Looking Back

This blog features poems by a native New Englander and octogenarian, as he looks back on the stomping grounds of his youth -- Chaffee's Woods, Kent Heights, Beach Pond, Escoheag, Wood River -- and his army days in Europe towards the end of WWII.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Deer Hunt

There was a time once long ago
That I did hunt for deer
I did so with my cut down bow
That once my father owned
‘Twas made of osage orange and
It had glued cow horn nocks
It was a beauty to behold
And drew just eighty pounds.

And then one day, as Dad did shoot
The bow began to split
As so he had to cut it down
Without the cow horn nocks.
It was about five foot six
Just right for me to shoot
But then I had to scrape it down
To pull at fifty pounds.

And then Rhode Island opened up
A season just for deer
This was the first since early days
But only bows allowed.
My cut-down bow was all I had
So it would have to do
I gathered my bow hunting gear
And waited for the day.

Though I preferred to hunt alone
I almost never did
This time I took along with me
Milt Dennis and Steve Mairs
And on this season’s opener
We though that we should hunt
Around the place we often fished
In back of Breakheart Pond.

The hunt began at six o’clock
The sun was hardly up
The ice was thick upon the pond
The snow was one foot deep
It was so cold, our hands so stiff
We could not shoot our bows
And as we went our separate ways
We knew we could not hunt.

The fact that cold would not permit
Our hunting normally
Did not prevent our moving ‘round
The pond to find some tracks
For every step in this cold snow
Was made so noisily
We knew the best that we could do
Was find the tracks we sought.

I moved around the eastern side
While Milt and Steve went west
They came upon a six-point buck
Just laying in the snow
He’d been dead for quite a while
Hit by some poacher’s shot
They knew this hunting day was done
The snow did crunch too much

They also knew I’d be there soon
And thought they’d play a prank
They propped that buck against a tree
And standing he looked real
They didn’t have time to brush the snow
Stuck to his hairy hide
They hid themselves and lay so still
They nearly froze to death.

I slowly came around the pond
Then couldn’t believe my eyes
For standing not too far from me
I saw a great big buck.
He made no move to get away
Which made me wonder why.
‘Twas then I heard two great big whoops
And knew it was a hoax.

The buck was then reported to
The nearest officer
Who happened to be “Fish and Game”
And cussed the poachers out
They were about to bring him out
But then they thought again
If they left him right where he was
He’d feed some other game.

And so we thought we’d had enough
Our hunting day was through
The snow was crunchy under foot
The cold we could not bear.
And so we put away our bows
Then climbed into the car
To try to get our bodies warmed
Before we headed home.

The next time that I went to hunt
I went out all alone
I had been down to Westerly
To help a client there
And because I’d pass right by
The hunting area
I brought my hunting bow with me
And also hunting clothes

I had about four hours left
Before the sun went down
And so I parked at Breakheart’s bridge
And put on my old clothes.
I started down along the stream,
Where often I had fished,
In snow about six inches deep
But this time with no crunch.

I now moved slowly thru the snow
An arrow on the bow
And watched the snow for any tracks
Made freshly by a deer.
I'd moved about a quarter mile
So slowly step by step
‘Twas then I found this great big set
Of tracks among the trees.

This deer I knew had gone my way
And so I followed it
For just a while, the tracks then turned
And went the other way.
I looked back at the way I’d come
But nothing could I see
And so went back just off my tracks
Just following this deer.

The deer was wise to all I did
For he’d been watching me
As I went back the way I came
He’d move the other way
It now was like a game to him
For as I went one way
He’d go the other ‘til we passed
And then he’d turn again.

Four times this deer did pass me by
Until I spotted him.
All I could see was head and ears
No antlers could I see.
The distance was some thirty feet
I felt I could not miss
He was behind snow-covered brush
And I was in the clear.

I drew my bow, the arrow flew
Right where I wanted it.
But he had stood sideways to me
And not the way I thought
Thus did my arrow miss its chest
Just plowed into the snow
Whether doe, or antler-less buck
That deer went bounding off.

