Dilemma at Canada Falls


The old truck rattled along the logging truck road as we made our way to Canada Falls. The logging roads in the western Maine woods are full of wash boards, rutted where one would not expect it, and frequented by large semi logging trucks that literally own the road. It is unwise to try to make time on these roads. Washboards on corners can send you careening off into the Maine woods. Unanticipated washouts can make your truck nose dive into a watery abyss. Fast moving logging trucks often are in the middle of the road coming your way and it is your responsibility to get the hell out of the way!

Maureen and I were in the last three hours of an 11 hour trip that we were trying to do non-stop. I say non-stop but that is a bit of an exaggeration. We carried with us a four pawed passenger named Hickory Dickory Doc that was not know for his large bladder. About every two hours he would start to whine which was his signal for “Egads, man, I have to pee!” Hickory was an overgrown Black and Tan/Bloodhound Cross that was famous for his comical looks and antics. He liked to ride in the back of the truck back in the day when letting a dog ride in the back of your truck was not considered a sin. As we tooled down the road people would laugh at his long, long ears blowing straight back. The moving air would blow under the loose skin on his upper jaw and the skin would flop about exposing his teeth. This made him look mad, but people still found it funny. His jowls would also begin to rattle about as the truck’s speed increased making a flapping noise not unlike the playing cards I put on the wheels of my bicycle to purr in the spokes when I was a young fellow. Hickory weighed in at about 90 pounds and he could run forever. This deep chested dog would chase an animal for hours and hours if given the opportunity.

The three of us were headed for Canada Falls in western Maine not far from the Canadian border. It was late September 1979. The area was absolutely uninhabited. There were definite signs of pulp harvesting as we drove into the wilderness but there were no active areas along our route. The occasional logging truck would zoom by, raising the hackles on our neck as it flew by. I soon learned to pull completely over when I saw a truck in my rear view mirror or one coming from the opposite direction in the middle of the road. When the logging truckers saw Hickory Dickory Doc with his head hanging over the side of the truck bed they would blow their air horns, which made him howl, which made them blow the horns some more. The sound of blowing horns and a howling dog was quite a compliment to the quiet of the wilderness!

Anyways, our journey was slow and tedious considering the road conditions and all of the perceived obstacles. Still we were looking forward to seeing Canada Falls for the first time. The wide dirt road was scenic. The borders of the road showed huge displays of dark green fir, spruce and pine trees, interspersed with large stands of poplar and white birch. Autumn was just beginning and the leaves that were turning yellow contrasted against the evergreen trees were something to behold. Some friends had described the lake as being a paradise. The lake was formed by a large dam that was put there years before. It may have been used in the distant past as a waterway for floating logs to a place where they could be transported to there ultimate destination.

We carried a canoe strapped between the roof of the truck and the tailgate. It was our plan to paddle to a camp half way up the lake that we had been told about. There we would spend a few days on a high point that had good views of the wide open lake both to the north and south. We yearned for several days of relaxation, some casual lake exploring, and quiet camp fires at night that would warm our bodies and our souls. Maureen and I were still in the first year of our new relationship and this was our second real outing together. We hoped it would bring memories to a long lasting relationship.

After a few hours of non-stop shake, rattle, and roll in the cab of the old Ford pick-up we spotted a sign that said Canada Falls. We took the turn which was an old sandy road that didn’t look like it got used all that often. Sure enough after driving for another half a mile we could see a large earthen dam. There was a small parking area to one side. We parked the truck and retrieved Hickory Dickory Doc from the truck bed so that we could walk to the lip of the dam and marvel at a beautiful wilderness lake. Our hearts hoped for views of open water, moose, and loons.

As we climbed the face of the dam something seemed amiss. To my left there was a spill way and it didn’t sound like there was much water passing through. When we got to the top of the dam for the marvelous view all we could see for miles was a dry lake bottom with a small meandering stream running down the middle of what had once been a lake. Maureen looked at me and without hesitation declared “The canoe’s not going to work too well in there!” And, of course, she was right.

Too bad we didn’t at the time know that they periodically drained the lake at the end of the summer to do dam maintenance.

We had planned on moving our gear to the camping area in the canoe so we were not really planning on backpacking. Fortunately we did have two back packs and were not totally stuck.

We were anticipating a beautiful wilderness lake. What we saw before us was a lake bottom full of slippery wet stones, once submerged stumps and logs, and large amounts of rotting vegetation. The area had the smell of a composting facility which was a little different than the smell of clear air that we expected to experience.

