By Jonah Paris
During my UMaine days, a small group of us obsessed over panfish throughout the winter months. While many students drained their savings on smelts and raced off to Cold Stream, Schoodic, and Moosehead every weekend in search of salmon and trout, we usually opted to stay closer to Orono. For a couple of frugal college students, this was a win-win situation; by fishing closer to school, we could save our gas money for chicken wings and pitchers of beer in town, and more often than not, jig up a mess of tasty perch and crappie. The house my friends and I rented became a usual hang-out for those looking to mooch a Saturday night fish fry.
Always on the lookout for new honey holes, my buddy and I had located a pond in the Central Maine farm country that looked promising. Neither of us had fished this particular pond before, though we had spent plenty of time duck hunting in the vicinity. Studying a depth map, we found the deep hole, and devised a plan.
Any outdoorsman knows that when something seems too good to be true – it often is. When you stumble upon a beaten deer run or a fresh rub-line, look up and you will undoubtedly find someone’s treestand above your head. When the salmon are slurping caddis flies with reckless abandon, you’ll realize that you left your dry fly box on the tailgate of your truck sometime, somewhere the day prior. And so, when we arrived at the pond, we were only mildly surprised when an army of crisp, yellow “POSTED” signs greeted us. These were reinforced with a row of “No Parking” and “No Trespassing” signs.
We began driving down any side road that appeared to approach the pond. On one of these drive-bys, we noticed a man plowing his lot clear of the recent snowfall. With a cigar lodged in the corner of his mouth, the man rode atop an ancient John Deere tractor. Black smoke billowed menacingly from its vertical exhaust pipe and the rusty plow bucked under the strain of snow. It was evident that this guy was thoroughly enjoying his task. We continued our search for access to the pond for the next half-hour, before finally turning around disappointed.
As we drove out, we remembered the Cigar-Tractor Man, and slowed as we approached his lot. From the road, if you looked through the maples, his property appeared to reach the pond. We decided to stop and ask if he knew anywhere that we could legally access the water.
When we pulled into the man’s driveway, he had finished plowing his lot. The tractor was parked out front of a log cabin, and wood smoke was pouring from the chimney. An assortment of conibears and foothold traps hung outside. As we knocked on the door, a dog howled from within. The door opened, a wave of warmth escaped, and an older man stood in the doorway. To my eyes, the man resembled a cross between Willie Nelson and Hulk Hogan. He wore only a pair of shorts. His torso and arms were covered in a myriad of tattoos. An intricate portrait of a woman stared back at me from the man’s large chest.
“Hi,” we croaked.
“What can I do for you boys?”, the man questioned in a thick Maine accent.
“We are looking to do some ice fishing on the pond, and we were wondering if you knew anywhere that we could park? We saw the signs.”
The man grinned. “Sure, I do. You boys can park here. Go park up on the hill over there.” He motioned over his right shoulder. “Park there any time this winter. My son often stops by with the grandkids. I’ll let him know that if he sees some trucks up there, there’s no need to worry. Just don’t mess up the kids’ snowmobile jumps.” We thanked the man and fished for the rest of the afternoon.
From the pond, we could make out the belching of the man’s tractor on the hill. Arriving back at the truck with a small pile of crappie, we discovered that the man had plowed out a footpath for us. When we returned to the pond the following weekend after another snowstorm, the gentleman was not home – but he had plowed us out several parking spots on the hill, along with the footpath.
The Good Deed
Though the little pond in the farm country never proved to be a panfish gold mine, and I haven’t returned since, what stands out about this experience really has nothing to do with the fishing. What I recall is the generosity and willingness of the Cigar-Tractor Man (the name which I have given him since I regrettably didn’t ask his name) to go out of his way to make someone else’s outdoor experience more positive. If that is not the hallmark characteristic of a true New England outdoorsman, then I don’t know what is. Let the Cigar-Tractor Man be a model for the rest of us this season.
Jonah Paris teaches English at a small high school in Southwestern Maine. A four-season outdoorsman, Jonah lives in Gorham, ME with his girlfriend, Ashley, and beagle, Aurora. Jonah can be reached at [email protected].
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