Trapping grandfather spices up trip afield

On occasion I relinquish this space to others who have tales to tell. Some readers (hopefully at least half in jest) tell me that I’m taking the easy way out on those days, letting someone else do the heavy lifting while the (supposed) columnist turns narrator.

Today is one of those days: I received an email from Free Martin, a Bangor outdoorsman who has contributed to a few past columns. As I hope you’ll agree, his story (and accompanying photographs) capture a slice of Maine life that is worth savoring.

A quick disclaimer: The story revolves around trapping. Some folks aren’t fans of the activity, and may dismiss Martin’s email on that basis. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. Not for publishing this story … but because you’re going to miss out on a neat tale about reconnecting with nature, spending priceless time with family, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Here, then, is what Martin had to say:

“My father, [Bob Martin],  lives in Dedham and has for over 35 years. He is the ultimate outdoorsman. Even in my 40s I still have never met anyone close to loving, knowing, respecting and harvesting the outdoors the way he does,” Martin wrote.

Tristan Martin of Bangor walks off the ice with his grandfather, Bob Martin of Dedham, after tending a beaver trap recently. Photo courtesy of Free Martin.

“He is what some would call hardcore. As his son growing up it wasn’t always easy. Getting up at the crack of dawn to hunt all day or trap all night wasn’t always the funnest thing to do. Dragging, cutting up and wrapping deer didn’t exactly impress my grade school friends. Skinning beaver, muskrats and otter, fleshing them on the fleshing beam, stretching the fur just wasn’t all that glamorous.

“The funny thing is, looking back at my youth, it probably is what I remember and savor the most out of childhood. None of what he taught me was rocket science but it was accurate, respectful and provided all the tools a boy needs to transition to a man that can be proud of knowing the outdoors and basically all of mother nature’s offerings. It seems today that opportunities to partake in such activities are becoming rarer and rarer.

Tristan Martin of Bangor peers through the ice as his grandfather, Bob Martin of Dedham, tends a beaver trap recently. Photo courtesy of Free Martin.

“As a father of three boys, they get to see small bits and pieces of what I learned from my dad. I have taught the oldest boys how to fish a little and I have worked with them on how to keep quiet in the woods and learn deer patterns. Real boring stuff compared to the Wii, the computer and
modern toys but they seem to enjoy coming along. It wasn’t until about a week ago when it dawned on me that maybe I should give them a little more outdoor exposure.

“My boys and I decided to get in the truck and find an old dirt road. This was a couple days before the snow. Sometimes we just find an old dirt road looking for game, places to fish in the spring or whatever. Sometimes if they are good they get to sit up on dad’s lap and do a little driving on their own. I control the gas and brake but they do get to steer (until we start to go into the ditch). They have a lot of fun doing that. So a week ago we were on one of our journeys when I saw my dad’s vehicle parked off the road beside a bog. I stopped the truck, got out, called his name and he answered. He had just finished checking an otter set that I think produced a muskrat. He had caught eight muskrats that day already and has more traps to check.

“He exchanged pleasantries with his grandsons and asked them if they would like to go check a beaver trap just up the road. They became super excited, jumped in the truck and followed my father, the beaver trapper, up the road to his next spot. We all jumped out and dad started walking through the woods. My boys and I figured it was smart to follow. All he had on him was him pack basket and his chisel which he hit every ten feet or so to make sure the 3 to 4 inches of black ice was strong enough, which of course it was. Even if we had broken through there was only about two feet of water below the ice. Dad always taught safety first.

“So we went over to the trap which looks like nothing more than two sticks sticking out of the ice. My boys had never seen the process so I could see their confusion. So dad chipped about a five-inch hole in the ice right where he was supposed to to see if the trap was tripped or filled with game and asked me to take a look. It had only been about 20 years since I had checked any trap with him. I glanced down at the hole and said, “Nope, nothing.” He took a look for himself and said, “What are you talking about,” a phrase I was pretty familiar with growing up. I said, “Hey, it’s been a while, I’m rusty.” Soon he began to chip the trap out. I sat back with my camera phone taking pictures of my boys bubbling with excitement about what their grandfather might haul through the ice. Sure enough, with the assistance of my little guy Tristan, they pulled up a beaver. To the boys it was “HUGE.” To a trapper it was medium-sized which isn’t all that big.

“Now that the beaver was on the ice my boys started firing questions to their grandfather such as. How old was the beaver? How long do they hold their breath? How long has the trap been set? How many more can he catch? How did he know there would be a beaver there? What are you going to do with it now? And on and on and on. I of course know all the answers to their questions but have drifted away from trapping. I shot a couple more pictures and took in the great satisfaction of watching their excitement as they walked along with my dad as true
beaver trappers. They felt like participants in a worthy outdoor adventure which I must agree that they were.

“As we drove home I did a lot of thinking about the small window of opportunity a dad has to mold his children. Once that window closes, the world will take over. I thought maybe I should get a few traps, run a small trap line and give them the same type of adventure I had when I was
young. Right about then my boys asked me if we could do that again with Grampa Bob. It occurred to me I don’t have to do all the work anymore. I can now just come along with my boys and our dog and watch as everyone has a great time.

“I told them we sure can, whenever you like. The next question was … Tomorrow?

“That was the only question where I wasn’t sure of the answer,” Martin concluded.


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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.