Mo and I talked about our dilemma for a few minutes. We were exhausted and in no shape to try to find another place to camp at god knows where. After a brief discussion we decided to make the best of it. We repacked our back packs by removing excess clothes and replacing them with food and wine. We hoped to find a sandy beach in some deserted corner of what was once a lake where we could pitch a tent, build a camp fire, and enjoy the miracles of the starry Maine night.

Maureen and I could not walk around the original shore of the lake. Much of it was forested and covered with fallen trees that would be difficult to climb over with our back packs full of gear. So we decided to set out over the slippery rocks of the lake bottom. Hickory Dickory Doc thought this was great fun. His powerful nose was happy to smell every rotting fish and decaying piece of aquatic vegetation. He found he could flip over rocks with his paws and play with the hellgrammites that sought refuge in the little pools of water found under the rocks. He was very happy to be with us, and to him, this was hound heaven.

The wet slippery rocks proved to very troublesome for Maureen and me as we slowly picked our way through this wilderness of swill. Our heavy packs made us top heavy. The slippery rocks under our feet had the traction of glacial ice. These two challenges lead to more than one spill. I could sense that Maureen was not impressed with my choice of venues for our second adventure.

After traveling about a mile up the lake bed we found a sandy point that was right on the edge of the stream that flowed through the lake bed. There was a huge drift wood tree that would shelter our pup-tent from the cold northwest winds. The lake bottom in this area was mostly sand, gravel, and round cobble so there was no decaying vegetation. Hickory Dickory Doc immediately dug himself a hole in the sandy point where he laid down to rest. Maureen and I quickly set up our tent and built a stone fireplace where we could cook and sit around in the evening. There was ample drift wood to be found, so fuel for the fire was not an issue.

That evening we made hot soup from a dried soup package and cooked a few potatoes and carrots wrapped in foil in the hot coals of our fire. Hickory Dickory Doc ate his kibble with a splash of kipper snack oil that was left over from lunch. Hickory decided to take a swim after dinner. This was not a good idea given that the temperature was dropping like a rock off of a cliff. When he came out of the water he shook himself off and immediately tried to climb into my sleeping bag in the tent. That would not do so we put a rope through his collar and tied him to the large driftwood tree where he could sit next to us by the fire.

The temperature continued to drop and we continue to throw drift wood on the fire. The flames danced high against the black night and Maureen and I shared some wine and watched the stars drift by. Soon we heard the chattering of teeth and there was Hickory Dickory Doc shivering like a dried leaf in an autumn wind. He was still wet so I tried drying him off. He continued to shiver. Maureen went into my backpack, retrieved a flannel shirt and put it on Hickory. There he sat by the fire in checkered flannel with the sleeves rolled up so he wouldn’t trip on them. With his long ears and floppy jowls he really looked like something in a Walt Disney cartoon. We laughed and laughed. Hickory Dickory Doc did not appreciate our laughter but we couldn’t help ourselves.  It was just so damn funny.

We all went to bed at a reasonable hour. The plan was for Maureen and I to sleep in the tent and Hickory would sleep just outside the tent door near our feet. Before the night was finished there were two adults and a 90 pound hound jammed into the little tent. Some might say it was cozy.

A bright and sunny morning had us up and early renewing the flames in the fire place. We all had pancakes that morning while the sun slowly rose in the east amidst purple and pink clouds. Hickory Dickory Doc thought he had died and went to heaven as he finished the last hot cake from the mess kit frying pan. He wasn’t used to such treatment, and he realized it was Maureen who had arranged for his extra special meal. I think he decided that day that she was a keeper. I had come to that decision on the night of our first date.

We decided to try hiking along the shore line where we thought the rocks might be less slippery. Our objective was to travel to the place where we originally thought we would camp. Hiking without packs in the rocky terrain was significantly easier. We still had to pick and choose out way through some rough areas where large, once submerged trees, blocked our route to our destination. We could see the point where the camping area was located. It didn’t look that far away. The slow walking took its toll and we didn’t get to the camp until close to lunch time. The point had views in both directions looking up and down the lake. You could see how beautiful it must have been when the lake actually had water in it. And even in these conditions the scenery wasn’t that bad. The cold nights were turning the leaves of the deciduous trees to more alluring colors every day. Red, yellow, and orange could be seen up and down the lake’s edge. The lake bottom was mostly dry. It had an eerie, almost hollow, look that seemed devoid of life. This was a strange divergence from the shoreline that seemed so alive.

