John Harrigan: Growing up in the wilds of the North Country

JOHN HARRIGAN May 25. 2013 9:47PM

In a column of 39 years and counting, you never know what the mailbag will bring. There's always the inevitable bad and sad stuff, but the bulk of it is good. I'm particularly tickled by the photos and experiences readers relate. So on this Memorial Day weekend, when we honor those who sacrificed so much to perpetuate our rights, beliefs and way of life, and as a World War II baby boomer, all I want to proffer is the good.

The rain was drumming down on the metal roof on the main barn yesterday when I got a call from Mary Lyster, one of my few relatives in the dwindling Harrigan family's roots in the Bethlehem-Littleton-Lisbon territory. She was seeking information about my Aunt Cam, who is married to my father's brother, Carl Harrigan, and who, at a ripe old age, has just received a hip replacement so she can walk again without pain. Walking has been one of the keys to her long life.

The rain was playing a tune on the metal roof when Mary called, and I could not hear her on the barn's phone because of the downbeat. When I called her back, she said "Don't you just love a storm?" And I said, "You bet."

Mary invoked my mother during that call, and rightly so. Our mother brought us up to appreciate the free fireworks of a good line of thunderstorms. This was not in the least to diminish the havoc that often results downstream. It was only to appreciate the here and now. She would throw us out of the house and into the rain, to build dams and dikes and outlets in the previous winter's deposits of sand and clay, with full expectation of hosing us off to be presentable at supper.

When I was a kid, not so very long ago, I was given over to Rudy and Joan Shatney, by mutual agreement by my parents and them, to more or less grow up at Clarksville Pond. Rudy was related to the Hurlberts, who had a magnificent farm, and view, at the foot of Ben Young Hill. This was along Route 145, where the power line might go - or probably might not.

On one day, when Kathleen and Jeannette Shatney and I had been left off at the Hurlbert place on account of some Rudy and Joan errand Down Below, a thunderstorm struck. And I'll never forget being commanded to kneel beside a bed, while the elder sisters read from the Bible. The Hurlberts, I much later learned, were part of a little-known then, and still-little-known now, sect known as the Black Stockings. For a while they thrived, but now are much petered out.

Whatever the sect, then and now, is part of our collective preservation. Looking back, given what's happening in other lands, I marvel at the tolerance. We now honor those who went and fought, in any way, for what too many take for granted.

Finally, to get off from the serious side, I can't help offering a missive and photo from a reader. It's of a tree marten, looking ridiculous, by dint of hanging upside down. Who wouldn't? The old warriors we honor would smile.

Tree martens, which in other places occupied by pine trees are called pine martens, are, according to the old-timers (that would not be me), the only creatures that can catch a red squirrel in a tree. And I'll tell you this (a refrain from my time visiting friends in Nashville), that's some fast.

Here is the missive, followed by a photo of one of many species, long here and once almost gone, retrieved by a commitment to righting old wrongs, and your license and excise tax dollars and mine:

"Your article today reminded me of last fall. While deer hunting near Errol, I heard some rustling nearby. I looked and saw a rabbit at full run being pursued by this guy. He heard me, broke off and scampered up at tree. I was able to get a couple of pictures. I never got a definitive identification but the consensus was a pine marten. I thought I'd get your opinion. - Randy Emerson, Bedford.

To which I replied, gratefully for all the effort applied, and the changing times, "Yup."

John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at

John Harrigan

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