Thanks to the Appalachian Trail in Maine, my 25-year-old son Joel and I got to experience something on May 17 that few people ever see: a spring sucker spawning run.

As a kid during summers, when we weren’t fishing for brookies in the Seven-Mile Stream in East Dixfield, my siblings and I fished for suckers.

They were big fish to us kids and they made excellent fertilizer for my grandfather’s corn garden, provided skunks and other critters didn’t get inside the fence and dig them up.

My grandmother said they weren’t good eating because they were bony.

So how did we find such a spectacle on the Appalachian Trail? Well, my wife and I maintain a 1-mile section of the trail in Monson for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, to which we belong. We’ve done it for a couple of years.

I do all the heavy-duty work, like clearing blown-down trees off the trail with a chain saw, building bog bridges and opening up clogged drainages. She helps remove what I cut, and downed tree limbs.

Myself, having maintained rugged sections of the trail in Andover, Eustis and Newry for 15 years, I call the Monson stretch my retirement section because it’s mostly flat.

Most of it skirts the northwestern shore of Lake Hebron, so the trail crosses a few equally scenic feeder streams.

So on May 17 our son from my wife’s first marriage wanted to go on a father-son bonding outing.

We met for the first time 17 months ago and now the former New Bedford, Mass., resident is living with us for a while, helping out around the yard. It’s great to have him here.

An avid World of Warcraft computer gamer and night owl, he slept much of the way there.

When we arrived, he insisted on carrying my Kelty pack, loaded with gear, food, water and Gatorade.

After a dousing of DEET – the black flies were not behaving – I donned my Kevlar chain saw chaps, steel-toed boots, gloves and protective helmet, grabbed the chain saw and we were off.

I showed Joel what to clear and how to use a chain saw safely. Then I let him use it while supervising him, after he’d donned the safety gear and I took the pack. He did quite well for a beginner.

At the sucker stream, my son spotted the big fish first as they worked their way upstream. What a sight!

By the hundreds, 1-footers, 2-footers and smaller dark-gray torpedoes flipped and twisted themselves across shallow riffles to reach pools. In one spot, there were thousands of tiny yellow eggs and about 50 fish stacked one atop the other in a 3-foot-deep pool.

My son and I were little kids again, eyes wide and running out of adjectives to describe the way-cool scene.

Farther upstream, there were hundreds more fish where it was much shallower. They were half in the water, half out. We both wondered aloud where the bears and other predators were.

One arrived after we’d had lunch there and continued hiking, because on the way back through, Joel first smelled a dead fish, then we found it lying ripped open on a bank.

I figured it was some kind of large bird, since there were no tracks around and the eyeballs were gone.

Aside from the fish experience and chain saw work, we also found a sun-bleached skeleton of a young fox and brought the intact skull home.

A walk in the woods, chain saw 101, lots of fish, a trinket to treasure, and opening the eyes of a city kid to Mother Nature’s world. It was a bonding experience like none other.


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