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The Moose Whisperer

As I drove by, I caught a glimpse from the very far edge of my periphery.  My early morning brain was slow to process what I had just seen, but eventually the fog cleared and I realized  that I had to turn around and drive back.  “Moose don’t trip”, I thought. “ Maybe someone is poaching and  I didn’t hear the shot”. As I got closer, I could see the calf lying on her back with her front leg and hoof held straight up.  Mom was just a few yards away helpless to do anything and warily standing watch.

Along that stretch of NH RT.115, the dept. of transportation has installed a continuous fence.  It is a wide mesh loosely strung between aluminum posts and is about 40” tall. Its only purpose is to keep  errant moose from wandering into the roadway which they continue to do at an alarming rate in spite of the fence.

It was early April, and the snared calf was probably only a  few days or a week old.  Mom had made it over the fence, but the youngster  had failed to clear it.  One of her front hooves had gone through the very top mesh of the fence and as she went over it twisted and ensnared her.   Her predicament was hopeless.   It was only a matter of time before the coyotes came upon her…  unless I helped. 

I slipped and slid on the remnants of winter as I climbed the slope. I could see the warm steam jetting from Mom’s nostrils.  In the cold morning air, those  jets of steam came out straight and forcefully.  She was agitated and breathing heavily.  I looked at the distance to her and the distance to my car and kept a running tabulation of the vectors as I approached baby Bullwinkle.  Not too long before, I had watched a Marty Stouffer  documentary in which a cow moose stomped an elderly man to death at an ATM in Alaska.  That  footage ran foremost in my consciousness  as I sized up the  disastrous possibilities…  A recent motorcycle accident  had left me hobbled .  Running was not an option, although I suppose if that cow started chasing me I might even  flap my arms and fly if I was scared enough!

I think she sensed that I meant no harm.  Even  so, as I worked to free her calf, I kept one eye on her and one  on the snared hoof.  If she suddenly felt threatened, I needed every second  to roll down the bank and get away.  The problem was that I needed another hand.   The calf kept a constant tension on the wire mesh which meant that I needed two hands to unwind the wire and another hand to push her hoof through.  It just wasn’t working. 

After a few moments  it became apparent that I needed to get the calf to relax so that her hoof would just fall out  as I spread the wires.  I started speaking in soft tones to the her, but loud enough so Mom could hear me, and as I spoke. I began to gently massage the moose’s calf with long gentle strokes down the length of her leg.  “it’s OK, I’m not going to hurt you,“ I said softly. “I just want to help… I’ll have you outta here in no time, ya’ just gotta relax…”   I repeated the same mantra a few times, and it worked!  Unexpectedly, she was quite free as her hoof fell away from the fence.

It took a moment for her to realize that she was free.  When she did, she stood on her wobbly  new legs  and trotted clumsily to her waiting mother.  Together they wandered into the woods making moosy sounds.

 In a short while the uniqueness of the entire experience  dawned on me.  I was one of a  very small group of people who had ever  petted a moose.  Over the years I have seen many, eaten a few and had some very close calls, but this was different.  I had looked into those yellow eyes and had seen the fear.  She had looked into my eyes and had seen the same thing!  We had shared something special.  Both baby and mom had been forced by desperation to put their instincts aside  to allow me to help.  Every now and then, we have an experience that transcends our  established perceptions and drops us smack dab in the middle of a different world. However short that experience might be, it is guaranteed to be uplifting, enlightening,, and soul satisfying.  The natural world and man’s world sometimes intersect in unusual  and mutually beneficial ways.  It’s nice to be in the right place at the right time when it happens.

A dear friend recently asked about the origins of my most recent short story. Not surprisingly, my life experiences form the basis of everything I write, even the fiction. In the case of “Untrapped”, my experiences are almost as dramatic and interesting as the story that evolved from them.

