In my travels to do commissioned paintings of storied hunting and fishing grounds, I’ve had the pleasure of dropping my duffel in places that gave new meaning to the word, “camp.” Simply put, the accommodations were something to write home about and the culinary artistry of the cooks was masterful. Yet the memories of those experiences can’t compare with those of rustic camps and lunches rustled together over open fires built on the shores of lakes and rivers. As can be imagined, the back casts necessary to raise such recollections are long, so bear with me.
While trout fishing on Argentina’s Caleufu River, for example, our group had lunch one day with several gauchos who were cooking meat from a freshly killed goat over a fire reduced to glowing coals. Spread with a tangy sauce and placed between thick slices of crusty bread cut by the gauchos’ long razor-sharp knives, the goat meat made sandwiches that were sinful.
Likewise, the sight and sound of brook trout frying over open fires on the shores of Arctic Quebec’s Caniapiscau River and outlying ponds will simmer forever in my mind. There, the late Gene Hill and I caught 3- to 5-pound brookies and bigger togue — all on dry flies. And time will never tarnish the memories of Atlantic salmon fishing on Arctic Quebec’s brawling George River, where sandwiches and bowls of hot soup served in steamy cook tents restored the energy we expended in go-for-broke battles with fresh-run salmon.
Closer to home are memories spawned at Green Lake in Dedham, where the late “Pug” York and I fished for landlocked salmon off the mouth of Great Brook immediately after ice-out, if not sooner. When we beached the rowed double-ender boat for lunch, and to thaw fingers brittle as icicles from sewing on smelts, Pug would fetch a single-burner propane stove and a tin fry pan from his pack basket. Directly, then, we boiled a billy of hobo coffee and put together sandwiches of fried eggs and English muffins. You may know that the crushed egg shells were dropped into the brewed coffee to settle the grounds. That was a long time ago. But those memories still shine like a salmon leaping in the April sun.
Mention “eating out”, however, and I will immediately recall the lunches I took on trips to Swett’s Pond in Orrington where, way back along, I waded and fished for bass, pickerel and perch. Contained in an Army surplus knapsack, the sandwiches were concocted from plain doughnuts cut into circular halves that were stuck together with peanut butter and jam, strawberry preferably, plus an apple or banana. My drink was a bottle of Coke — for a nickel, no less — cranked from the machine standing outside the entrance to Morrill’s Shell station on Main Street in South Brewer. At times I arrived at Swett’s by bicycle. But usually my grandfather, the late Dunc MacDonald, would drive me to the pond before he went to work at the former Eastern Paper Mill. Admittedly, I didn’t always wait for short noon shadows to signal that it was lunch time. Of course a cook fire wasn’t necessary, but more often than not I kindled a flame. The reason being that, thanks to the outdoors addicts whose tracks I followed, I had learned that the world turned slowly when I sat by a fire, and a sandwich sprinkled with wood ash became a full-course meal.
Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork can be viewed at www.bangordailynews.com. Tom’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.