John Harrigan: Happier than an imbedded tick, or a muddy clam

BY JOHN HARRIGAN March 09. 2013 5:21PM

"These are the times that try men's souls." I've always been drawn to that sentence, the sentence of death. I've always wanted to write it "These are the times that try men's soles," as in fillet of sole, which means that you have to go to a fish market. "Try" in Old (no "e" after Old, please) English also means to try out, as in render. Sample sentence, Shatney to Harrigan, fishing beaver dams on the upper end of Deadwater: "We'll just try out some of this here bacon grease before we put the trout and Bisquick in."

Somewhere in this piece I'll try to render something half-sensible.

The sun is impossibly high in the sky. Snowbanks facing southwest are melting as fast as ambitions. Sap buckets are out, at least where sap buckets have not been overtaken by technology. ("Got the plastic hose out? Moose walk off with any? How's the reverse osmosis Imperial Klingon swirler going? Iambic Pentameter? Huh?"). Somehow this doesn't sound right.

One spring day, along about now, I smelled wood smoke in the air during a trek from Bob Shaw's fields on the backside of Titus Hill down toward Lime Pond, and could not help following my nose.

I came upon a sugar shack, never called that around here but the topic of a popular Southern song, popular way back before I was older than dirt, and espied smoke coming from the chimney. "Hello the camp," I yelled in the time-honored cry, in case there was nothing in camp, as in "nothing on," or the more dramatic "occupants should not be interrupted."

So the holler having been unfruitful, I balled up a snowball there in the snow-melting March sun, and lobbed it onto the tin roof, and instantly a head, woodchuck-like, appeared from the door, staring quizzically around, more or less like a deer caught in the headlights or, more to the point, like a woodchuck suddenly realizing that both front door and back had been laid bare by the Ides of March.

It was Bill Collins, off by himself up there in the middle of nowhere, deaf as a post, happier than a tick on a dog or a clam in the mud, making sugar.

Eventually, his slow radar caught hold of me, and I said "Halloo Bill," sort of a trumpet-like halloo in days of yore, and he said "Harrigan?" and I said "Are you accepting company?" thinking of the line from "Jeremiah Johnson," in which The Pilgrim asks Will Geer what's for supper, and Geer says "Grown particular?" and so I capered in, if "capered" is realistic on snowshoes.

Bill was sunburned and happy, and was not amounting to much other than some kind of hole in the snow, and proffered a coffee cup, and said "Want some coffee?" and I said sure, and then he said "Want some syrup in it?" and I said sure, and then he said, wagging his fingers in the air, "Want some Other?" and I said sure, and there we sat in the doorway in the sun, surrounded by not much but ourselves and the snow fleas, toasting the gods.

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576 or

John Harrigan

Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook Follow our RSS feed
Union Leader app for Apple iPad or Android *
Click to download from Apple Apps StoreClick to download from Android Marketplace
* e-Edition subscription required