get the leash hooked to Brinker. It was like trying to calm down a big bass on your fish line long enough to get him unhooked. Finally, I got the snap opened with my mitts and locked it into the stout collar on Brinker’s linebacker sized neck. The race was on, as Brinker sprinted down the driveway, I managed to get a slip loop around my waist before the line pulled taught. His strength snapped my body in the middle, but I was ready, and let Brinker lunge skyward as his hind legs pumped up and down.

Brinker calmed down to the point of yielding control of the pace of this walk to me. But he would pull hard and rear up on his hind legs if he thought I was too slow. We soon settled into a brisk walk down the road, with the squeak of my footsteps the only sound on this great night. I marveled in the brightness of the moon, and the way it cast dark, sharp shadows on the hard crusty snow. It was hard to believe that earlier in the week the sky had clouded up and just burst with pouring rain, and as hard a rain as any during the summer. The temperature fell suddenly to subzero and made a very hard crust on the snow, much like years ago when I was a kid and slid on cardboard boxes down the length of Ole’s farm field.

The roadway was pretty much a level walk that follows along a small river. The hardwood trees along the river and road cast long shadows across the road and down the steep bank to the water. I could now hear the clinking sound of blocks of ice banging along the frozen shoreline, and occasionally see a twinkle of these in the dark, cold water as they rushed downstream. My nose was trying to run as fast as Brinker wanted to sprint, so I had to stop for a quick nose blow. Going again, I fell into a kind of euphoria and day dreaming state just reveling in the sights, sounds, and feel of the night.

I don’t recall what warm land it was I was dreaming, but my nose dripped again, and woke me from my state of bliss. I reached into my back pocket, up under my coat and under the loop of Brinker’s leash, to pull out my handkerchief—this is when it all started! Brinker, having smelled a wondrous scent, or seeing a mouse or ghost, who knows, gave a sharp jerk on the leash. My left hand was just reaching into my pants pocket, when the leash tightened around my waist, trussing me up like a convict. The second lunge of the bruising hound was the one that took me off my feet. This all happened in the snap of a twig, and felled me onto my left elbow and arm. The shot of lightning in my arm was such that I knew the ground was hard and my arm not. I umphed out loud, as I slid off the road and rolled over the bank. The leash, being a strong rope, had wound around my midsection and now held both arms securely as I bumped into a small tree. My tears now came in floods, but not because of sadness at the unreal situation I was in, but rather from the raspberry cane that had just whipped my freezing cheek.

I lay in a stupor on the cold crust for some time. It was only when Brinker put both his hefty paws on my chest that I felt, with very much clarity, the aches and pains of my poor body. I looked into his eyes and could see his concern and read the question in his mind—“What to heck are you stopping for?” Thanks Brinker, now isn’t the time; but suddenly with a quick push from those honking feet, I was propelled again toward the river! I slid down and into a small depression just shy of the river’s frigid shore. Brinker was again at my side, as he should be, since he was still hooked to my waist by a short length now. I swiveled my head toward the river and could see that I was safe, as I couldn’t roll or slide down any more.

I let my mind overcome the dull throbs in my arm, and tried to clearly think through what just happened a few seconds ago. I looked up the short, steep bank to where the road shoulder was, I looked at Brinker sitting quite placidly near my side, and I just thought I really had to let out an audible chuckle—which I did with steaming breath pluming away into the starry sky. But—-it wasn’t over yet!

I started to roll over to undo the leash from my waist, but a sharp cracking sound stopped me short. Apparently I had stopped on a small brook, and the ice was cracking beneath my weight. I breathed slowly and with deliberation, believing that any change would cause me peril. Peril it was, because a hole opened in the small patch of ice just the size of a small waste basket and it was directly under my butt! I stretched out with a sigh of relief, as I managed to span the opening without settling. Gosh what next?

I didn’t have to wait but just a second, Brinker, for whatever reason—maybe he was cold, maybe he was bored, maybe he was tired—whatever ”maybe” it was, he plopped himself directly on my midsection. I saw it coming, with his few short deliberate steps to my aching stomach. There was no cracking sound or noise other than my own whimpering, as my nice warm bottom settled, from the loving hound’s weight, splat into the near frozen mud!!

