John Harrigan: Of woodland caribou and times long gone

JOHN HARRIGAN May 03. 2014 11:52PM

On the way out of the woods on high ground the other day, I came upon caribou moss, which New Hampshire has in high elevations and, because it's farther north, in medium elevations of New Hampshire's North Country.

In a conversation with Homer May of Haverhill Corner, the question of just what constitutes the true North Country came up, as it often does. Sometimes, the media refer to the likes of Conway and Lebanon as "the North Country."

I recalled Sherman Adams at a Mensa gathering, who when asked the question came forth quickly, certainly and succinctly with the best definition I've ever heard, and which I invoke today: "The North Country is that part of New Hampshire lying to the north of the great notches."

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Many people are unaware that we once had woodland caribou. These animals followed the regrowth of lichens, mosses and low shrubs as the last glacier receded, about 12,000 years ago, and were hunted by the first people to reoccupy the land. The paleo-Indian hunting camps and workshops for making spear and arrow points from local sources of chert have been the objects of recent digs by archaeologists, who date them to about 9,000 years ago.

Northern New England's caribou were nearly finished off by unregulated hunting by the time Theodore Roosevelt Jr., John Muir and other giants of the conservation movement arrived on the scene and began the legislative and preservation efforts that saved the wildlife legacy and protected lands we have today.

The last woodland caribou in New Hampshire, having been reduced in such numbers as to have lost the migratory herd instinct, trudged north around 1905, never to be seen again. Only small segments of the same species hang on in western Canada today.

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A longtime reader, Ernie of East Derry, wondered about the perennial stories about the big buck that got away.

"Why is it that hunters always report seeing or missing a big buck, never just a buck, small or medium," he wrote.

When he gets back to camp and reports his near-miss experiences, he says: "Hey guys, I (bleep) and then I (bleep) and then I saw him again and (bleep), but I'll get the (bleep) tomorrow."

My reply: See "The big fish that got away." And golly, gee, gosh darn, we never talk that way in camp.

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Back in February, I asked readers to take an informal poll on otters because in my widespread travels across the state I have seen little evidence in the form of tracks between ice shelves in streams and rivers.

Paul of Walpole reported that last year four otters took up residence in a pond along County Road for several weeks and seemed to enjoy cavorting about the place despite people stopping to watch them play. And this year, two more otters showed up, perhaps evidence of young to come.

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This is the time when everyone who gets heat from wood is working up woodpiles, even as spring sings the siren call of summer.

I, too, have been dragging trees and filling up the woodsheds, and while I was doing that on the first day of May, it snowed.

John Harrigan's address is Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576. His email is

John Harrigan

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