Alewives and leeches; fireworks in the rain

July 12. 2014 8:02PM

A LONG TIME AGO, I spent a long night with former Fish and Game biologist Eric Orff at the Newmarket fish ladder. Alewives were on the move.

These are not cute and cuddly fish. They are like eels, actually, and to a landlubber (me), they are just overgrown leeches. I'd had experience with eels, having once caught one at the Beaver Brook dam behind the Homer and Babe Hughes house on Merrill Street in Colebrook. I was so terrified by this writhing snake of a catch that I ran all the way home.

Here is what Eric, who does a whole lot of good outdoor writing for various publications - and sometimes graces my front porch - wrote me recently:

"Thought you'd be interested in this River Herring event I helped put together at the Skeag dam. Wow, close to 50 years ago since you wrote your piece (on the alewives). I still have a copy here.

"That article mostly focused on restoring Atlantic salmon, but herring was mentioned. F&G has finally got back to stocking adult herring in Winnisquam. The last time they did that the window on the fish ladder at the dam was filled with fish.

"There was a while, over a decade ago, that I took it upon myself to move herring from the Lamprey River to Northwood Lake each spring. We figured at that time we had upwards of 14 million juveniles, back down river from that effort in the fall. Now, they are putting hundreds more in Winnisquam each spring. In another year or two I bet the window will be filled with fish again."

Eric, to me, is among the unsung heroes of Fish and Game. He has deep roots in the state and mingles and talks with (and fishes with) the Great Unwashed (that's you and me). I wish we had a hundred like him.

I'm an unabashed patriot when it comes to the Fourth of July, and so had flags and buntings galore on house and porch and Jeep. There was a downpour that Friday. Still, I could not prevent myself from grabbing a big umbrella to enable a dry dash to the front lawn picnic table to apply match to pyrotechnics.

Thus we illuminated the sky, heavily laden with rain, and had a fine time. Soaked to the skin, but laughing at it from the porch, bonfire ablaze.

This safety-at-any-price business galls me to the core. All up and down the turnpikes, I-93 and I-91 and the Mass Pike - because we had to travel the weekend before - we saw the dire warnings and alerts (and threats) about fireworks.

Come on, now. Do we let the very stuff of life out of our lives, in a lock-step march to the Goddess of Safety?

Everything and anything we do has inherent danger. When I elect to run my chainsaw I acknowledge a certain risk. When I get onto my tractor to haul logs or hay, ditto. When I start a fire in the front lawn fire pit to roast a goat or a lamb, ditto. But I'm responsible for my own actions, stupid or smart. The key and underlying dictum is that you don't endanger others.

If we sanitize our behavior, remove every aspect from risk, take the stuffing out of life, we are nothing but actuaries for the insurance agencies, and the safety-at-any-price finger waggers. They will tell you to never come down or up the stairs, never to go to or from camp, never to have a life.

John Harrigan's address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at

OutdoorsJohn HarriganNew HampshireNewmarket

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