I sat, or rather, succumbed to being hogtied in an ice hole for some time, before I really could think clearly about my situation. Here I was with my butt freezing, tied up as a thief, alone—except for Hans Brinker the ice dog, and wondering how to get out of this most awkward situation. The rope had soaked with water, and now was frozen to my coat. One hand was wet yet warm, because it was still tucked into my back pocket. The other hand was mitten-covered and across my waist, but under seventy-five pounds of hound. My breath still could be seen in the night using the stars as a backdrop, but I lie well within the dark shadow of the roadway. How would I get out of this? This neighborhood was very quiet, no one usually ventured out on such a frosty evening. No vehicles traveled this dead end roadway, unless they are a neighbor out later than usual. How would I get out of this?

I waited for what I thought must have been hours, but only turned out to be minutes, for the sweet sound of Margie. Oh that sweet woman was out to rescue me! I listened as she came nearer, “Brinnnnker!” “Brinnnnker!” “Brinnnnker!” Brinker, the hound, what about the old duffer you married? what about your lost and missing love? What about me? I called out in my now weak voice, maybe more of a shrill cry, “Honey!” “Honey!” We’re down here!

Margie stopped her laughter long enough to free my arms, and get “Brinnnnker!” off of me. My mood, most foul, and feeling ultimately humiliated, I had to at least murmur out a “Thanks” to Margie. I certainly won’t forget the night of the thirteenth, especially the way the neighbors and my so called friends at the barber shop, keep smiling and asking “How was your evening?” As for my hound Brinker, he wants me to take him out all the time—I think he thought the adventure was marvelous and ready for a rerun! Me, I’m a home body these nights; especially as I note the low mercury in the thermometer, the bright moon shining on the snow, and remember that not long ago “I was nearly frozen damn near to death.”

Humbly Submitted,
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.


A Hissin’ Fit

eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—January 30–Monday

Margie and I had a busy weekend, and I haven’t had the chance to make an entry since Friday. Today the weather has moderated, and is cloudy with the temperature in the low 20’s. I haven’t ventured out yet this morning, but I expect Brinker will want a walk soon.

I have to recount a story Art Harrington related to me at the Grange Supper on Saturday night. But before I start this account, I’ll set a little background. Art was born the third son of Antti and Anna Heikkinen, and lived with his wife Effie on a plot of land his dad owned on the back side of Patch Mountain. Antti had arrived here from his native Finland speaking little English, but coming to a Finnish community he acclimated quickly. His first property purchase was the former Edwards Farm, which included the farm buildings in which Art now lived. The neat house and ell stood just off the road, and set back against a well pruned stand of trees. Art had carefully taken apart the sagging, weathered barn back to the long ell. He had meticulously stacked all the lumber, bundled all the unbroken shingles, and saved most of the nails that he had pulled.

Art was just as particular about the firewood stored in the ell. He had eight or nine cords of firewood neatly stacked in the different bays of the ell. There were piles of small kindling separated as pine, cedar, spruce, fir, and popple. Other areas had stacks, only as high as Effie can reach; of split or round wood of maple, ash, red oak, and birch all separated into different sizes. Art once described to me that he uses a specific type and size of wood depending on the temperature outside and whether he was cooking or heating.

The ell, on the inside, is like the long narrow corridor of Kimball’s boarding house, except wood piles imitate the wallpaper, with the occasional cobwebbed window interrupting the neat, linear feel. A trip into the house through the ell shed is an aromatic treat provided by the aroma of pine, cedar, and pungent red oak.

Well, enough of the background, I just wanted to give you a feel for the temperament and personality embodied in my friend Art.

This is exactly as Art retold the happening to me at the Grange, Saturday night…

“Effie had been having a hard time keeping up with filling the wood boxes by the stoves, so I would stock them up before bed at night. It had been blistering cold for many nights, so we have had to burn lots of wood just to keep the frost off the kitchen windows. I was out in the ell loading my left arm with oak round wood, carefully gazing through the frosty vapors left by my breath to select just the right size sticks to last through the night, when I first heard it…”

The sound started as a low grumbling and trailed off into a higher pitched hiss. I stopped my chore and turned sharply to look into a dark corner of the ell. At first my eyes, tearing by the cold air, couldn’t pick out any detail. I quickly moved my mittened right hand to wipe the large tear from my cheek and adjust the oval spectacles on my nose. I peered intently into the shadow made by the light of my dusty lantern and still couldn’t see anything. Everything was quiet, except the rustling of wind blown raspberry canes scrapping on the outside shingles. Had I just been hearing things? I waited… I guess so.