But now I knew where I could find
The deer at any time
And we could track them through the snow
Wherever they would go.
And so the next day we could hunt
Was on a Saturday
Then Milt and I were right on hand
As dawn began to show.

It was not cold as it had been
The first day we went out
And so we started down the way
That ran past Breakheart Brook.
We reached the swamp that was below
The water all was ice
Which then permitted us to walk
With very little noise.

But now my friend in eagerness
Just went way out ahead
I wanted him to stay in close
I knew he could not shoot
With rifle, shotgun or his bow
Could never hit a thing.
But off he went out in the swamp
And I was left to stew.

But then he jumped another deer,
Perhaps the one I tracked,
And though he shot his arrow wide
That deer did skid and turn
Then headed back quite close to me
And she was loping fast
But as I shot, I knew I’d missed
The arrow flying past.

We watched her go with leaping bounds
Up into the thick pines
That grew along the steeper slopes
That marked the Breakheart Brook.
So we continued with our hunt
And came across more tracks
But did not see another deer
And so called it a day.

We had another Saturday
Before the season closed
This time I went out with a friend
Who stayed in his wheelchair
He’d been injured in the war
And could no longer stand
And so he drove me to the spot
Where I did wish to hunt.

This time we went to Escoheag
And down the Pratt Place road
We were not far from Stepstone Falls
When I first saw the deer
She crossed the road ahead of us
And went into the woods
It was a doe, but big and fat
She’d been around a while.

I had my friend continue on
Then turn and head on back.
And when he’d nearly reached the top
I had him let me out.
He’d pick me up in just one hour
He’d wait at Parris Brook
I quickly slipped into the woods
And started my approach.

The doe had crossed ahead of us
About a quarter mile
She did not seem concerned at all
Just ambled right across.
And so I slowly started down
As softly as I could
And figured at the rate I went
It would be half an hour.

The time went by, I’d stop to watch
And then continue on
I must have been close to the spot
Where she had crossed the road.
And there she was, I saw her move
But she had seen me too
She stood and watched me from between
The forks of an old ash.

The wind was in my favor and
The deer was never sure
She’d seen a man or something else
And so I stood stock still.
She sniffed the air, then stomped a bit
And moved her ears about.
I wondered how I’d get a shot
With her behind the tree.

I watched her as she sniffed again
Then slowly raised my bow.
The movement did not frighten her
And so I took a chance
I drew the string back to my chin
And let the arrow fly
It struck the tree, just ‘neath her throat
I’d missed a shot again.

Now when the arrow hit the tree
That deer just bolted off
I gave no thought to where she went
She had just disappeared.
And so I walked up to the tree
To pull my arrow out.
But the head was in so deep
I had to break the shaft.

I heard my buddy drive on past
Close to the road I stood.
And so I met him coming back
Then stowed away my gear
I told him all that I had done
Showed him the arrow too
We would not hunt again this year,
Our shooting days were through.

I later learned that in the state
Only one spike horn was shot
And so I did not feel too bad
At best I’d seen three deer
And got a shot at every one
A feat not done by most
‘Twas then that I was transferred north
To draw a bow no more.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I often fish in early spring
When the streams are high
For trout will get in tiny brooks
That later on are dry
And here I take a fish or two
While others just ignore
The possibilities these brooks
Have for a trout or more.

But when I’m fishing in the spring
Black gnats become a scourge
They bite my ears, my face, my neck
And make the fishing hard
Mosquito dope would do no good
And so I bought a net
That went right over my brimmed hat
And tied up underneath.

But then they started on my hands
And made it difficult
To change a tippet or a fly
So often did they bite.
And when I tried to drift a fly
'Neath overhanging brush
Those black gnats made it miserable
Until I put on gloves

But black gnats only stay around
Until the May fly hatch
Then gradually do disappear
Until they all are gone.
Then all who like to fish the streams
And I was one of them
Can fish away without the curse
Of black gnats and their bites.

I had been fishing Breakheart Brook
Just wading down the stream
Not taking anything to keep
Just letting my fly drift
Until I reached the Falls River
Combined they formed a pool
I stood in the water to my knees
And wondered what they’d take.