While we were taking this all in Hickory was exploring the point along the water’s edge. Suddenly I heard his deep baying which meant he was hot on the trail of something. I looked in the direction that the sound came from and a large bull moose was tearing across the lake bottom. Not too far behind was Hickory Dickory Doc with his nose to the ground running full tilt. I tried calling him to no avail. I was a little worried. I didn’t think the moose would run that far but if he turned on the dog he could stomp him into the ground. Hickory had already had serious confrontations with black bear and bob cats, both resulting in very sizeable veterinarian bills. The moose disappeared into the dense forest on the opposite shore with the hound not far behind.

I could hear Hickory Dickory Doc sounding for some time. Eventually the baying quieted as the dog and moose were farther away. My heart sank; this could be a serious problem. I couldn’t believe that I had taken my eye off of him. An unwatched hound is certain trouble. I listened and listened and could not hear him baying.

Maureen and I waited for about an hour. I knew he was really good at following his own trail back to the point of origin and so there was hope for his return. As we picked our way through the slippery rocks on our way back to our camp site I would occasionally call our hound. There was no response.

We got back to the camp in mid-afternoon. I still had hope he would be along soon. Maureen and I nibbled on some crackers and cheese to replenish our reserves. While we both sat there eating our eyes were fixed upstream for any sign that he was returning.

The sun was getting lower in the western sky. I felt a little less confident that he would be returning soon. I started to make plans to try to track him in the morning. This is not what I had in mind to do on our brief vacation. I thought he might have gotten hurt and if I was able to track the big moose I might be able to locate my hound. The plan gave me hope. I was an experienced woodsman and this was well within my capabilities.

Just before dark I could hear a sniffing sound. I turned my head and there in the shadows stood Hickory Dickory Doc. He had come back to our campsite from a completely different direction! He was tired, worn, and wet. He came over to me and wagged his tail. He knew I was not happy with his adventure but he could definitely sense that I was very ecstatic to see him. After a few pats he sauntered over to Maureen. In his eyes she was now part of the pack. He lay down next to her and she could see him shivering. Maureen dried him off and put my flannel shirt back on him. We started the camp fire. Hickory laid as close to the stone fireplace as he could. Within minutes he was sleeping. As he slept his legs kicked and he softly barked. He was in dream land chasing Mr. Moose again.

We had one more day on the lake bed of Canada Falls. We took some short hikes and made some wonderful meals. I caught some brook trout and we cooked them over the fire. That last night the sky was clear and full of stars. Maureen and I watched in silence as the heavens slowly moved across the sky. Nothing could have been better.

The next morning we hiked back to the truck. We loaded our gear and Hickory Dickory Doc hopped in the back of the truck, excited for the opportunity of a new ride on the logging road. I took some maps out and started thinking about where our next camp site might be. Maureen gently put her finger on the map. It was on the town of Rangely. That was a quiet signal that our next night would be in a quiet, comfortable motel.

That night, after a long drive, we slept in a comfortable bed with flannel sheets. It seemed like absolute luxury after a few nights of sleeping on the hard, rocky shoreline. Before closing my eyes I looked about the room. Hickory Dickory Doc was already asleep on the rug in the corner of the room. He liked a little luxury, every now and then, as well.

Originally written for www.wildramblings for our 30th anniversary in 2009.

Yep, the photo is me and Hickory in 1978.  I was 27 years old at the time.

  • http://www.BeyondWandering.com/ IcyCucky

    I love the name you gave your dog, and enjoy every bit of detail about him riding in the back of the truck! Moreover, I’m glad he found his way back to you! What an adventure, and as always beautiful writing, Bill!

  • http://gardenpath.wordpress.com/ sandy

    Great story, as usual. I was glad to hear the dog got back, but not surprised. My dad’s coon hounds always made it home, even if it took days.
    I have never been to Canada Falls, but David  spent time there in the late 60′s. I have read plenty about it, though.

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    Very enjoyable read, Bill! You sure did make a memorable occasion out of what seemed to be a disappointment. The outdoors is like that, isn’t it!

  • Barbara

    What a great adventure Bill – shows how much you and Maureen were part of each other’s lives right from the beginning. And that dog! I think labs being retrievers must be something like coon hounds, but while my two have run off, never for as long as a day and never after a deer, though coyote and deer have often been quarries. Just such a great tale – you have such a gift for story-telling. Love to read about your adventures in our wonderland beyond the cabin doors. Thanks for sharing such memorable moments. I agree with Montucky – that the outdoors can turn a disappointment into something very special – so glad you’re around to remind us of that.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack Matthews