Many, many, years ago I was working the hotels in Bethlehem NH, washing dishes, bussing tables, working in the bakery. The work wasn’t hard and the off time was a lot of fun. Being 13 or 14 and on your own is rather exciting as you can well imagine. Somehow I learned of a farm job opportunity on the outskirts of Bethlehem and thought it might be fun to apply. The money was rumored to be far better than the $150 a month plus room and board that I was receiving at the hotel. I hitchhiked (too young to drive) to the farm. I wandered around a variety of unmarked buildings looking for someone but the place appeared to be unoccupied. I yelled a few times just to make my presence known. As I came to the back of one of the smaller buildings, I came upon wall of small cages occupied by minks, hundreds of them. They were actually quite animated, endearingly charming and incredibly cute. They were also caged, abused and soon to die. I wandered over to the next building. The stink nearly forced my last meal to vacate my body. In the stifling July heat, 55 gal drums of mink carcasses were rotting. I briefly looked into the killing room and knew immediately that no amount of money could keep me there. I walked back out to the road and started walking back to town.

Fast forward half of a lifetime to the pleasant if somewhat obscure town of Jefferson, NH. Nestled into the west side of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, it was my home for ten years. I lived on a gravel road with no human neighbors nearby. The lot adjacent next to mine was steeply sloped into a flat bottom of vernal pools and swamp. After I had been living there for a few years, a beaver, misplaced by a severe storm from a nearby stream, dammed up the outfalls from the swamp and turned into a fine beaver pond. For several years, I enjoyed his presence. Some ducks found his pond and came back year after year to raise their young. I spent many hours watching the ducks grow up. Their first aquatic landings were always clumsy and fun to watch as the ducklings narrowly avoided the trees and swamp growth and splashed noisily onto the water’s surface. Year after year, the lodge grew bigger and the dams grew higher. Eventually, the town road agent determined that the road was endangered and put a contract out on the beaver. A local trapper was hired to rid the town of this industrious pestilence.

Over a period of time, I saw a number of victims fall to the traps set for the beaver, but not the beaver! Apparently, he was much too smart for the traps. At least one coyote, a couple of raccoons and some other unrecognizable critters fell victim to the traps.

One day, I was walking up my gravel road with my two dogs. My dogs ran ahead and were sniffing at something at the water’s edge. I could see the Shepard’s tail wagging, but the Scottie was out of sight. A swarm of black flies hovered over them. As I approached, I could see what had them transfixed there at the water’s edge. The beaver, totally exhausted and caked with drying mud was nearly dead from his efforts to free himself. He hardly reacted to the presence of my dogs or myself and surrendered himself to fate.

I was dressed in my office clothes and had no tools, so I quickly walked back home, slipped into some jeans and went back to the pond. Three times I pried the jaws open and three times they slipped and snapped back onto the poor beaver’s leg. I thought it would have been amputated just from my clumsiness. On the fourth try, I was able to pull the trap away from the beaver. I nudged him. At first, he just laid there, but with the 3rd or 4th nudge, he slowly slid into the water. That seemed to revive him immediately, and he quickly swam away .

In a rage, I pulled the trap free and hurled it deep into the woods. Later that day, I called Fish and Game to complain. That trap had been set illegally right at the water’s edge (they are supposed to be submerged) in a place where my dogs or someone’s children could have stepped into it.

The Fish and Game officer said he needed the trap to see whose tag was on it. He also informed me that because this was a “nuiscance” beaver, there was no legal trapping season. I went into the woods and eventually found the trap, but the Fish and Game officer had little interest in pursuing the matter.

The beaver continued to outsmart the trapper for the remainder of my tenure in Jefferson. Sometime later, I did go back and saw that the pond was drained and that the area was restored to being a boggy bottomland. I can only imagine that the road agent and the trapper had to escalate the war to get rid of the beaver. Usually that means a rifle and some dynamite.

As long as I live, I will remember the beaver, the sound of his tail slaps, the families of ducks, and all the fauna and flora that eventually came to his pond. He was a good neighbor.

So that is the truth behind “Untrapped”, all else was fiction.