I took the arm load of wood into the kitchen and carefully laid the sticks down in the oak box by the big cook stove. I wiped the steam off my glasses and peeked into the parlor; Effie was still knitting and humming a favorite hymn. I went back into the kitchen and tramped out the back door into the ell for another load of wood. I was just about to reach for a gnarly stick of maple when I heard it again. This time the grumbling was deeper and longer, and the hissing more punctuated and loud. There was something on top of the birch pile up next to a four by eight cross beam. I carefully removed the lantern from its rusty holder, and lifted it above my head.

I held my gaze on an area in the very corner of the ell, where the old barn had been attached. There was a nest of spider webs hanging from the large cross beam, so it took many seconds for the dull, yellow light from the lamp I was slowly moving up and down to produce to two, glowing globes. These globes turned out to be the glaring eyes of an angry wildcat. Why he looked so angry, I could only guess. It should be me who would be angry, as it is my shed not his. He didn’t appear to be aggressive, so I just stared for a sort time. I went over to one of the sliding doors, and opened it a small crack for my new acquaintance to gracefully exit during the night. I finished loading up my arm and blew out the lantern, as I returned to the warmth of the kitchen.

I was up before dawn the next morning, and could see the snow falling lightly through the light from the kitchen windows. It was too cold to snow with much accumulation, but a little nuisance that needed to be cleaned off the steps of the ell and front stoop. When I finished this chore, I went into the ell through the sliding door left open overnight. There were no tracks of my visitor leaving during the snow showers, so I assumed he had “beat feet” soon after our encounter last night. I stomped my boots heavily on the plank floor to be sure I didn’t have any snow left; certainly didn’t want to wet Effie’s kitchen floor. The door protested when I slid it shut, squeaking and squawking as it closed against the weathered post. I walked down the narrow corridor of fire wood, and stopped to get another load of good hardwood.

I was startled by the sudden scratching sound of feet running along the top of one of the wood piles. I, being on the somewhat jumpy side, dropped the arm load of wood, sparsely missing my toes. I swung my body around, to curse the squirrel that surely was one of the many trying to use my shed and its winter shelter, but came eye to eye with the bristling wildcat. He acted as if I was intruding into his home without first knocking. He stared coldly at me, as I calmed myself down. I now carefully watched this feline intruder. He appeared to be poised to take a step away, or was he just gathering nerve to jump me? He turned his fluffy head and stepped a few short steps along the loose wood atop of the pile, to sit pompously on a flat piece of red oak. He scowled at me and murmured a low growl emanating from his throat, vibrating across a flattened tongue and between four dangerous looking canines.

This second meeting had lasted only a few seconds, when I assured myself that twelve or thirteen pounds of feline weren’t going to make mischief with a two hundred pound Scandinavian. I became a little angry at him, and wished that he had left the comfort of my ell shed and headed himself home. He had taken stock of me and must have felt I was of no threat to him, because he started to take a cat bath. I now was quite sure it was “Mr. Wildcat”. I was busy, and didn’t need the distraction of this vacationing cat. I went out the near ell door and walked through the yard and opened the far shed door, which I had most recently shut. I stomped back around to the near door toward the kitchen, thinking along the way, that I hoped Mr. Wildcat would take the hint.

I struck out early the next morning to do my chores in the cedar swamp, and worked all day with just a short break for a lunch of venison and “rat” cheese. The sun was just about to sink below the pine topped crest of Long Mountain, when I returned from my day cutting fence posts below the lower field. As I walked into the yard, I saw movement in the dusty window on the side of the ell—it was him. Damn, he’s still here and look at him stretching out and yawning. He probably was lying in the sun all day, while I sweated over my buck saw in the swamp! The nerve of that cat! I was now in quite a lather. My first thought was to get the Stevens .22 and end his furry existence on the top of the wood pile. But the thought of spilling blood on the wood, and skinnin’ the critter in this cold, turned my plan into one involving severe fright. I could and surely would make a ruckus with the old double barrel Winchester twelve gauge.

