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Times Past: Memories to last a lifetime

  • “We saw him one winter when we had a deer hanging from a tree behind his place. The temperature was 10 or 20 degrees below zero. His deer was frozen solid. When he tapped it with his ax, it sounded the way a big, solid ice cube would sound if you struck one. He chopped off a big part of a rear leg and gave it to us. It was for returning his pipe to him,” Paul Seamans recalls in his memoir. STOCK PHOTO

  • SEAMANS



Friday, November 10, 2017

We found his pipe where he has left it on the sawdust pile. the pipe and the pile of sawdust were essential elements in his simple life.

He had no family as far as anyone knew. He had come to rural New Hampshire during the Great Depression, building himself the sort of tarpaper shack that became a common sight along back-country dirt roads in those tough times.

The sawdust he found made good insulation. Run of the mill hemlock — cheap, wet heavy and unplanned — boarded up his shack’s walls. He poured the sawdust in between the joints, before he nailed on his top boards, sifting it in and tamping it down to make a callous blanket between the inside and the outside.

During the summer, his place had an aromatic dampness about it. Hemlock and pine sawdust, drying out under a hot sun on a hot summer sky, blended an evergreen appealing smell to the place.

During the winter, his Glenwood stove required only a few sticks of wood to keep the bitter January cold outside his insulated walls.

There were plenty like him in those impoverished days, Some of the fellow took to the rails — restless, sly or for no good reason — riding the rods under freight cars from one place to another.

Socially and morally, he stood a step or two above the hobo because he stayed put. His shack, in its basic, four-wall simplicity, was a home.

We just happened upon the place. We stood at the foot of the sawdust pile, looking up at him. It was piled on the place of some previous logging operation, already grown up in alders and evergreens. There was no discernible road in or out. It was in the middle of the woods.

With the ease that hunters find in each other’s company, we conversed. He said he was scouting for deer that he almost always got — a deer from atop his sawdust pile that earlier cuttings attracted to that place. He said you could find them “percolating” around there “most any time of year.”

He showed how you could stick your arm down in the damp sawdust and find it warm where a slow fermenting was going on. He said he always dug a new hole every year so he could keep warm when the December deer season opened, filling it in when he was done with it.

Some time later, it was when we discovered his pipe where he dropped it on his pile. It was worn away and deeply notched on one side where after each smoke, he scrapped out a load of burned-out tobacco. We took the pipe to his shack and gave it back to him.

The first time we ever saw him, he was sitting hunkered down in a hollow he had dug out in the top of a huge sawdust pile. He was the only man we knew who chewed and smoked tobacco at the same time. He spat and puffed alternatively, seaming to find great enjoyment in his double-barrel addition.

We saw him one winter when we had a deer hanging from a tree behind his place. The temperature was 10 or 20 degrees below zero. His deer was frozen solid. When he tapped it with his ax, it sounded the way a big, solid ice cube would sound if you struck one. He chopped off a big part of a rear leg and gave it to us. It was for returning his pipe to him.

You didn’t encroach on another man’s territory in those days. Every native gunner had his corner of the town that he looked upon as his own. It was respected by other hunters and you kept to your own ground.

Come scouting season, however, everybody shared a general permit to skip around some to see how many deer there were, and where you might find them at various times of the day.

We always coasted by the sawdust pile, hoping to find the old man there — hoping to get some words of wisdom from the old duffer who had his stake in the place.

One October, we came across his pipe a second time. He had laid it down on the plank he’d been sitting on at the peak of his sawdust pipe, carelessly going off without it.

We took it back to him — as we had some years before. This time, we found the shack empty; the single door ajar and all its furnishings gone.

The old chap really wasn’t ancient. But a diet of Quaker Oats and tobacco over a stretch of many years had done him in. We may have been his closest family. Our mourning came late.

He died in his shack, and had been taken off for burial about as unceremoniously as he had come to build his place and live out his life in it.

October and the scouting season have come around again. We never celebrate this season of anticipation without paying tribute to the solitary character who gave us a taste of bittersweet so many years ago.