A short story (fiction) by Claude Pigeon

The stink of the shed hung heavy and stuck to him and he fought back the urge to vomit. The din of thousands of flies mixed with the night sounds; frogs, night birds, distant coyotes. He moved slowly as the hanging pelts brushed against his face and head. Underfoot, the blood soaked floor boards were greasy and sticky. The cool night air mixed fog and dampness with the stench of death and decay. On the other side of the weathered clapboards, curls of fog diffused the moon glow and cast an iridescent pale. Unseen but heard, the rats scurried away as he advanced through the shed. A heavy drum overflowing with carcasses forced him to skinny up against the rough sawn framing and deteriorating clapboards.
Finally he reached the end of the shed. From the shelves and racks there came a new smell. It was the smell of clean metal and oil and it told him that he had reached his target. He slipped a heavy leather belt through the jaws of as many as he thought he could carry. They nearly fell to the floor as he slung the load over his shoulder. Carefully, he made his way back through the shed following the same grimy stinking path and the urge to throw up followed him out the door.
His F-150 shone in the moonlight and with some difficulty, he quietly let down the tailgate. Struggling with the weight of his load, he gently laid it into the bed of his pickup. For a moment, he allowed himself to rest and catch his breath. Still fighting the urge to throw up, he reentered the shed to get another load. Six times he went back until the shelves and the racks were cleaned out.
He considered the value of each of the pieces he had stolen and determined that he was committing felony theft. Not much chance he’d ever do time, but it could get messy, not that he really cared much. Grief is a very powerful motivator and has a way of masking reality and altering conscious thought. Grief and anger combined can allow a perfectly reasonable man to behave in a totally unreasonable fashion.
Take away that which a man loves the most and he has nothing to fear, nothing to lose because the worst has happened and there is nothing more.
With the last load placed in the Ford, Mason got into the cab and put it in gear. The fog swirled in his wake and the gravel crunched noisily under his wheels as he headed to the Tingsdale Swamp
Darkness and fog obscured the surface of the water but each item thrown resounded with a satisfying plop and the swamp, normally a busy place at night, grew quiet. The effort of hurling heavy steel as far into the muddy quagmire as he could, tore at the ligaments of his arms and was exhausting. When at last the final one was thrown, he collapsed onto his bumper and sat still. He ached all over. After a while, the anger gradually shifted to sadness. He felt so empty and alone.
He had taken it real hard when Norma passed. All those months of tenderly tending to her, watching her suffer, seeing her waste away were just a blur now. After nearly 41 years she was suddenly gone… just like that, GONE! It had been two years and he and ol’ Simon managed each day, going through the motions, adjusting to the change. Then, a few days ago, ol’ Simon disappeared.

When ol’ Simon had been missing for a few hours, Mason went off searching but came back alone. He assumed that ole’ Simon had caught a scent of something interesting and would be back soon enough. He was very alarmed, however, when he woke up the following morning and Simon was not at the back door. For the next three days, he did nothing but drive the backroads looking for his only friend in the world. He was weary, distressed and desperate to find ol’ Simon.
Driving slowly down Sumac Road and scanning both sides very carefully, at first he didn’t notice the swarm of flies where the swamp bordered the road. When he got closer, they got his attention.
Simon was covered with mud and was hardly visible. He had struggled long and hard before exhaustion ended his effort and drowning ended his life. The mud on the embankment had been deeply excavated by ol’ Simon’s effort to pull himself free and was mixed with his blood where he had ripped out his claws trying to get loose of the trap. He had suffered greatly and died an unmerciful death.
Mason’s heart cried for mercy when he looked down on the swarm of flies and saw his old friend. All those years of companionship, the shared days walking in the woods, hunting rabbits and birds, fishing the river… gone. The tears flowed freely and he let out an agonized scream, there on the banks of the beaver pond. It was heard only by the startled forest dwellers.

