We all seem to reflect this time of year on things past while looking forward to a fresh start. Triumphs and achievements are warmly regarded, while our defeats and setbacks continue to needle us. From Tucker Ridge, I’ve observed and in some instances been involved in some of the major issues Mainers have battled for and against this year. I have also had my share of ups and downs in the not so public eye. It’s been an interesting year to say the least. Here’s a look back at 2016 from Tucker Ridge.
As we ushered in a new year I was looking forward to new opportunities and continuing work on my homestead. This year’s plan included getting the chicken barn ready, fencing and runs built in anticipation of raising our flock in the coming spring.
This was also the year I was going to sit for the Registered Maine Guide exam, a long held goal I had been studying and preparing for. I started writing this blog “Life on the Ridge” for bangordailynews.com in January as well.
Winter to early spring was a great time of year. Snowshoe hare hunting with my buddy Big John who lives down ridge a bit, the IFW Commissioner’s decision to an early fishing start and the new job opportunity my wife was exploring all made for a memorable start to the year.
My dogs Chuck and CJ played starring roles in my first article for “Life on the Ridge” as Chuck learned to flush ruffed grouse and hunt antler sheds. My beagle CJ was also doing well, her Cushing’s disease holding in check for the time being.
In March, I wrote about the coming fight gun-owning Mainers were going to face, and win, in the November election cycle as LD 1662 cleared the final hurdle on its way to becoming question three on the ballot. In an epic David versus Goliath battle, voters rejected Michael Bloomberg’s interference with Maine tradition and independence. Sportsmen, guides, instructors and enthusiasts celebrated a stunning victory.
It was clear to me by April that I was going to need some help to be ready for the hunting and trapping guide written and board examinations. I don’t think any amount of self-study can prepare you for the modern day guides exam. No official study guide exists in Maine and even the most experienced hunter may not realize the full breadth of what being a guide entails and what a guide must know.
I reached out to Fritz Todenhagen of Finns and Antlers Guide Service and Outdoors Courses in Molunkus to help me get squared away for the exam. After some skill assessments and general knowledge testing, Fritz tailored a course for me that corrected my deficiencies and filled in some blind spots. In July, I passed the board and written exam, fulfilling one of my top goals for the year. I have no doubt that without Fritz’s guidance I would not be wearing the Registered Maine Guide patch today.
May brought about the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument controversy. Of course in May, it was just land east of Baxter State Park. The ensuing debate about the proposed national park raged around Maine and I landed smack in the middle with an article opposing it. This was a hot topic and a call went out BDN writers to cover it. I answered the call knowing full well the majority of BDN readers, writers and editorial board lean left politically. Nonplussed, I wrote about the reasons I thought the monument was a bad idea. The result was my most read article and endless flaming by readers who confuse me with a journalist. I am not a journalist, I am a columnist. When you write opinion pieces flaming comments come with the territory.
My favorite comment on this article is by Mr. Albert Ross, “People in rural Maine need jobs not more anti goverement hate speach from some lost sport.”
As if I didn’t learn not to write about politics, I answered the call again in June when BDN was looking for articles and viewpoints concerning Donald Trump’s visit to Bangor for a campaign rally. Again, I knew what the tone of the majority of articles written would take. But to the BDN’s credit, I was asked to do a “pro” viewpoint; I suspect I may be one of few token conservatives writing for the website.
This article, my second most read, also made the front page on the BDN website. With such visibility, the flamers were out in full force again. Arthur Fern commented “November 8, 2016: That magical day when millions of racist rednecks turn into misogynistic rednecks.”
The funny thing is I’m not, nor was I ever, a Trump supporter. I’m just a conservative guy who wrote an article about his visit.
By the end of June, the chicken runs were ready and the first generation of chicks was hatched adding to our initial startup flock of six laying hens and one rooster. Two more generations would follow, eventually growing our flock to roughly sixty birds. I also learned some hard lessons about free ranging chickens in the Maine woods when my Dominique rooster was killed in a coyote attack. I lost a hen to a red fox two weeks later.
In July, my son John and his girlfriend Sarah drove up from Texas to spend a week with us here on Tucker Ridge. I played tour guide as they took in the sights of northeast Maine. From the view of Canada near East Grand Lake to the ridgelines and back woods of moose country, it was an experience we all enjoyed very much.
I rounded out the month cramming for the guide exam and bass fishing with another buddy, Bill, who lives on the other end of the ridge. Bill acted as my test client and the experience helped me understand a little better what I needed to do as far as client care in the future. He also caught some monster smallies.
All of the success I was having in my writing career and professional development as a newly minted guide were deeply overshadowed on the third day of August. It was the singularly worst day of 2016 for me. My beagle CJ, lungs filling with fluid and struggling for every breath, lost her battle with Cushing’s disease at age 12.
My wife and I were distraught. Even knowing that this day was soon coming, when the day arrived, it was devastating. My wife’s job opportunity exploration had become an employment reality by then and her new position had a rigid, no excuses attendance policy. As I wept and dug a grave for our beloved beagle in the shade of a stand of birch trees, I watched my wife head south, her eyes wet but refusing to yield their tears. Her grieving would have to wait.
As we entered autumn in Maine, I spent most of my time scouting and hunting. Being alone in the woods brought me peace and serenity during the incessant election coverage and ballot initiative debates. I also got back to writing about what I love – the outdoors and hunting.
Youth Day for deer was one of my most memorable of the season. I had the pleasure of guiding fellow writer Doug Alley and his son Will for the young man’s very first deer hunt. There is no greater honor than being trusted to help introduce a young sport to the traditions of deer camp and deer hunting.
Other highlights from deer season, otherwise known as November to non-deer hunters, included rare glimpses at Maine wildlife in their natural element. I watched a big, silky black fisher stealing apples from a tree near my stand on opening day and stared in disbelief on another day as a bobcat came slinking by 25 yards away.
In December, I write more often, review where I’ve been submitting and look for new opportunities. I took another step in my writing career by accepting an offer from V. Paul Reynolds, the editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, to come on board as a monthly columnist. Writing for one of the premiere outdoors and sporting publications in New England is quite the capper on my 2016.
Thank you for reading “Life on the Ridge” and be sure to check out my column “The Gun Cabinet” in the Northwoods Sporting Journal starting in February.
From Tucker Ridge, I wish you and your family a very happy and prosperous new year. – JF