Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Time machines have as of yet not been invented, but cars have a century been in popular utilization, and I have found them to aptly serve a similar purpose, without sacrificing the experiential value in “getting there.” Given the right route, one can hop in a car, drive a few hours, and find themselves in the midst of a culture minutely varied, but so as to suggest the loss of a few decades of what they call forward progress. I have found this to be true of most routes leading out of Megalopolis and adjacent developments and into the North Woods.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    It’s commonly said that life is slower in the south, but I’d offer New England as more qualified for the classification. A northerly latitude lengthens days in the summer, and fewer people and less development breeds fewer distractions from some of the last remaining expanses of true wilderness left on the East Coast. A sporting culture permeates deeper in the day-to-day, compared to its relative absence in more urbanized localities.

    One such route recently transported my time machine and I to a township called Second College Grant, or “The Grant,” as it is referred to by citizens of nearby Errol, New Hampshire and others geographically related.

    With a population of zero, The Grant is more of a resource investment than a town. In 1807, its 27,000 acres were donated to Dartmouth College. Thereafter, the property has been actively logged to provide scholarship funds for students, and well-managed for public outdoor recreation. As such, it carries all the time-ago drama of a working northern forest.

    Unless you happen to be one of the oft-manipulated, Dartmouth-associated gate key-bearers, the gravel road that traverses the property is restricted to foot-travel. Therefore, much of the interior remains rugged wilderness.

    The Grant’s main road parallels the Dead Diamond River, which is the largest unstocked native brook trout stream in the state, and plays host to some of New Hampshire’s last remaining mythically proportioned brook trout.

    The river still has brook trout, but not like they’ve been written about finning the dark pools of the river in centuries past. Recent years have seen the illegal introduction of smallmouth bass in the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge downstream, and the resultant invasion of the bass upstream into brookie territory.

    Black bear, moose, deer, squirrels, and various other creatures thrive on the property. One could argue that active logging keeps up a healthy population of grouse, individual members of which seem to be so isolated as to be relatively unafraid of approaching humans, and which mystify my upland bird-deprived Virginia sensibilities upon every encounter.

    “Our grouse situation is still pretty good,” are the words that ground me.

    Another route took my time machine even further into the past.

    Kokadjo, Maine is a town of a trading post with one worker, no gas station, and a famous brook trout and salmon stream. KOKADJO. POP: NOT MANY are the words that greet the traveler, and I fear the plurality of the word “many” might be a subtle overstatement.

    13 miles by logging road north of Kokadjo sits a small homestead of old sporting camps on SpencerPond, owned by husband and wife—Dana Black, a registered Maine guide and lobsterman, and Christine Howe, also a registered Maine guide with an environmental education and a history with the EPA.

    That I ended up on their doorstep was by chance and grace, but I quickly found that my time machine had done its job satisfactorily. Among the Spencer Pond Camps, there is no electricity or running water. Just kerosene lanterns, a wood stove, a well pump, and a solar bag for washing behind the ears as is often necessary when bushwhacking through northern forest as I do every day, these days. And so there is room to wonder about the way life used to be and other things of rival romance.

    Between the camps and the closest incorporated establishment sit thousands of acres of “big woods,” complete with unnamed, walk-in brook trout ponds, and a population of bear and moose that easily outnumbers people.

    In talking about fishing, Dana, who is learning the art of fly fishing, told me of the brook trout pond fishing in the area.

    “Maine still has pretty good pond fishing for brook trout,” he said.

    Maine is widely held as our nation’s last foothold for vital populations of native brook trout, and so it struck me that I had been encountering the word “still” a little too often, and it made me nervous. To paraphrase the great conservationist, Aldo Leopold, given the chance to go forward or go fishing, I’d quickly choose fishing, but I fear the world is developing in the opposite direction.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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