Trappers are required by law to have an ID tag on their traps. They are also required to check their traps every 24 hours. It was obvious to Mason that Simon had been trapped and dying for considerably longer. The tag indicated that the tap belonged to Aldrich Ferguson. In a small community, everyone knows everyone and Mason had a passing acquaintance with Aldrich. Mason considered many possibilities including taking on Aldrich. In his heart, as broken as it was, he knew he could not exchange a man’s life for a dog’s. Mason thought “maybe, I can’t take his life, but I can take his living”… and a plan began to take shape.
The morning sun was burning through the ground fog and the birds were singing in the new day when Mason finally stood up. For several hours, he had been dreaming of his youth, of his lovely and loving wife, of hunting trips with ol’ Simon and all the other dogs before him. His wife was gone after some terrible suffering. His dog was gone after some terrible suffering. Now, he was just a tired and lonely man, not old, no longer young either.
In the process of living, one collects burdens. In the same way that a body tires of pulling stones or cutting wood, a soul also tires. Losses, failures, disappointment… all the casualties of life wear a good soul down and a soul can just get tuckered out. Sometimes, all of that burden can be focused on just one event, a catharsis of the soul!
Feeling a little better, Mason turned back onto the gravel road and headed home.

Trooper Hardwick backed off the accelerator and hoped that his “perp” would do the same. He fully understood what was up ahead as he disengaged. The white “dually” F-150 did not slow down. Trooper Hardwick braced himself emotionally for what he knew was inevitable. He watched the taillights disappear over the knoll. Without realizing it, he stopped breathing and he could hear the pounding of his heart. A knot in his stomach quickly formed and twisted his gut. Even though it was 0 degrees outside and not particularly warm in his cruiser, beads of sweat formed on his brow. As he approached a curve and crested a knoll, he saw the telltale orange glow against the blackness of a January night.
Following the state trooper’s rear taillights, Sergeant Emmett Johnson kept a safe distance. At first he was confused by the trooper’s deceleration. Flush with adrenaline and excited by the chase, he tingled with anticipation. He had already unsnapped his holster. In all the excitement, he hadn’t even contacted the trooper on his radio. He was about to transmit when he saw the glow. His mouth fell open as realized the gravity of the situation. “Aww fuck!” he muttered in a shrill and unmanly voice.
Nothing in his experience as a small town cop had prepared him for what was just a few hundred yards ahead. He’d seen a couple of suicides and some deaths by natural causes. They certainly had been gruesome. He didn’t realize it then, but his life was about to change dramatically and suddenly.

The ancient maple was scarred and missing chunks of bark. It had been hit several times over the years and had always stood its ground. With its gnarly limbs reaching up nearly 40 feet high, it had stood at this curve when farmers hauled their hay to Lancaster on horse drawn hay wagons.

It didn’t budge an inch when the white dually f-150 smashed headlong into it at 90 mph. The driver was so intoxicated that by the time his brain told his foot to hit the brake, he’d already hit the tree and those two gas tanks (hence the name dually) had exploded. Flames reached to the top of the maple. The snow around the crashed truck melted and then quickly refroze a few feet away. Both Trooper Hardwick and Sergeant Johnson parked their vehicles a safe distance from the blazing truck. Occasionally, a shift in the flames allowed them to see the torso slumped against the steering wheel. After a few minutes, they saw it topple and rest against the door.

Wanting to save something for the driver’s family, the trooper took off his winter jacket and held it out as a shield as he approached the truck. The jacket was starting smolder and the heat was painful as Trooper Hardwick opened the door. As soon as he did, the burned torso fell to the melting snow. As he kicked snow on the smoking hulk, Trooper Hardwick saw the local cop stop and throw up the contents of his stomach into a snow bank at the edge of the driveway. Hardwick asked the local if the fire department had been alerted. Finding out that it hadn’t, the trooper went to his car and alerted his dispatcher to summons the emergency personnel. Returning to the burning truck, he could see that the flames were subsiding. It doesn’t take long to burn 40 gallons of gasoline. He avoided looking at the blackened body. When the truck was fully engulfed, all of the air was pulled into the blaze and violently convected upward. With the fire close to being out, the cold returned, and as both men choked, so did the stench of burning plastic, rubber and worst of all, human flesh. Johnson returned to the snow bank and wretched some more. Trooper Hardwick could now hear the emergency vehicles off in the distance. He also heard a low guttural moan. He assumed it was coming from Johnson, but when he looked, he saw that Johnson was in his patrol car staying warm. He listened carefully and above the sound of distant sirens and the sizzling of melting snow, he heard it again.

