Sunday, May 19, 2013
By KEN ALLEN
Bill Woodward, a retired fisheries biologist from Monmouth, lives off the land like a 21st-century pioneer -- hunting, fishing, gardening and gathering wild foods.
While talking with me recently, Woodward emphasized that central Maine offers myriad blessings for ambitious souls intent on harvesting a good chunk of their annual food off the land, beginning with the incredibly varied fishing resources.
"Maine has so much water and a huge abundance of fresh- and saltwater species to target," Woodward said, before naming his favorites to catch for immediate consumption and for the freezer.
Woodward particularly likes to harvest white perch, black bass and mackerel, but he also emphasized that folks who find a good brook-trout brook can utilize this delicious food, too.
While working as a fisheries biologist for close to 40 years, Woodward studied Maine's brook-trout brooks, and according to him they may go un-fished or at least lightly fished year after year, depending on the water, so he worries little about depleting that resource.
Ponds and lakes in the bottom part of the state have a two-fish daily limit for brookies, but rivers, streams and brooks have a five-fish daily limit and offer a good change of pace from a frequent diet of warm-water species.
Woodward also said that hunting deer, moose and turkey offers copious protein sources.
Bear would offer a fourth choice for the freezer, according to Woodward, but he hasn't hunted bear much.
"Since retiring, I enjoy hunting more than angling," he said.
This comment came as no surprise to me.
He's often waxing poetically about his latest wild-game dinner complemented with garden vegetables and a fruit dessert. Or he's going on about a sandwich for lunch, made from wild game smothered with onions and green peppers. Mushrooms picked in the wild offer yet another delightful addition to any sandwich.
One sandwich on the Woodward family menu, a venison steak bomb, begins with deer or moose meat and incorporates veggies from his garden or from the wild, the latter usually mushrooms.
This man enjoys eating wild game as much as he likes hunting it, and like me, an eating image often pops into his mind when he shoots -- say a deer or grouse. Clearly, food and sport are one and the same.
A few years ago, Woodward sold his house in Rome, where he gardened and had fruit trees.
After moving into his new home in Monmouth, he soon had land cleared for gardens and fruit trees, including apple, pear, plum, peach and fig.
He also planted blueberry bushes.
The figs prove one of Woodward's beliefs, that gathering wild and garden food requires great patience.
For instance, last year his fig tree produced one fig. He feels in his heart, though, that this tree will produce figs galore, starting this year or next.
Along that line, he has also planted apricots, which he plans to harvest in abundance, too.
"To be successful living off the land," Woodward said, "requires constant learning, decade after decade."
No one shoots a deer every year, makes big fish catches or raises perfect gardens without learning the basics.
Folks must acquire skills to become consistently successful.
In the near future, Woodward plans to become proficient at catching black crappie, an invasive species that has established itself in this state during the last 40 years. It's a good fish for filling a corner in a freezer with flaky, white fillets.
Woodward also has learned to identify wild mushrooms, including chanterelles, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms, boletes, meadow mushrooms and horse mushrooms.
The latter look like the common supermarket mushrooms, but are huge and absolutely perfect for stuffing. Mushrooms add a touch of gourmet flair to a meal.
Woodward loves to garden.
"It's in my blood," he said.
Which brings up a point that I have noticed throughout my life: Lots of skilled deer hunters such as Woodward have learned the art and craft of gardening, illustrating that the two life-recreation skills are interconnected.
Blood and nonblood sports go together, and two excellent examples are gardening and deer-hunting. Both involve the food-gathering process, and the fruits of the labor and of the fun go to the same table, lying beside one another on a plate.
Homemade bread adds greatly to the experience, too.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: KAllyn800@yahoo.com