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Claybrook Mountain Lodge
May, 2014

I do love the month of May. It is usually the time when the weather actually seems more like summer than winter. The sun warms the trees and the air is filled with fragrance of new growth. The smelts run, the birds begin their courtships, and suddenly there is frantic activity to take advantage of this all too short period of renewal and growth. Anna, Jay, and Levi have been here long enough to change our schedules all around. Tula, Anna’s little dog, has added her shrill bark to the homestead whenever there is a strange noise outside. She immediately jumps up on the back of the couch to look out the window, and as the sun rises this morning, I can see the smudges where her nose hits the window. Sally has a little competition now.

Our first activity in May was the annual Wilderness EMT training put on by NorthStar Rescue. Dennis Kerrigan, the encyclopedia of EMS led the training team with Gabe Gunning and Al Sleight. There weren’t enough new sign-ups for the full course so we did a single weekend “recert.” Gabe was the first to arrive and he was excited to have time to take a kayak run in high water on Sandy Stream. He dropped his gear off and raced off to join friends for a quick run down through the falls. He got a chance to test his wilderness skills on that one when one of his friends dislocated his shoulder during a roll. He got to shore on the far side of the stream and the team was unable to reduce the injury so he needed to be evacuated. That required a stream crossing, a hike to recover a vehicle, and when Dennis was unable to reduce the shoulder here, a trip to the hospital. It is amazing how quickly the equation changes in a rural setting. Gabe was able to return in time to teach, and during a great weekend of training and camaraderie, we were able to retrieve kayaks and vehicles also.

Ron Joseph and I take an annual fishing trip at smelt run time. This year we were delayed by prior commitments. We usually shoot for May 1st, but this year we didn’t arrive until May 8th. The ice went out just before our arrival, and there were no signs that the smelt run had begun. It was a beautiful day; we had the whole territory to ourselves until we heard a boat coming up the lake in the evening. Chris, the caretaker, and his girlfriend were looking for smelts also. They spent a long winter by themselves at the lake and could hardly contain their excitement to see a fellow human being. After a lot of hugging and hand shaking, they fired up the solar power and invited us to join them for a Bruins game on TV in the evening. Ron is a big hockey fan, but I am more interested in smelts.

As soon as it was dark, I started watching the brook. Very few smelts came but when they did, there was a place on an old beaver dam where enough got backed up together for dipping. There was a lot of noise coming from the hockey fans, but out on the brook it was absolutely still except for the gurgle of the stream and once in a while a Barred Owl hooting in the distance. After the long winter, I was finally alone and immersed in the smells and sounds of wild land outdoors at night. I wonder what my father would have thought about having both the purity of the big woods and a Bruins game. I got enough smelts for breakfast and slept like a stone after a few minutes of listening to mice scampering across the floor of the old log cabin.

The weather was perfect the next day, and we didn’t do too much other than soak it in. In the late afternoon Ron’s brother Don and his friend Mike Downing arrived, and we had a great reunion of old friends from high school days. Don and Mike are both fond of fishing, and I brought my old outboard to run on the big tin boat that Doc Marshall keeps at camp. In the evening we fished the channel between the two ponds, and the action was fast with both Brook Trout and Salmon. One big Salmon even jumped into the boat! Don had just landed a big Brook Trout, and Mike had reeled in to get out of the way when another Salmon grabbed a fly that was hanging over the side of the boat. It was a great evening, and the fishing and smelting remained good the entire weekend. It was so warm during the days that some of us even took a swim in frigid, just after ice out water. On the way out we cut down a large and dangerous Poplar that was tipped over the road. I guess it was a thank you to the caretaker, who was such a gracious host.

Of course May means it is “birding” time and we had two weekends of birding enthusiasts because there was so much interest. Ron Joseph was magnificent as usual, and on Memorial weekend with three days in the field, we got 107 species. As we have come to expect, the Clark Farm in New Portland was spectacular! Gabe and Molly with their expanding new family are so busy they hardly have time to catch a breath, but they always are gracious hosts. In the Black Brook area, we got both Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees. We didn’t do quite as well during the second weekend as far as numbers go, but again the weather was great and so was the “birding.” Jay Manning joined us on the second weekend, and we were glad to have a chance to catch up after too long an absence.

We saw a couple of moose during our “birding,” and the tracks along the road were quite numerous. Though IFW surveys indicate high mortality during the winter, there seems to be stable population locally in spite of the tick infestation. Without our old doe “Twiggy,” the local does aren’t birthing in the field this year. There are a couple visiting the salt block who have had fawns ,ut we haven’t seen them yet. The Blue Bird pair chose a nest box early and laid eggs. This is the first time they have been decisive and did not have to fight with Tree Swallows for a spot.

Jay, Anna, Levi and Tula have settled in, and we are still trying to get a routine established. Pat and I have been enjoying this wonderful opportunity. We had forgotten how busy life is with a little one running around.

                                        “Gang Warily”,
                                             Pat and Greg

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