His face contorted into a grimace as the unthinkable became fact… the body was trying to breathe. He looked down. Lying face down in the snow with nearly all of its clothing burned off, the body was gasping for air. As he grabbed the body to turn it over, large chunks of blackened skin came off in his hands. He struggled with the contents of his stomach as the stench of charred flesh assaulted his sensibilities. The entire right side was burned to the bone. There was nearly nothing left of the arm. Almost all of the skin and flesh over the ribs was gone. There was some muscle left on the upper thigh but none left below the knee. The face was severely burned and was without a nose, ears, eyelids and lips.
In spite of that, he was gasping for air. The lungs and throat had been badly burned from inhaling the hot air, smoke and flames. The damaged tissue was swelling and making it hard to draw air into the blackened lungs.

Lacking any clear direction or knowledge of what to do, Trooper Hardwick went to his trunk for a blanket. Returning to the torso, he gently lifted it off the snow and slid the blanket under. Very carefully, he covered the body with the other half of the blanket. On the arm that had nearly burned off, the synthetic fabric had melted into the charred skin. The rubber sneaker sole had burned so that even flesh inside the shoe was nearly gone.

The cold had returned. All of the melted snow was refrozen. By the time the fire department arrived, there was nothing to do. The fire was out, there were no contaminants to contain and it was terribly cold. They stood by while the EMTs transferred the torso to a gurney and rolled him to the ambulance.

Trooper Hardwick slowly walked to the local’s squad car. Sergeant Johnson sat at the wheel staring blankly into the night. There was nothing that needed to be said.

Norseman Motorcycle in Berlin, NH was a motorcycle shop catering to Harley enthusiasts. It’s gregarious owner, an outlaw biker by the name of David Brungot, was a notorious and colorful figure. One day he told me that he was taking on a new employee; said that he was disabled and that the state would pay part of the payroll for a period of time. “Got fucked up running from the cops…” In David’s world, that was an automatic “in”! Within a few days, I met the apprentice. At first, I was taken aback. He was grotesque. He had pinkish white skin with heavy scars everywhere. There were no eyebrows, no nose, and no ears. His eyelids were surgical constructions that had a bright red color because the skin was so transparent. There were no eyelashes. His lips were also surgically reconstructed. The openings into his sinus cavities were also a pinkish red. He wore a typical biker bandana on his hairless head. One arm had been amputated and his right leg was little more than bone and skin. His right nipple was missing as was most of the tissue over the right side of his ribcage. In spite of his appearance, he was immediately warm and engrossing. He offered his left hand and we shook hands vigorously. His friendly banter and endearing personality quickly became his most obvious attributes, and the disfigurement quickly became unimportant. The initial recoil was a onetime response and was never repeated.
“I’m Pigeon”, I offered, “what’s your name?” “Well, “he began, “my real name is Mike, but for obvious reasons, I go by my nickname… French Fry!” We both laughed uncontrollably; it was the first of many times that he would have me laughing that way.

Over time, he would tell me his story, of how he got drunk and tried to elude the police, crashed his truck and nearly died. He told me that he had been in a coma for two years and that he had little awareness during most of that time. Occasionally, he felt like he was in a fish bowl and was aware of diffuse light and sound as though coming from a great distance. He would float up to the top where the sounds were louder and the light brighter but would sink back down again.

He had attended the local culinary arts college and had been working as a line cook prior to the accident, but the prospects for a one armed cook in a wheelchair were pretty slim.

After regaining consciousness, he needed to undergo numerous surgeries, procedures and reconstructions. His eyelids and lips were considered necessities, not cosmetic, so Social Security has paid for the work. Apparently ears and noses were not necessary and were considered cosmetic surgery. Various social agencies had been advocating on his behalf and he was confident that he would have surgical reconstructions at some point.

