The state has been buzzing for the past several days about the mystery beast that turned up dead down in Turner.
Many have accepted the opinion of an expert who said the odd-looking animal could be a feral chow dog which may or may not have had a few generations of cross-breeding working in its favor (or against it, depending on your point of view).
Unofficial reports that the critter was actually the ever-elusive Spam-Animal have yet to be confirmed or denied. And none of the county and regional carnivals that sprout up all over the state this time of year have reported any of their freak show goat-boys or bearded ladies (or chow-yote hybrids, for that matter) missing.
All of which, of course, makes life easier for us columnists, who get to chuckle along as the rumor mill keeps on grinding.
This newspaper didn’t even break the story (the Lewiston Sun Journal did), but as of Friday afternoon our Web site had racked up 36,038 hits on the story that recounted the expert’s chow-yote explanation.
Mainers love their mysteries, especially when those mysteries involve ugly unknown critters that go screech in the night.
Most outdoors enthusiasts have experienced a few “what-was-that” moments during their time in the woods.
Many of them even talk about those experiences … once … before realizing that they’d better be careful who they share those offbeat tales with.
I learned that lesson the hard way more than a decade ago, after a middle-of-the-night trip to Aroostook County took an unexpected turn.
My girlfriend at the time, a Madawaska woman whose male relatives knew far more about the woods than I ever would, slept in the front seat as I dodged snowdrifts and blowing snow outside of Limestone.
Suddenly (which, for the record, is usually among the most overused words in a writer’s arsenal) I saw an odd-looking critter sprinting across Route 1 in front of me.
The entire incident took less than a second, and the critter vanished into the cloud of snow outside the range of my headlights. All I really saw was its color … and the colors made no sense.
Half of the beast (or so I tried to explain, when my girlfriend suddenly woke up after I uttered what must have been an R-rated exclamation) looked something like a dark-brown bear. And the other half looked more like a shaggy, tan-colored sheep.
And it was taller than any bear or sheep I’d ever seen.
At least, that’s the way I remembered it. Of course, it was 2 a.m., and I was tired, and I may have eaten a bad slice of pizza or two at some point in my journey.
When we arrived in Madawaska, she made me recount my tale for her chuckling dad and brothers … all of whom never let me forget my bear-sheep … or beep … or share (we never really settled on a name we could all accept).
That was the last mystery critter I ever saw (or at least the last one I ever mentioned to the Daigle clan).
I learned my lesson.
Years later, I picked up a book of nature photographs and saw a picture of a beast with the exact coloration of my “beep.”
The photo showed a distinctly two-tone baby moose.
Finally, it seemed, the case was solved.
At least that’s what I conveniently told myself, unwilling to consider the alternative that had lurked in the back of my mind for years … and popped into the front of my mind every time I stepped into the woods.
Yup. It was a moose.
No doubt about it.
Fish-free derby still fun
A cool, crisp August Saturday lay before us as Kenneth Jandreau backed his boat trailer into the St. John River and gave me the only guarantee a realistic angler can expect from his guide.
“We’re going on a canoe ride,” Jandreau told me last week, just before we embarked on a two-day journey in search of glory, riches, and a trophy fish during the third annual Fort Kent International Muskie Derby.
Wisely, all the St. Francis man was willing to promise was the boat ride … which was, all things considered, quite pleasurable.
“I can’t tell you we’ll catch fish. We’re just going on a canoe ride,” Jandreau said with a grin.
As it turned out, the muskies chose not to participate in our derby.
Instead, they paid closer attention to the lures tossed by Kenneth’s brother, Philip, who ended up landing the second-longest fish of the weekend (and winning $2,500 for his efforts).
The winning fish was a 431/4-inch behemoth landed by Daniel Ouellette of Clair, New Brunswick. That 25.125-pounder earned Ouellette the top prize of $3,500.
Kenneth and I tried. We covered water from the town of St. Francis to Glazier Lake, including the entire St. Francis River.
We fished the St. John River. We fished secret holes and not-so-secret holes. We cast lures and trolled and I even tried my hand with a fly rod.
When Philip hooked his whopper in two feet of water (in a lie which, incidentally, Kenneth and I had just motored past), we began to realize that the fishing gods might not be with us.
Not that we were complaining, mind you.
We told stories and laughed and wondered where our good friend, “Ed” (Muskie), had wandered off to.
On the way up the St. Francis on Saturday, Kenneth hopped out of his Scott canoe several times, grabbed onto the bow, and hauled us up through shallow rapids.
Hours later, we returned … fishless … as the motor scuffed rock after rock after rock.
On Sunday afternoon, after throwing everything we could think of at the elusive fish, we called it quits and packed up to head for town.
“I’ve had enough,” Kenneth Jandreau told me, still smiling. “The canoe ride’s over.”
Fort Kent derby a success
A few numbers from this year’s Fort Kent International Muskie Derby:
. The astronomic growth of the event continued, as organizers again doubled the number of entrants. In 2004, 87 anglers participated. Last year 206 entered. And this year, 416 showed up to fish.
. Anglers were selective about which fish they killed and brought to town to register. A breakdown of the fish that were registered: Two were caught in the Allagash River, two came from the St. John River below Fort Kent, five were caught in Glazier Lake, and nine came from the St. John River above Fort Kent.
. Anglers came to the tourney from 11 states and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick. The states represented: Maine, California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Vermont.
Most participants, however, were Mainers: 374 of the 416 anglers (90 percent) were from the Pine Tree State.
. As you might expect, plenty of local anglers chose to participate in the derby. In all, 103 participants were from Fort Kent. Another 42 were from nearby St. Francis, 21 hailed from Allagash, and 15 were from Madawaska.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.