    You and Maureen and your companions have had great times together, Bill.  I was surprised Hickory Dickory Doc made it back to camp, but then, I’m not surprised.  You were able to make the best choice of the dilemma: I would have stayed, too.  I have had only one female companion in my life that backpacked with me.  Her name was Dorothy Bright-Rose and we packed back up into Carson National Forest in New Mexico in the early springtime about 1978, when you took the photograph, and snow remained in shady areas of the trail.  I met her at the Bob Wills Dance in Turkey, Texas.  I have often thought….  In reading your stories, I am always intrigued by the cold weather and vegetation you describe.  Your insertion of geological history puts a long range of time into your story that is just fascinating to me.  I can imagine the flannel shirt on Hickory Dickory Doc.  I think dogs are the most wonderful companions that have chosen to run with us.  I love horses and they have their special place, and I have had them defend me from danger, but my canine companions through the years have been my most faithful keepers.  Bill, I have looked closely at your 1978 photograph.  Putting my own nostalgia aside, I see many things, but what I see most is the stewardship that you give the four-footed one that radiates in your writing and into the world-at-large.  Oh, I also see that Ford pickup in the background!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Hick was a wonderful companion and kept me warm at night (along with my other dog Scruggs) when I lived in my tipi for two years.  He did get completely lost once when a young pup but luckily a group of hikers found him and he was returned to me within a few days.   Thank you so much for reading.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Sandy. Hounds have great noses but they do sometimes get lost.  Canada Falls is a beautiful area, especially when there is water in the lake!  But then again, there are countless beautiful areas in Maine!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yep, the outdoors seems to provide me with nearly endless memories and adventures much as it has for you!  Thanks!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Retrievers are wonderful dogs and they do enjoy their romps in the woods and water as much as any other outdoors dog.  I’m a really lucky fellow to have had such wonderful canine companions and especially lucky to have met the woman of my dreams.  That she and I have had so many wonderful years together is beyond any thing I ever imagined would happen to me.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, Maureen and I continue to have a great run together.  Nothing can replace a life long love and I can find no adequate words to describe my love for her.  As you know Maureen worked side by side with me clearing land, making lumber, building the house, and most importantly raising a family. 

    I have always wished I had more experience with horses.  I fully understand that this would have really rounded out my life.  I have only ridden a few times and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. 

    One more thing.  I loved that you met a woman at a Bob Wills Dance in Turkey, Texas.  Sounds like it is right out of a western novel.  What a hoot!

  • Teresaevangeline

    What an amazing experience and a wonderful story. The toughest experiences make the best memories. Love the image I have of your dog in a flannel shirt. It’s such a good thing when two people find each other and build a life together. It sounds like you both found the perfect mate.

    I’ve been up to Rangely. About a year and a half ago now. It’s still pretty wild country all through there.  Great photo. It says a lot about who you are.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Theresa.  I’ve always said I’ve been a fortunate guy who fell into the right set of circumstances for my particular personality.  Life is good!

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    You are such a great storyteller, Bill. And the names you come up with for your dogs! Love them. Thanks for sharing this wonderful adventure and making me, as always, itch to get into some wilderness.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Emily.  My best dog name ever was for my collie/shepard that lived with me from age 19 to 38.  His name was Scruggsy Bambino El Salvadore Burger Bits.  Of course we called him Scruggs.  He was named after the country crooner Earl Scruggs.  Scruggs howled and sang along whenever he heard Earl Scruggs, or Neil Young.

    Just a little north of you is one of our nation’s great wild areas.  I’m sure you’ve bathed in its glory before, perhaps its time to do so again!

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    Whew! That one had some suspense. I had a feeling from the start that it would be something to do with Hickory. I was a little worried when I was reading that he ran off. I’m glad it had a happy ending.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Ratty.  It was even more suspenseful in real life.  I was glad it had a happy ending too!

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    That is quite the adventurous weekend, something to remember! And the photo definitely looks like something out of another era.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    That was definitely a different era Al.  And it was difinitely an adventurous time, although it lasted about a week with the traveling.

  • Wendysarno

    I love this exchange between you and Jack, Bill, almost as much as I love the story that opens up the deep history you have with Mo and generations of beloved dogs. You and Jack both write so eloquently and with such big hearts of your relationship to your land and your your lives.  Your words with each other reveal two men with a common understanding who have followed their best wisdom, their reverence for earth and creatures and people, and feel the whole of it.  In 1978 I would have fallen in love with both of you!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    There can be no doubt that Jack and I share a compassion for our planet.  Jack is the better writer of the two of us although he would never say so.  He writes straight from the heart and there can be no question about where his loyalties life.  I believe Earth, family, and his animal friends are at least a major part of his foundation.  That he can express this so wonderfully in his writing tells me what a great person he is. 

    And thank you for your wonderful support Wendy.  It is clear you have made yourself one with this planet and will grace it with your presence both now and in the hereafter.

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