Orig. Published in Home Waters, A Fly-Fishing Anthology Fireside

(This was published many years ago by my roommate Ted Williams. Its original title was “He Ranted in the Enchanted.” He describes me to a tee. When you see something in parenthesis, it is my comment)

The cabin was better than No-Birds had described it.  Bears had raked the logs and torn away the window screens, but the glass was unbroken and the door well-hinged.  It had a tin roof, a sink, a woodstove, and two bunks with foam mattresses and nice wool blankets that must have belonged to the deer hunters.  On the pine-board walls were notes and greetings written by trappers, hunters, and fishermen.  One was dated November 15, 1928.  Twenty feet from the door was a clear, bubbling spring.  I didn’t waste any time setting up my rod, finding the raft and going fishing.

I drifted around the pond, dropping tiny Quill Gordons into the paths of cruising trout.  If the line landed quietly and I gave them the proper lead, they’d bulge up through the bright surface, wiggle their tails, and suck in the fly.  They were fine, gaudy fish, more streamlined than those of Secret Pond and entirely free of lice, and they fought splendidly against the thin rod.  I caught them all day long, and when the water went from silver to pink, I realized I’d forgotten lunch.

Below me, and fifteen miles to the southwest, a corona enveloped Secret Pond Mountain, and from its summit two dazzling spires of sunlight stretched into the azure sky.  Peepers shrilled.  Mayflies danced. A bat appeared.  I killed three trout, poled ashore, and secured the raft by pushing the black-spruce pole between the logs and hanging from it so that it sank into the mud bottom. ( I have done that so many times, I may be a good pole vaulter)

In the morning I inscribed the following message over the sink with the felt-tipped pen from the binder of my fishing journal:

“Found pond June 20, 1979.” (That part, at least, was true.)

“Many, many large fishes here got by us on lures and werms.  Raft okay, but someone should make a bigger one so we all can fish at one time.” And I signed it:  Raymond Poirier, Marcel DuBois, Jacques Lefleur, Guy Laclair, and Maurice Nadeau.”  I then festooned the raft with bloody tinsel from the gut cavities of the trout I’d cleaned.  and into No-Birds’ landing net I knitted an immense, green-mottled, rubber-skirted Buzzer Bait that I had purchased for the occasion.  On the way out I found the trail Aimé had blazed, and in a wide, muddy place where it crossed a brook, I shuffled around for five minutes, making footprints.

*****

Two weeks later I found myself picking lettuce, chives, cucumbers, and tomatoes under a blackening sky in front of the old Elmont blacksmith shop.  Now it is Aimé’s house.  On the other side of the C.P. tracks is No-Bird’s fishing-hunting camp, formerly the schoolhouse.  In the alder run are the moldering remains of the post office, under the poplas the rusty safe from the general store, and in the dark woods all around, mossy cellar holes.  Twenty-five families lived here from the beginning of the century until the Great Depression.

Aimé, who moved in from Megantic at age seventeen, gets quiet when he stops on the footbridge spanning the Cold River and gazes out over the ghost town of Elmont, Maine. (It certainly was not a footbridge when this was written, but it is now.)  His neighbors, as he says, just gradually drifted off.  “Dey’d find another place, and dey’d just drift off.”  But Aimé was tougher and more stubborn.  “Dey’ll have to take me out feet first,” he said then and says now.

It took me ten minutes to carry the vegetables the two hundred feet to the house because of all the wild strawberries in the path.  No-Birds was sitting on the porch, knocking his knees together.  “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, let’s go,” he said.  Aimé backed toward us and No-Birds carefully tucked the vegetables into his backpack–an ancient canvas affair that sagged to his lower lumbar.

The first hundred yards of trail had been churned up by the trail bike which Violette had talked No-Birds into buying three weeks earlier so that they could whisk right up to the mountain to “Unknown Pond.”  The grim tale was plainly written beside each blow down and granite outcropping.  No-Birds said that he’d almost been killed by the Christly contraption, that, after their twentieth wipeout, they’d just left it where it had fallen and walked in, that it was now for sale back home in his garage, should I wish to purchase it, and that he was done listening to Violette.