A few years after the accident, he wanted to meet Trooper Hardwick. He wrote a letter to the barracks commander, and a meeting was arranged. They met at the barracks. French Fry thanked Trooper Hardwick for risking the heat to remove him from the truck. French Fry knew he was “in the wrong” and held no animosity. Trooper Hardwick recounted the details of that night; how he had started the chase after the Irving clerk reported an extremely drunk driver, had engaged and then disengaged the chase, the orange glow, kicking the snow on the smoldering French Fry…

Trooper Hardwick told French Fry that the local police sergeant had suffered post traumatic stress, had never been able to effectively resume his job and was still drifting though his own wrecked life.

As would be expected, the job money ran out and French Fry’s physical limitations precluded him from truly doing his job. Much of the inventory was too heavy or too high on the shelves. French Fry eventually moved on. Before he did, though, he gave me one more good belly laugh. One day, while having difficulty with his wheelchair in the frozen slush in the middle of the street, a car hit him and knocked his wheel chair over. He said “that was close, if I had gotten run over, you’d have to change my name to “Mashed Potatoes”!




Etched into the skin of my hands is the story of my life.  There are happy tales and tragic stories.  The tender moment when I  first held a girl’s hand, the first  time that I made a fist in anger, those many times that I extended my middle finger to express an opinion and the  many times I eagerly thrust my tiny young hand above my head because I knew the answer to a question…  There are scars from childhood clumsiness and inexperience with tools.  I once cut my left index finger to the bone with the slip of a chisel while making a rubber band rifle.    There is a deep slash where a shard of glass broke off a large pane and fell through my hand.  It took several years for full sensation to be restored. The first bone I ever broke was my wrist, in a roller skating mishap.  There are missing and deformed knuckles that are testimony to my quick temper and lack of pugilistic skills.  There is a pale skin under the ring that symbolizes my love for my beautiful wife and the happiness she brings me.

 These are the hands that held two beautiful babies in the first moments of their lives.  At that time, those hands were coarse from chopping firewood, and a myriad of other chores that I could not pay someone else to do. These hands were also smeared with grease from my early motorcycle riding years when I wrenched constantly on my old shovelhead.  It seemed that for every hour I rode it, I spent an hour fixing it.    Then came a day when that Harley and I crashed and were both severely damaged.  My right hand needed critical surgery and an external fixater was attached to the outside of my hand and arm with titanium pins and a hi-tech device of knurled stainless steel and adjustable widgets of all sorts. In time, the device came off and I underwent weeks of daily therapy.  I relearned to use my hand, picking up first tennis balls, then ping pong balls.  I graduated up to marbles and finally to grains of rice.  At that point, I picked up my wrenches and started rebuilding the bike.

In time the kids grew up and I grew older.  I became dedicated to my guitars and delved deeply into the craft.  I practiced for hours every day.  To protect my calluses (necessary for good tone), I wore rubber gloves to wash dishes and held my hand out of the water when bathing.  At some point in my musical career, I started studying classical guitar.  With painstaking effort, I groomed, polished and reinforced my nails.  I kept them trimmed to the perfect length.  I ate gelatin and bathed my nails in a mixture of comfrey and horse bane  in an effort to strengthen them.   Through that period, my hands were soft, clean and meticulously kept.  I relegated the maintenance of my cars and motorcycle to mechanics with dirty hands.

Some years ago, I started experiencing numbness in my hands.  A neurologist determined that I had carpal tunnel syndrome so I had both carpal tunnels relieved surgically.  The problem probably stemmed from relentless and dedicated guitar playing.   

