neighbors, artistry, bears

Currently 2° F with tall naked trees waving back and forth, ham radio antenna wires bouncing above a small snow-hardened yard. It’s mid March—will this go on much longer? Below are some notes from mid March eight years ago.

Mar. 15th, 2013 at 10:20 AM

We snowshoed in to a neighbor’s. It’s off the electric grid, although now electric poles step partway up and new houses thrust here and there where once woods were thick. For the trees, you would not have seen across the river valley to the big mountains—mountains stony, wooded. Now views also show big new houses here and there—ski territory—with white trails running down the dark terrain.

We watched him work a bit, and he took a tug on a Gandalf’s pipe once or twice. He makes artisan bows. Not longbows as were used, he said, for warfare in Europe as history was being recorded. He makes flatbows for hunting, such as Native Americans and our prehistoric ancestors used in Europe. The difference is, he makes them with center-shot to rest or guide the arrow. Made with wood cut from his land. The latest he is trying out is ironwood, called also hornbeam. Unlike fiberglass bows, wooden bows can be damaged if pulled back too far. (“Reefed on” he called it.) Tension is just right for each specific weight, whether 40 lbs., or 25 lb. bows, such as we requested him to make for a couple children we know. The arrows go high and far. Power enough in some of these bows to bring down a moose or bear. 

His neighbor, a half-mile off in the valley, sets bear traps up here and photographs them using motion detectors. On another’s land, just off the corner of our neighbor’s, he got images of six different (he thinks) bears, the largest apparently weighing as much as 500 lbs.. The record for a kill in Maine this year is 786 lbs.. That’s what they here call a giant black bear (blacks are the only species we have here). Our neighbor actually charged a bear once to get it away from his sheep.

I recall riding my bike down these mountain roads to peddle along the vale a few miles, on my way to get a latte. My bike sported a cowbell to alert bears of my presence that spring. I was rounding a woodsy bend onto Howling Hole Road for the last two legs of the downslope. My other neighbor (who lived a mile away on another slope), surprised me, waiting in some trees to see what was coming—clanging. I had been shaking and bouncing the handlebars to get that brass bell sounding. There were just too many uncertain passes where bear out of hibernation might be ambling, snuffing, with its big ol’ porker nose. They’d much rather avoid a confrontation unless there’s food involved (or cubs).

The neighbor had a big old smile, all teeth showing when he saw me coming and guessed my purpose.

Always finished off my latte before heading up that low mountain with maybe some ideas in my notebook.

Those bows are so fine. The craftsmanship so careful. The arrows go so far. There’s much beauty in hunting, slaying. A lot of work, though, in getting meat from anything as big as bear or moose. So much work, so much effort and skill in getting food. It’s hard but vivid work.

And I only write of it, that’s all. And witness. Sometimes.

This one he made for us with the center-notch. He also made a hiking stick, tipped like a spear in case of coyotes. We’ve lost some arrows in the woods, so plan to wait until the snow is gone to look for them, shooting no more till genuine spring.