All the way up the mountain Aimé lamented the physical decay of old age.  And No-Birds and I responded with our usual sympathetic grunts, jogging so he wouldn’t get out of hearing range.

“Tabernoosh!” exclaimed No-Birds when a brood of grouse exploded in our faces.

When we came to the muddy flat full of my footprints, I said, “Hey, No-Birds.  I thought you told me no one else fished this place.”

“That’s just Violette and Carter,” he muttered.  But clearly, the seeds of doubt had been planted.

By now the sky was full of lightening, and the undersides of the birches and sugar maples were turning up in the wind.  “I bet it’s clear in Waterville,” remarked No-Birds.  “I coulda been playing golf.  I’m telling ya, this country makes its own weather and I always get it wrong.”

As we hauled ourselves to the brow of the hill that overlooks Unknown Pond, No-Birds swept out both arms and said, “Now, Williams, I’m gonna show you something that a Massachusetts man has never seen and never ought to see.”  The rain began five minutes after we were inside the cabin.

We knew better than to argue with Aimé when he insisted on sleeping on the floor.  So No-Birds threw down the foam mattress from his bunk, I threw down my blanket, and since they would have gone to waste otherwise, Aimé crawled between them.  The front moved through about one a.m. and starlight poured into the cabin.  At sunup the thermometer on the porch read thirty-eight degrees.

While No-Birds relit the fire, Aimé sat on the mattress studying a small bottle of brandy.  “Should we drink it?” he asked.  Before I could say yes he said, “No,” and tucked it back into his pack.

“How are you holding up, old man?” called No-Birds as he squatted in front of the stove, fanning the smoldering birch bark with his hat.

“Seebwais,” announced Aimé.  “I’m stiff in all ze wrong places.”  Then he went off into a long dissertation on his deteriorating health.  He still had a few more bad teeth to pull.  No, he didn’t use pliers too often.   Usually just wire.  “The worst t’ing,” he said, “are dose god-demmed heart hay-tacks.  It’s like you got stabbed in the chest with a knife.  Ai, Tabernack! You can’t breathe.  You can’t walk.  You can’t do notting.  You got to put down your pack ….” (Here is another author myth.  Aime spoke two languages but did not mix them.  His English was better than Williams or mine—his story.  He also had all his teeth—probably false but there nonetheless.  Aime was a true woods gentleman and women loved him—in a warm and tender way.  Once I decided to take him to Disney World and snowmobiled from Jackman to Birch Island—no small task.  He was not at his cabin and found him in the chalet owned by a group of doctors from Boston.  There were multiple fires lit and the women were pulling a huge turkey and ham from the oven.  All the fixings were on the table.  “I came to invite you to Disney World.  We are going in late April.”

“I just got back from there last month.”  I then found that the doctors and wives took Aime there two months before.  Competition for Aime was tough.  I jumped on my snowmobile and headed out.  The temp was about ten degrees and I almost froze while Aime sat by the fires and complained about his poor state of health and the women doted on him.

I kept waiting for No-Birds to notice the inscription over the sink.  It was important for him to find it himself, but I didn’t want him to leave us alone in the cabin so that he could accuse us of writing it.  Finally, as he was lacing up his boots, he sauntered over to the sink and idly perused the various graffiti on the wall.  As No-Bird was moving toward the door with an empty bucket in each hand and his toothbrush clamped between his teeth, I said:

“You know a Raymond Poirier?”

“Nope.”

“He was here in June,” I said.

“Yah.  June nineteen-fifty.”

“No.  This June.”

No-Birds dropped the buckets and flew to the sink.

As Aimé said later, he almost had a heart hay-tack himself.  “C’nucks,” screamed No-Birds, holding the sides of his head and dancing around the cabin.  “Oh my God!  C’nucks. C’nucks. C’nucks.  They found me in here!” Then he ran outside to check the raft.

The rest of the trip was everything I’d expected it to be.  And even No-Birds had a good time once he was full of trout and beer, and once I had told him that in spite of everything, it would still take them quite a while to spoil The Enchanted.

MARKET REPORT

Absolutely no quit in it.  The Fed is expected to lower rates soon and I am not the only one to shake my head in amazement.  For the record, I have a bad feeling about this.  Still, 2020 is not that far away and having a good market is important to the party in power.


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