March 4, 2010

Nature therapy

TRAVIS BARRETT

— By

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Travis Barrett David Wilson of Track and Trap Trapping Supplies in Sidney sets up his "Wilson Bear Snare" in the West Forks.

Staff Writer

WEST FORKS — Nine miles into the woods, the Wilson Bear Snare gets its first test run.

It seems like an accident here. After bounding along in the cab of a heavy-duty pickup truck on a rough and rutty logging road for nearly an hour, the old diesel's brakes grind together and bring the truck skidding to a halt on the rain-slickened dirt.

Less than a hundred yards into the woods out the driver's side window, a blue barrel sits empty.

''Licked clean,'' notes David Wilson, the vice president of the Maine Trappers Association. ''They've been here.''

We grab pails packed full of pastries, cupcakes and donut holes glistening with their sugary sheen. Fifteen gallons worth that are emptied into the barrel backed into a corner of fallen trees and limbs. It's one of several bait sites that Wilson tends to for bear.

I ask how long it's been since this site was last baited.

''Oh, I don't know,'' Wilson, of Sidney, says, taking a deep breath and wiping sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. ''It's been at least 10 days.''

''Has it been too long?'' I ask. I'm wondering if the bears will have moved on to other places, other food sources, with more than a week's time having passed since food was put out here.

''No, they'll come back and check it,'' he tells me. ''They'll come back.''

Just like David Wilson has.

THAT DREADED WORD

Cancer.

It remains one of the most frightening words in our vocabulary. A word that represents myriad emotions: Horror. Agony. Despair. Bewilderment. Helplessness. Anger.

Outwardly, David Wilson is a shell of himself. Diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus this summer, it's been a whirlwind two months of treatments. His beard no longer seems to fit his thinning face, his clothes hanging off an embattled body.

Inwardly, though, he's the same man he was before. He's kindhearted and gentle, with an awe-inspiring spirit that seems to spread a positive attitude like a fairy with pixie dust.

I feel guilty calling Wilson a week earlier to tell him that I'm too sick to head out on a trip with him. Felled for nearly three days by the flu, I reluctantly tell Wilson: ''I don't feel well.'' He tells me to ''get better, little buddy,'' and I can't believe how ridiculously wimpy it makes me feel.

''I don't want to be around you right now, anyway,'' he says with a laugh that, indeed, already makes me feel better. He must take precautions with his immune system, weakened from chemotherapy.

But he's getting better now, happy to report that his doctors are pleased with his progress. His appetite is back, and he's starting to put on some of the weight that he's lost.

This two-day trip is therapeutic.

The day before we first head out, Wilson tells me that he is so tired he fell asleep in a meeting at work, heading home after just half a day. The treatments have taken a toll.

Today, in the truck since the crack of dawn, he's not tired at all.

''I feel really good,'' he said. ''I just needed some time in the outdoors.''

And, in turn, Maine's outdoors need David Wilson.

He's God-fearing and law-abiding, finding strength on this trip hunting partridge on an old, grown-in, grassy logging path. He's a mountain of a man with a bushy beard to match, one who walks the isolated woods comfortably. He's a perfect ambassador as we move forward in the 21st century with trapping and baiting under intense political pressure.

While we drive, Wilson's radar scans for beaver dams. He's hopeful that his cancer treatments this winter won't keep him away from his biggest passion -- beaver trapping -- for too long.

A FINAL STOP TO SWAP YARNS

As the rain intensifies, and with a couple of grouse taken from the woods on the trip, Wilson leaves the woods behind -- but not before making one final stop. He pulls into the house of Dom Gemelli, a semi-retired Maine hunting guide who wants to know about Wilson's new bear-trap model. The ''Wilson Bear Snare,'' modeled after a popular trap from the manufacturer Belisle, is a ''non-gripping'' trap designed to keep animals injury-free. Wilson likes the word ''humane.''

The patent is pending.

The two sit at the kitchen table inside Gemelli's sporting camp -- literally standing just a few feet from Gemelli's house -- and tell stories of trappers and hunters, past and present.

It was Gemelli, a hunting guide here in the Forks, who introduced Wilson to bear trapping.

Over the years, Wilson has trapped either for himself, friends or clients, more than 40 bears over sites he maintains. The spot deep in the woods in the West Forks might seem random, but he doesn't believe that's the case at all.

''It has everything here,'' Wilson said. ''There's water close by and deep cover all around. There's plenty of raspberries and blueberries. Everything they want is here.''

After two days in the woods, Wilson got everything he wanted, too.

He is not tired. He's strong, energized by the outdoors, just one day after needing a nap to get through meetings at his work.

Staff writer Travis Barrett can be reached at 621-5648 or:

tbarrett@centralmaine.com

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