I had a little metal box
That was just full of flies
I could have left most of them home
And carried only three
For I had tried most of these flies
With no result at all
The three I used were “mosquito,”
“Silver doctor” and “black gnat.”

It was by then late afternoon
And shadows had begun
But then I saw the May fly hatch
And knew just what to use
I tied a silver doctor on
Then let the fly just drift
And took a trout that fought so hard
Before it came to net.

The silver doctor worked quite well
Was hit most every cast
I was right on the edge of them
These trout were rising fast
They hit that silver doctor hard
Each fought me all the way
I kept the bigger trout I caught
And just released the rest.

Now when I’d caught my final fish
The limit then was six
I stowed away my fishing gear                   
And started up the hill
I reached the crest, and then sat down
Upon an oaken stump
And as I watched the mackerel sky
The sun went slowly down.

This sunset was the perfect way
To end my fishing day,
With golds and reds, and orange too
Amid the indigo.
I’d climbed the hill to see this sight
And felt the peace inside
That comes to me at eventide
Whenever I’m alone.

Now as the light began to fade
The shadows grew quite long
And as I watched the changing sky
I heard a wood thrush call
I listened for the Veery Thrush
And soon I heard him too,
Always trebling down the scale
This thrush is wont to do.

‘Twas almost dark and I still sat
And listened to the night
I waited for the great horned owl
To issue forth its hoot
But only heard the swishing of
A night hawk swooping low.
And as I sat, I thought about
How Dad would love this so.

But finally, ‘twas almost dark,
When I arose to go
In silence I went down the hill
Until I reached the road
I’d hoped to see a deer or fox
Or anything at all
This night had been a peaceful one
I left reluctantly.

I had my trout, enough for all
My evening was complete
My time spent out upon the stream,
The sunset and the dark
Each gave to me a peacefulness
That I remember still
For I had listened to the night
And found my God anew.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dad & I

My Dad and I were very close
It was not simply happenstance
My sisters liked to do girl things
Like play piano, or to sing.
My brother still was much too young
And so it always fell to me
To help Dad out in work or play
But work or play ‘twas harmony.

I can’t remember when my Dad
And I became acquainted for
I was too young to think of much
I only knew he was just there.
I first remember as a boy
That Dad did take us all for walks
Out to Chaffee’s Woods we’d go
Mostly on Sunday afternoons.

And later on as I did grow
I remember how my Dad would
Make us bows of lemon wood, with
A round target at which to shoot.
And that was my introduction
To target shooting with a bow
Then it was that Dad taught me how
To make blunt arrows for us all.

Then out in Chaffee’s fields we’d shoot
At five pound sugar bags chock full
Of grass, or leaves, and set way out
To shoot at varied distances.
We’d plan on spending afternoons
Just shooting ‘til we all did tire
Or had sore fingers or sore arms
Where armguards did not fit too well.

And as I grew I worked with Dad
In planting a big garden that
Judge Bliss, who lived just up the road,
Had let us use, for no longer
Did he care to plant this old field.
This was a larger piece of land
Than the one in our backyard
And took a lot of work to plant.

But Dad went at it with a will
And I helped out as best I could
He had it plowed and harrowed too
Until the loam was broken up.
Then we hoed up all the rows
And planted seeds and marked them good
Then watered all right from the well.
Thus was our garden set to go.

We waited for the plants to sprout
Potatoes, beans, and celery
Along with corn and beets as well
Carrots, turnips, summer squash with
Winter squash, and big pumpkins
All but tomatoes did we plant
And these we staked in our backyard
Then wait we did for them to grow.

In two weeks time the plants did sprout
And then our work did really start
For weeds will grow as fast as plants
And must be taken out by hand.
So Dad and I went at it hard
And evenings after we did eat
We’d work right up ‘til it was dark
Just pulling weeds and thinning plants.

It was a hardship for just two
For my siblings could not help out
Two were girls, my brother too young
And so it fell to Dad and I
To bring this garden through the heat
Of summer and on into fall
But then when all we grew was in
A cornucopia we had.

‘Twas then my mother’s work began
Putting all these vegetables up
In jars until the racks were full
Potatoes, turnips, carrots, all
Were put in sand so they would keep
Throughout the winter into spring
But Dad and I could not relax
For we had other things to do.

