Thanks to recent low dew points there’s a subtle hint of fall in the air that only the most stubborn fans of summer can ignore. In traveling around to the many county fairs and lobster fests around the state (in and of themselves signs that summer is waning), I have seen the usual scattered splashes of red, orange and yellow leaves in the lowland swamps that are impossible to miss (or ignore). It’s not fall by any means – we have weeks to go before we see the first rime of frost on the pumpkins – but change is in the wind.
Some folks use the “back to school” mantra as a telling sign of summer’s demise but there will be some great, warm weather for us to enjoy long after the little scholars head back to the classroom. In fact, I like to wait till mid-September or October for my annual “up Route 1” trip. Most of the tourists will be gone, which means traffic will be bearable, and prices will be somewhat lower being that it will be “off-season” again. My plan this year is to head for Bar Harbor and charter a glider ride so I can fly around Mt. Desert Island (quietly) and get a bird’s-eye view of the changing foliage. There’s not much on my bucket list anymore but an October glider flight is near the top. Most of the things I always wanted to do have been crossed off the list, but some of them are worth repeating.
While waiting for the garden to finish production (there is still corn, squash, tomatoes and cucumbers ripening under the hot summer sun) I have been tending a couple of bear baits in anticipation of the fall baiting season, which officially opens Aug. 28. So far my baits have attracted a few sows with cubs, plenty of raccoons and two fishers, so at least I have them set up in a good place. The trick is to keep a steady supply of bait (not piles, just daily handfuls) in a place where the wind will carry the scent of the goodies all through the woods. Any black bear will find my offering of dog food, molasses, Liquid Smoke and burned honey at least worth a visit. My trail camera images suggest that a few local bears have found the scent stream interesting, but I don’t want to tag a small bear, a sow or a cub. There is plenty of time to sort through the images and decide where the biggest bear will show up come opening day. But, if nothing shows up I still can say I had a great time playing the game. I don’t need to shoot the biggest bear in the woods; in fact, a nice, fat yearling would be fine with me. I have been hunting bears in Maine since 1961 and have grown partial to the flavor and texture of the meat, especially the steaks and back straps. Folks who enjoy a good pot roast will love bear meat, which comes to the table fork tender when it’s slow-roasted in a crock pot all day.
This year’s general bear hunting season runs from Aug. 28 through Nov. 25, so there’s plenty of time to put some fine wild meat in the freezer. It’s legal to hunt bears over bait or with hounds, but if you like to walk the woods and know where there are natural food sources such as mountain ash, apples, raspberries or the like you can reasonably expect to encounter a bear over the next month or so. Plan to be in the woods early in the morning and continue hunting till one-half hour after sunset because bears are most active at night. A typical bear encounter lasts all of about 10 seconds, so be prepared to make a quick decision (Do I want to shoot this bear or not?) and be ready to shoot fast and straight. I don’t believe in ghosts but bears can disappear as quickly as anything that exists on this earth and after sunset every stump in the woods looks like a bear!
One benefit of hunting bears in August and September is that most of the action takes place just before dark, leaving the better part of the day for more responsible pursuits. There is much to do including gardening, lawn care, winterizing the house, gathering firewood and other seasonal activities. I use my Sundays (when hunting is not allowed in Maine) and the midday period to get my nagging chores completed. With luck and good weather I can have all my projects completed, the garden torn down and tilled, the wood in and my summer machinery maintained well before deer season begins. Not much of anything gets done around here after Nov. 1 until I tag my buck, and some years it will be well into December before I can begin to catch up.
There may be a bit of a delay in all of this given that we had such a long, protracted spring with so much cold, cloudy weather. My third plantings of cucumbers, corn and squash finally took hold and are doing great but most of the crop is still a week or two behind schedule. I’ve been getting enough vegetables to make a decent dinner every day but the real, big crop is yet to come. My Big Beef tomatoes are abundant and growing well but as of Aug. 13 not a single one was ripe enough to pick. I enjoy a batch of fried green tomatoes now and then but I doubt that I’ll be able to eat them by the bushel that way. In late August time becomes the enemy of Maine gardeners. The threat of frost looms on the near horizon at least in the northern portion of the state. One good spate of cold weather can turn a healthy green garden into a brown, frazzled wasteland, with the associated rush to rescue as many of the surviving veggies as possible.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s only Aug. 21 and it’s way too early to be thinking about getting ready for fall and winter. Or is it!