Now, my hands are once again stained.  Having rekindled my lifelong interest in painting, my hands are chronically stained with paint and always dry from the constant washing with harsh soaps.  Apart from the scars and the disfigurement, they still look as they did forty years ago.  Strong and youthful, the skin is clear and supple. My hands do not have the moles, liver spots and other indicators of aging that have appeared elsewhere on my body.  I keep my nails short again to reduce the build- up of paints and pastels.  My hands are used gently.  It has been many years since I had to make a fist or throw a punch.  My hands are now soft and un-callused (except the fingertips of my fretting hand).  I don’t do much hard work of any sort and if I do, I blister instantly.  I wear work gloves when doing garden chores to compensate…

I still ride my motorcycle but leave the tinkering to others.  If something is heavy, I use a jack or other means.  I don’t “muscle” things any longer.  My hands may still be strong, but my upper body strength is in decline and my back does not absorb shocks like it used to.   I treat my hands gently and try to be protective of them.  Like me, they have survived a lot, have worked hard , and have slowed down… they deserve a break!

Early morning, somewhere in Maine

pastel on paper

Multi modal path in Gorham, NH

pastel on paper




From the first warm days of March to the closing days of autumn, I am likely to be traveling on two wheels.  Taking the bike out in March for that first ride as the last of the snow melts away, to breaking the ice off my seat to take that last ride, are seasonal rites that I have faithfully followed for thirty years. In earlier years when I was riding my shovelhead, this rite of spring required several hours of “wrenching” to be up and running for “road day”. Carburetors needed attention, points needed cleaning and adjustments, batteries need charging and even with all that attention, getting the bike started was often frustratingly difficult.  My present motorcycle is fuel injected and stored in a warm dry location.  I shovel whatever snow is left in front of the overhead door, press the start button, raise the door and go…   Oddly, I miss all of that fussing, cussing and swearing at the damned un-cooperative motorcycle.

  Though I am not as enthusiastic as I once was, I still respond to the allure of motorcycle riding.  In earlier years, I strove to be the first out and the last in.  I rode in sub-freezing temperatures and miserable conditions to prove how tough I was.  I no longer feel a need to prove how tough I am, because I am not tough anymore!  However, I still ride in climates that many would find extreme.

New Hampshire has the highest per capita motorcycle registrations in the union, an odd statistic considering the relatively short season.  On the other hand, what summer we do have is ideal for riding and New Hampshire has no shortage of beautiful rides.  From the mountains to the lakes, to the coast, through all those quaint quintessential New England towns, there is never a lack of things to do and places to see.   I prefer the back roads that mostly go from nowhere to nowhere.  I spend so much time on dusty gravel that my motorcycle is rarely ever shiny.  I have had to dodge wandering pigs, stubborn goats, and errant cows in addition to the expected moose and deer.   Being stuck behind a farm tractor spilling manure over the roadway can tax a rider’s patience.  It’s always been my luck that as I downshift to third and crack the throttle, another vehicle comes up over the rise and I have to quickly return to my lane.  On a really bad day, that other vehicle is a state trooper.

Riding on a motorcycle is an entirely different experience than riding in a car.   On a motorcycle, you are physically responding to the road.  In curves, you have to lean according to the laws of momentum and centrifugal force.  That imaginary centerline that goes though the driver and the machine is tangible, YOU FEEL IT!  When the road dips, you feel yourself lighten and rise from the seat.  Responding automatically to the forces of gravity and the characteristics of the road, being synchronized with the machine as it responds to commands from feet and hands; it’s all part of the magical “oneness” that riders describe when explaining their love of motorcycles.

Motorcycle riding also stimulates all the senses.  In a car, the whole world is one temperature… the inside temperature of the car.  On a motorcycle, you find pockets of cool and rushes of hot air.  You feel the breezes and smell the seasons.  On a hot summer day, you can smell the hot asphalt as the air above shimmers. Freshly mowed grass, newly spread manure, summer flowers, campfire smoke are but a few of the scents that will fill your nostrils as you move through the countryside.

 The sounds of the world are held back by the glass enclosure of an automobile.  On a motorcycle, the bellowing of frogs, the call of birds even the rustling of the wind through the trees can be heard above the sound of the motorcycle engine.  So, all the senses are engaged when riding a motorcycle.  With most motorcycle enthusiasts, the emphasis is in the traveling, not the destination, which is contrary to almost all other forms of travel.