Dad started on his Osage bow
He shaped it first then scraped it down
With broken glass, until he had
The strength he wanted, eighty pounds.
‘Twas then he added cow horn nocks
The string was made from three strands each
Of Irish linen twisted tight
Then looped and served around each end.

The string was then put on the bow
The bow was strung to test the curve
And check the poundage when full drawn.
He had it then, his hunting bow.
And while he worked upon his bow,
I made blunt arrows for the spring
When we would all go out and shoot
At sugar bags, set out in spots.

My Dad was always making things
A creamer and a sugar set
Each from a copper one-cent piece
And on the bottom of each one
The one-cent stamping was intact
He made an Indian headed brooch
Having a golden band around
Made from deer horn just for my Mom.

He could make anything desired
For his family or himself
I still remember inlaid wood
Worked on long, cold winter nights
Of a picture drawn on a board
Of an Indian in his canoe
Out on a lake at sunset time
With darkened pines as a backdrop.

Dad was inlaying every piece
Of different types of colored wood
And piece by piece that picture grew
Each piece cut with his jeweler’s saw
Then glued in place where it belonged.
He worked on this each winter eve
And when spring came the work was done
Who has it now, I do not know.

Now chestnuts were a topic that
My Dad would often speak about
How he gathered them up in fall
Just after the first frost had hit.
He always had a basket full
From trees that grew so straight and tall
In all the forests far and wide
The tree was common as the oaks.

There were all types of animals
That fed on chestnuts when they fell
From squirrels, deer, and turkeys too.
Dad’s mother also used the nuts
To make a stuffing for her birds
And sometimes made a chestnut soup
Or roasted them  before a fire
Others used them to fatten pigs.

But then a blight hit all the trees
And killed them all within five years
No more did chestnuts then abound.
The turkeys soon did disappear
The deer declined, while squirrels turned
To acorns as their staple food.
And lumbermen across the east
Did cut the dead and dying trees.

But I remember as a boy
My Dad bringing chestnuts home that
He had found when in the woods.
The tree had grown up from a stump
He thought the tree was six years old
And old enough to raise some nuts
Which he had taken just to see
If they would grow around the yard.

We roasted most, but two Dad kept
To freeze them both before the spring
Then when spring came he planted them
And sure enough  those nuts did root
They grew five years and each had nuts
Which we picked when the frost did hit
But that was all we ever had
They died from blight in the next year.

My father also had a great
Collection of all types of eggs
From shore birds, song birds, great horned owl
To hawks and game birds of all kinds
He drilled them out, got out the yolks
Then catalogued each set of eggs
This isn’t something done today
For taking eggs is not allowed.

Dad taught me most of what I knew
Concerning life out in the woods
Of how to fish, or hunt, or trap
Or just to listen to the birds
And recognize each one at once
By its singing, hoot, or shriek
For each owl had a different hoot
And each hawk a different cry.

Now Dad was a religious man
He read his Bible every night
And once I can remember him
Sitting in our dining room, and
Talking, once so late at night
When I should have been fast asleep
To missionaries now I’m sure
What came of that I do not know.

But in his bookcase we did find
Two pamphlets from some writers who
Came from the Mormons in Salt Lake
One was by Parley Pratt I know
“A Voice of Warning” was its name
The other now I don’t recall
But these two books led me to think
That Mormons were the ones that night.

My Dad and I did camp a lot
When I was just a little boy
‘Twas after our debacle at
Our tenting place on old Beach Pond
We camped a lot on the Pratt place
And once at the Bannister Springs
On land once owned by Welky T.
Now part of the Pachaug forest.

It was here that I first heard the
Flute like notes of the Veery thrush
At evening when the woods did ring
With its trebling notes that sounded
Like someone coming down the scale
My Dad then wanted me to know
This type of thrush lived in deep woods
And could be heard at evening time.

He also wanted me to hear
The three note tune of the wood thrush
That also sang when sun was down
And could be heard until the dark
But sometimes was so interspersed
With Veerys, that when these two birds
Sang in the dusk, the woods would ring
With songs we both did love to hear.