I stamped through the parlor where Effie was knitting, and retrieved the old stovepipe from behind the dining room door. I then tramped back through the parlor, just mumbling to myself about a problem that needed solving. I entered the ell shed, and had to stop and light the lantern, as the sun had now set beyond Long Mountain. I pulled out two bird shot loads from the breast pocket of my flannel vest, and slid them smoothly into the hollow barrels of the Winchester. I hefted the shotgun in my right arm, as the left arm held high the lantern.

I walked slowly down the isle of wood, listening and watching for any sign of Mr. Wildcat. Each step over the plank floor offered up a squeak or moan, certainly not a stealthy approach. The light from the lantern cast moving shadows throughout the dusty, cob webbed roof spaces. I heard muffled sounds of movement, then there he was perched on a cross member of shed framing. Not wanting to cause any real damage, I brought the Winchester up to my shoulder and steadied it with the left hand, and aimed at a small stack of soft pine logs that I hadn’t yet split for kindling. I intended to blast the birdshot into this wood, and scare the living spots right off Mr. Wildcat’s hide.

Well the swinging of the lantern distracted my aim, so I held and sighted the shotgun with one hand. I had the hammers on both barrels ready, but no fool would fire both at once, so I squeezed the front trigger as gently as I could. Blam… The ringing in my ears wasn’t even noticed, before the recoil of the first charge sent my right hand into a tighter grip that caused my finger to twitch on trigger number two. The sound of barrel number two firing was a long echo of the first. The stock had slipped from my shoulder on number one to my right breast side for the second round. This later recoil did me in, and sat me down; kerplunk…thud…on the cold shed floor.

I sat rather dazed for a few moments. I sensed the pungent smell of sulfur and could see the cloud of black powder wafting through the lantern light in the shed. My ears were ringing loudly, yet I had managed to keep hold of the lantern and Winchester. Wow! This must have been how Jack Ellingwood felt after being kicked in the chest by his Belgian yearling. I leaned the shotgun against a pile of red maple roundwood, and slowly rose to my feet. I walked slowly to the far shed doorway and held the lantern high, looking for tracks of the skittering cat. I was still somewhat shaken, but plainly there were no tracks in the newly fallen snow. Damn, again! Walking over to the wood pile and lifting my lantern assured me that; indeed, he was still there. He looked at me as if to laugh, and then the yawn again—I really disliked him at this point!

A cold draft tickled my mustache and a small, white plume of snow drew my attention to a gaping hole in the roof. Apparently my second shot went awry, hit a knot in the roofing, and shattered its way to the night sky. The hole, bigger than my fist, seemed to suck in bushel baskets of light snow. That was it, I was beaten—nothing could be worse!

Worse is what I got when I opened the kitchen door! Effie hadn’t seen the shotgun in my arms when I had tramped through the parlor earlier. The first shot caused such a start, that she pulled one of her needles completely out of her knitting. The second round upset her from the comfort of her rocker, and caused a very neat extraction of the second needle from my new dress sweater. Needless to say, “She wasn’t happy”. I had now met the second wildcat of the evening!

Over the next six days I teased, roiled, and coaxed, that old Mr. Wildcat. I poked him with a crotched stick, I threw blocks of wood his way, and I even set out a plate of smelly, luscious cat treats made from old sardines. But all this to no avail! On the seventh day he was gone….without a word…no thank you…nothing…just gone!

I missed my daily encounters with Mr. Wildcat, yeah right, for about five seconds maybe. It took me two months to sweet talk Effie into finishing my dress sweater. I eventually got new shingles made, and patched the hole in the roof. And there wasn’t hide nor hair of a squirrel, mouse, or rat in the ell shed until spring—one good thing!”

I assure you these are the words Art spoke to me and others the night of the Grange supper. You have to know that it was so good and intriguing, because I missed my second helping of Arlene Farrington’s famous custard pie.

Respectfully Submitted,
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.