John Clark on memories of Sennebec Hill Farm, some recent, others not. I was going to sum up my November hunting season today, but when I got up this morning, I was in a bit of a nostalgic mood, probably triggered by a black humor realization yesterday while shoveling heavy wet snow. I’m the same age as my grandfather, Dr. Arthur Hight Clark was when he died from a heart attack while shoveling snow way back in 1953
Modern medicine is a two edged sword. It prevents many from dropping dead like Gramps, but the alternatives (slow wasting away, dementia, cancer, etc.) really suck IMHO. Give me the outta here quick any day, but I digress. My ill-fated experience with deer ticks 11 years ago kept me from hunting for ten years. When I began having recurring hunting dreams in early 2019, coupled with the realization that I could buy a lifetime hunting and fishing license for eight bucks, I splurged and went back in the woods. Last year, I only went three times and saw zilch. This year, I was more enthusiastic, but you can’t fight reality. I have terrible arm strength these days (the main reason I sold my gas snowblower and bought an electric one) but wanted to put up a portable tree stand on the knoll across from the farmhouse.
Every year, I have Bernard Brown bush hog the orchard to keep it from being overtaken by poplars, alders and assorted fast growing things. In years past, I’d drive past the old henhouse foundation up a rise, along the blueberry field and across the orchard. There was a line of old apple trees along the stone wall that offered food and hiding places for partridges, but those are long gone. At the end of the wall, a woods road went almost all the way through to the neighbor’s property line. I was a bit uneasy about taking my Hyundai over that terrain, having done so in pick-ups in the past, but the car did just fine, cutting the distance necessary to lug and erect the metal stand. It was late September when I made my first trip, this one with a goal of clearing logs, limbs, etc as well as trimming a pathway to the top of the small hill. Deer use it as their primary hangout because it’s nearly impossible to get to the top without their sensing you. This is because wind currents swirl up there no matter what the weather might be.
I spent a good three hours clearing and trimming as well as finding a big fir to hook the tree stand to. Remember my comment about lack of arm strength? It took two hours to put it together and two more trips to carry everything up the hill with frequent breaks needed to catch my breath before erecting and securing it. I should know after years of hunting that sitting still, even with a good book in hand which I always take with me, only lasts a couple hours before that crazy fellow in the back of my head starts insisting I’m in the wrong spot. After giving in to his entreaties, I moved very slowly and carefully, heading south just below the ridge line. Less than 50 feet from my stand, I could see where deer had been lying down the night before and another 50 feet after that a buck had torn up a patch of ground that was close to three square yards in size. After passing two oak trees that were huge when I first hunted at age nine, I angled down toward the swamp, scene of many successful duck hunts 45 years ago. On the way, I saw my first two deer, but they were too far away to consider taking a shot with my shotgun.
It was just after that when I realized something both interesting and unsettling-everything now looks bigger in the woods across from Sennebec Hill Farm. Before my hunting hiatus, I knew that land like the back of my hand. Today, it seems twice as large. Granted everything has grown, but it seems like Mother Nature took a huge breath and is holding it. I used to be able to walk freely along the edge of the swamp. I remember a day when I did so while an otter swam in tandem, his curiosity overpowering any fear he had. Today, such a trek is impossible and I have no idea how much water is running through the tall grass. The tote road has pretty much been taken over by small trees, and the granite outcropping where you used to be able to sit and view most of the lower hillside now has a much smaller vista.
Between the back of the orchard and the road leading to culverts where a small brook meanders into the beaver bog is an area that was logged two years ago. As I moved along another tote road paralleling the upper part of the swamp, I saw two deer run across the open area ahead of me. Again, they were too far away to think about a shot. While I was allotted a doe permit as well as a bonus permit, my drive to shoot a deer wasn’t that strong, leaving me ambivalent about doing so. Simply being in the woods for hours at a time, pretty much having it all to myself was plenty of satisfaction. I saw turkeys, a ton of red and gray squirrels, lots of geese down on Sennebec Lake, and heard two different species of owls. The two outlaws who used to hunt the farm drank themselves to death and all that remains of their dubious legacy are several barely standing tree stands. They also left a 16 foot aluminum ladder half hidden in a copse of fir trees that I may retrieve come spring. It took less than half an hour to take down and carry the tree stand back to my car. On the way up to get it, I thought about how I hadn’t seen a single partridge. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than two flushed in opposite directions
I’ll return to hunt again next Year, God willing, probably as content just to wander and wonder as I did this year.