My Dad was always stressed a lot
When as a boy just growing up
He watched his brother as he died
A wagon wheel ran over him
His brother, though he hurt inside
Made Dad promise to never tell
What happened on that fateful day
He feared his father’s angry words

My father’s dad was mostly gone
Aboard the ship he called his home
So rarely did he see Dad’s mom
And when he did was often drunk
My grandmother then made the choice
That a divorce was best for all
And so she took that step, then found
She could not make it all alone.

And so she sent my Dad to stay
At St. Marks school for orphaned boys
Though not an orphaned boy as such
He was the oldest of the three
And was the one that best could cope.
So off he went, and soon was sent
On a youthful apprenticeship
To learn some form of useful trade.

And so my Dad’s apprenticeship
Was with an excellent goldsmith
Who taught Dad much of what he knew
For over seven years or more
But ere he finished, Dad did go
Upon the ship his father sailed
To work his way upon the sea
And so became the cabin boy.

I can remember how Dad told
Of sailing ‘round Cape Hatteras
Off the Carolinas coast, in
A gale that wracked his ship so hard
It kept his father working long
For as the ship’s carpenter, he
Fixed all wood damage to the ship
And Dad was glad at voyage end.

Three years after he’d left the ship
He joined Rhode Island’s cavalry
And went to Texas where he fought
Against Pancho Villa’s Mexicans
But soon that little war o’er
He then went with his cavalry
To fight again in World War I
With no horse but a machine gun.

Now when the war in France was done
He came back home and met my Mom
They soon were married, then they went
To honeymoon for just a while
And then when Dad went off to work
At Narragansett Electric
They started their own family
Of Sue, then Ted, Mary and Ray.

Now Dad was an old Yankee too
Who knew the woods, the streams, the ponds
For he had camped when he was young
Around the hills near Escoheag
He used to take the milk train run
From Providence to Greene, alone
Then backpacked the remaining miles
To Escoheag and there made camp.

But all the effort on Dad’s part
From his loss at his brother’s death
To the divorce of mom and dad
And then the time spent at St Marks
Then off on his apprenticeship
His sailing in a great, great storm
The wars in Texas and in France
All added to his great concerns.

And so my Dad had lots of stress
But none of this then did I know
For heart problems, a family trait
Was the main cause of early death
For Dad had chest pains now and then
But only did my mother know
She kept it quiet, while he took
The digitalis prescribed for him.

Now Dad began to slow it down
He did a little less each year
Especially at the Beach Pond house
No longer did he roam the trails
Or care to stay out fishing late
For horned pout which he loved to eat
Or paddle off in my canoe
He’d just sit on the porch and watch.

I should have known something was wrong
But being young I chalked it up
To older years and nothing more
For we, his children were of age
To take some of the burden off
His shoulders, and my mother’s too
We did our best, yet he grew worse
And the depression days didn’t help.

And so my Dad was near to death
When I returned from old Beach Pond
Called to come back by Mother’s note
So anxious ‘bout my father’s health
My Mom explained, and then I knew
My Dad’s condition was not good
That he could go at any time
Yet Dad insisted I go back.

I came back home in late July
And then we talked of what we’d do
For he was going, this he knew.
He gave to me his Two Nineteen
The Zipper made by Winchester
And said to sell the other guns
But keep the bows and arrows too.
“For you may want them at some time.”

A month went by and he got worse
There was no more that we could do
So he went to the hospital
They put him under oxygen
But he had been there just two days
When we received a late night call
That Dad was gone, we cried and cried
We’d lost our Dad, I'd lost a friend.

We buried him beneath the sod
Out in Rumford Cemetery
And bought for him a modest stone
That gave his name, date born, date died.
Was born in eighteen eighty-nine
And died in nineteen forty-two
But what that stone will never know
Is what a dad he was to me.

I often go to see his grave
My mother lies there now as well
My wife and I plant flowers there
Then we’ll visit other graves of
Relatives, who have gone their way
That all of us must go someday
And when it’s my time then I’ll see
My Dad again, with family.

Jessie Louise Cole and Raymond Hall Baker