Monday, September 3, 2012



One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being.” 
From the Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn

In a recent post Yellowdog Granny commented that a friend of hers was leaving her town of West, Texas; and that she hated change.

Her post got me thinking about all the changes I have lived through in my seventy-plus years and the different people I have been. 

I won’t bore you with my life story, but I have been at least five distinctly different people during the course of my life: different beliefs, different values, different lifestyles, different friends, different families and different abilities. 

I am retired and now live, with my much younger wife, in a small post-and-beam cabin in a rural area of north-western Maine.   The cabin is small: a living room, dining room/kitchen and mudroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs in the eaves.  One of the bedrooms we sleep in and in the other I store my memories – and I write.   Over the door of my den (for want of a better word to call it) is posted a one hundred year old piece of birch bark with the hand written inscription: 

Over the door

There is a story about this piece of birch bark, but in order to tell it I have to backtrack to a different time and different life.  

I was born of a single mother and raised by a grandmother and aunts.   There was no man in my life for a role model and so I struggled to find my male identity.   At nineteen I graduated from high school and joined the Navy.  I did a tour in Newfoundland and in 1962 ended up in stationed in Brunswick, Maine.   That is where I met Doval.

As a teenager, Doval had been a Navy Gunners Mate station aboard a merchant ship during the Second World War.  He left the Navy, worked as a journeyman carpenter for a number of years, married, had kids and then came back into the Navy as an Aviation Metalsmith.    

Doval was twelve years older, but when I met him, as a fellow flight crew member in a Patrol Squadron, we hit it off right away.   He was the most unique, unmilitary, free soul I have ever known.   To him the Navy was just a job.   He played the fiddle and we spent hours drinking whiskey, picking and singing, and hunting and fishing together.  He was like an older brother that I had never had.   His wife and kids were dear to me and the closest thing I had had to a family.  We later served together in the Navy SERE School in northern Maine

Now to the cabin and the birch bark.

While hunting in a remote section of Maine, Doval had discovered a dilapidated log cabin.   He had already made some repairs to it before we decided it would make a good hunting camp.  The cabin was log construction, about sixteen feet long and twelve feet wide.   The roof had already collapsed, the door was off the leather hinges and there were remnants of a window in the front wall.  The rain and snow over the years had taken a toll and it was only a matter of a few years before it would be completely gone.   We took leave from the Navy and backpacked tools, nails, roofing and window glass into the camp and spent a few summer week-ends sheering up and repairing.

Now I am speculating.   At the turn of the century lumber companies hired ‘lumber cruisers.’  These men would move into remote sections of the woods and map out trees to be cut near streams that could be used for log drives.  I believe the man who built the camp possibly worked for a lumber company. 

The cabin was furnished with a full size iron bed (that was unusual) and a wood cook stove.  There was a homemade pair of snowshoes on the wall and an old metal alarm clock on a shelf by the bed.   In one corner was a pile of rotted magazines.  In the area of the cook stove there were the rusted remnants of some cookware and cans for storage.    Outside in a wood storage lean-too we found a child’s size hand built sled.

I believe the man lived in the cabin for a few years with his wife and a kid.   I have always tried to picture him.   The door to the cabin was only five feet tall so I think he was a short man.   The rotted magazines tell that he could read.  But there was more to him than that.  

Being over six feet I had to duck down to enter the cabin, and when I would straighten back up the first thing that came into my vision, tacked on the back wall, was the piece of bitch bark with the hand written statement ‘DID I RUN and AM I TIRED?'

Years later Doval and I would hunt out of that cabin.   I would end up running up and down the ridge tracking some deer that was smarter the me, and when I returned to the cabin at dark I would duck down to get through the door and then be greeted by ‘DID I RUN and AM I TIRED.'  

I date the cabin because I was able to retrieve one cover from a 1903 Field & Stream magazine from the pile of rotted paper.   I have that cover framed and hanging on my wall.  

Doval and I eventually shared the location of the cabin with some people we knew.   Sometime in the mid-seventies the cabin was vandalized and much of the supplies we had stored there were taken.   We knew the cabin was no longer ‘ours’ so Doval took the snowshoes and I took the birch bark and we never returned.   Doval retired and went west and I was transferred to Florida.  

In the late seventies, in a bizarre twist of faith, Doval returned to Maine and died in a head-on car crash with members of the Navy SERE School returning from a class.    I miss the old man, and think of him often.   

 I am a different person now; but still, every time I walk out of my den  I look at the piece of birch bark and I think about the person I was and the things I did and have done since – and I know the true meaning of: 

the Ol’Buzzard


  1. I still hate change..but I do believe that you ran and are tired..but you kept running.

  2. We all change whether we like it or not.

  3. A good story, well told. And something to remember. yes, we are many people in our lives, aren't we? Did you read Gulag? I started but quit about 3 chapters in. I didn't need hundreds of pages of graphic man's inhumanity to man to know it is real and it happened.


COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."