My four-year-old grandson called his dog a girl. I told him I call my dog “boy” all the time, but explained to him that in the animal kingdom there aren’t girls and boys, but rather male and female. I told him only humans are men and boys or women and girls. Then, I quizzed him.
“What is your dog?”
“That’s right. And what are you?”
“I’m a boy!” he grinned, pleased with his little manly self.
“And what am I?”
His six-year-old brother, who had been listening to our conversation, piped in and said, “You are a wild woman.”
He didn’t mean that I am out of control, he meant I am out in the wild. And I am, every chance I get. The Maine wilderness is a place of beauty and peace and that is why I love it. Aside from sitting in a rocking chair with a grandbaby on my lap, it’s my favorite place to be.
For me, the woods are more beautiful than the art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art. I have been to those places and have sat before the masters, mesmerized by the beauty of Van Gogh, DaVinci and Picasso until the museum lights faded and security guards made their rounds, forcing me off the bench where I had planted myself, like one would pluck a mushroom off a log. The wilderness one-ups those works because those pieces of art are created by man. The wilderness is not; therein lies the secret to its enchantment.
I have seen many things in my years in the woods. I watched a fisher chase a coyote. At first sight, my mind’s eye saw a cat chasing a dog until I realized what I was truly seeing. Fishers only prey on small animals, so I wondered what caused the chase. I’ll never know, of course.
I witnessed a baby moose, just a few hours old, nudge its mama awake to warn her of my presence. Mama moose rose and walked away slowly; baby followed on shaky legs. Baby moose looked back over its shoulder at me several times as if to ask, “What kind of animal is that, Mama?” I was obviously baby’s first human.
One afternoon, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and forced me to stop in my trek. I instinctively knew I was being watched. As slowly and quietly as possible, I turned in a circle. Nothing in sight, so I crouched down on my haunches and there, in the center of a stand of firs, I could see the gray-haired legs of an old bull moose, his legs looking very much like the trunks of the young trees that surrounded him. He was as still as a statue, not moving as he waited for me to make the next move. I know when to back off, and I did, slowly and with respect.
Another backing off experience I enjoyed was the day I was mountain biking on a logging road. I rounded a corner and surprised a mama and young moose. The baby moose jumped at being startled and when it landed, its leg went through the space between the wood planks of the bridge they were standing upon. Immediately, the air became charged with Mama moose’s energy and the charge was going to be toward me! I backed off, peddling faster than I ever have. (I returned later to peek cautiously around that corner to make sure baby had been freed—it had.)
I have seen a chipmunk bite the head off a grasshopper and eat it for lunch. I have watched a squirrel, perched atop a dead birch tree, eat a mushroom. (That’s something I have never dared to do: harvest and eat wild mushrooms, even though I once hiked Kathadin with a wild mushroom expert and was schooled all the way up.)
I watched a hawk drown a pigeon.
I watched mama bear and her young’un rake autumn’s fallen leaves with their claws to find the prized beech nuts beneath.
During one of my wilderness wanderings, a bobcat magically appeared on the trail in front of me. He gracefully sauntered along for a few moments and then, in a blink of my eye, he was gone—back into the trees. Another time, a coyote trotted past me, never even glancing in my direction. I guess I didn’t look appetizing—thank goodness.
I watched a hummingbird hover behind a woodpecker, occasionally able to sneak in and steal a drink of the sap released from the holes pounded in the spruce by the grub-seeking, pileated bird.
I’ve seen hawks perform their beautiful, air-ballet mating dance.
I followed large cat tracks up a mountain path, but because the cat tracks were following deer tracks, and both eventually veered off, I didn’t feel the need to retreat.
I’ve held a hawk. I gently picked it up, saw that it was not mortally injured, only stunned (probably from an encounter with a log truck). I placed it on the side of the road so it could recover in a safe place. I gave it some time, and when it revived it circled over my head twice, then flew away. It is during a moment like that, that I stop, close my eyes, and love.
Attempting to figure out which critter lives in that fallen tree or which little sprite made those prints is a worthwhile, rewarding, educational way to spend my time. Watching television is not. To watch a bird of prey swoop down and capture his meal is the only reality show I am interested in and it’s more exciting than any adventure park—because the Maine wilderness is life without vague edges or pretenses. It is life wide open. (And besides, the woods of Maine are prettier than anything in Hollywood.)
I want my feet on the messy forest floor of cones, twigs, bear scat and deer poop, leaves and needles, and paths of autumn gold, not on the tiled floors of city halls or malls.
The deep Maine forest is a place where there is hunger, but no greed, survival of the fittest, minus the egos. There is beauty without vanity. Although the forest is full of wild, frightening, oft times brutal wildlife, it holds more peace than the world will ever know.