The Zen aspect, the sensory aspect, the physical aspect of motorcycle riding all contributes to the exhilaration of being in the wind.  Combined, these aspects of motorcycling allow the rider to reconnect with kind of joy he left behind in his childhood, the joy of bicycling down a hill with reckless abandon!


“Lingering light and mountains blue

sapphire twilight glows”

a secret shimmers in the air

on a summer breeze it blows



Somewhere around 12,000 years ago, the retreating glaciers swelled the Israel River and filled the meadows of Jefferson with glacial melt, turning the lowlands into Lake Israel . In time, the waters receded, leaving a vast and fertile valley. Paleo Indians came and went and set their camps up along the retreating shores. Eventually, they stopped coming and the valley saw only occasional visits from the indigenous populations as they followed the seasons and the caribou.

In the eighteenth century, the land was granted, lost, and regranted. Colonel Whipple, whose house still stands in the old port of Porstmouth, nearly went bankrupt building roads in an effort to colonize his grant in the wilds of Coos County. He failed, but eventually, a small group of intrepid farmers settled into the valley.

As I ride past the old cemeteries, the old weather beaten and bleached headstones tell the story of those brave families that first made the Israel Valley their home. The names on the headstones indicate that they were largely of Scandinavian descent. The hard work required to claim the land took its toll. Few lived long, most died young. Entire families were wiped out by disease. Childhood was a perilous voyage that many did not survive. 

A world away, a young nation struggled to define itself. Port cities grew and prospered as the nation expanded its borders and settlers moved inland. For those people who broke the ground, there were two choices: live a hard life or die slowly… and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. 

Looking at the headstones, I wonder about the life and death of the persons under those blocks of granite. They left their homes in a far away land, probably because there was nothing left there for them, no land, jobs, or opportunities for a future. In that place far away, hope came by word of mouth. There were places where a man could build a life with the strength of his back and the determination of his will.

A steam assisted sailing ship carried them perilously across the ocean and landed them in a strange land. With the help of Scandinavian nationals already here, they found their way to the northern end of New Hampshire where land was free for the taking to anyone strong and stubborn enough to squeeze a living out of it.

Trees were felled by hand. Stumps and stones were wrested from the stubborn earth…Year by year, the land was cleared, tilled and sewn. Sometimes it yielded its bounty. Other times mother nature had differing plans. Through droughts, storms, blistering heat and frigid winters they persevered. The call to work was relentless. The land and the animals required constant care. There was always work to be done. Only when they put their beaten bodies down on their beds did they relax and daybreak arrived quickly. Bodies were worn out quickly and few lived to be old. Disease wiped out a large percentage of the young. The rules of life were harsh and inflexible, excuses were of no consequence. There were no safety nets. Self sufficiency was the only means of survival. It spite of the demands, the challenges and the seemingly insurmountable odds, they succeeded. Families grew, intermarried and pushed the forest further and further away. As their numbers grew, others came. Civilization followed them . Retailers,shop keepers, tradesmen school teachers followed. 

The bones lying under the headstones are beaten and broken. They once carried flesh that was strong and sinewy and very acquainted with hard work. Their skins were dark and leathery. Faces were deeply rutted and the creases were filled with the very earth that sustained them. Those long arm bones were wrapped in muscle and connected to deeply calloused hands.

Maybe those same calloused hands occasionally played the fiddle or a concertina. Maybe the hardworking wife could occasionally leave her chores and the drudgery of her daily life long enough to dance a jig or a reel with her children. Joy, a stranger to their lives, might have dropped by for a visit when the hay was in , the gardens were producing and the wood cutting was still a couple of months away.

There must have been a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Every day of every year was a series of little victories that kept them out of the jaws of disaster. Probably some failed. Most did not. They had faith in themselves and they trusted their Lord. 

Under these lichen crusted headstones beneath the canopy of ancient spruces are many stories of sadness and woe, victory and glory, love and joy, pain and suffering. If those bones could only speak.