The Project

•September 10, 2019 • 4 Comments

The Project

They called it public housing and it was. It was also called the ‘Project’, which is short for Public Housing Project. I guess it was a project dreamed up by some bigwig politician guys who had some tax dollars to spend. Perhaps it was some of the aforementioned political types who needed to champion a project of some sort to help them stay elected. However it came about, it was cheaper to live there and it helped out a lot of folks who for different reasons needed it. There was a stigma attached to living there and even at a very young age, you tended to pick up on things like that. The way folks said ‘project’ in that funny way or including it in a sentence such as; “Oh, you live in the project, huh”.

Most of the kids realized this and that was all right because none of us had many friends outside of the project. The kids that I played with were all of the same young age that I was and we didn’t see much need to find friends elsewhere. We did venture outside of the project often for adventures and such things. There weren’t any big high fences or anything keeping us in. Just the words of parents saying, “don’t go too far”, or “stay away from the railroad tracks”. You know—things like that. Of course as you’ll see, some of us didn’t listen very well. After all, some of the really good stuff was ‘outside’ of the project and we had a lot of time on our hands in which to explore.

You may be wondering why I mentioned that we had a lot of time on our hands. Well, we did have a lot of time and for similar and sometimes the same reasons. Families that lived in the Project were financially strapped and that was either because the moms and dads were of a kind that had low paying jobs or had a hard time holding onto jobs.  But many were single parents struggling to keep their heads above water while working one and half to two jobs.

There were cases where a kid’s dad had died in the Korean War and his mom didn’t have family money and hadn’t yet latched onto another man willing to take on her and the kids. A lot of kids had parents that had been divorced and the only way that a one-parent income was enough to make ends meet, was to move to the Project. Especially if the parent holding the kids was a waitress or worked in the shoe factory or some such job. Lots of folks from the project were either waitresses or worked in the factory. There were other factories, but one of the biggest in town at that time was the shoe factory, so consequently lots of them worked there.

We were in the divorced group and my mother did work two jobs. Back in those days a lot of dads didn’t pay much child support and they often got away with it. I’m pretty sure that was the case with us a lot of the time. Anyway, my mother did hire a baby sitter for us. Her name was Caroline. She was an older lady and I remember her fondly. Caroline. I wonder sometimes what happened to her. There were four of us kids ranging from two to five at the beginning and on up to four to seven by the time mom managed to get us out of there. Caroline moved on for reasons that I don’t know before we moved out of the project, because I recall a second baby sitter named Linda. Even though we had a baby sitter while mom was off working, Caroline or Linda were kept pretty busy with the younger ones and that left me—the oldest of the four, pretty much free to my own devices. And sometimes the things my friends and I did, would have given most any adult fits. Looking back now and living in this day and age it is very hard to believe some of the things that we did– and I was there!

It all came down to a lack of supervision and a more relaxed view of life. Particularly as life had to do with kids being vulnerable to every dog gone risk that neurotic granny state social worker types can dream up these days. Kids living back then could take quite a lot and still keep on ticking. My friends and I are proof of that. When it was all said and done, the Project was a pretty good place to live during those years. There were lots of kids of the same age and just like anywhere else in a New Hampshire city, there were lots of things to get into and four seasons in which to get into them.

Muskrat Love

There was a brook running right through the middle of the Project. It came from who knows where but ended in the Merrimack River, which was less than half a mile from the project.

In those days, the Merrimack River was fairly polluted. Manchester had been for a hundred years a center of some significant industry and much of the result ended up right into the river. The Merrimack has been cleaned up in remarkable fashion since those days. Its been cleaned up to the point where Atlantic Salmon have been reintroduced as part of a national fisheries project and is a poster river example of what can be done to such abused water. Anyway, getting back to the story. I suppose the muskrats didn’t mind the dirty water too much, or maybe they did and that is the reason why a bunch of them made their way up the brook to the area of the Project. My friends and I were glad that they did because they made for some great fun and some of the scariest things that young boys can imagine.

Those muskrats made holes in the banks of the brook. It seems that they mostly liked to make holes in the parts of the bank where it was undercut by the erosion of storm water. Its sure seems like we had awful big rainstorms back then–much bigger than nowadays.

The muskrats lived in those holes some of the time and we figured that maybe they slept in there and made baby muskrats in there, too. We figured this because birds had little birds in the nests that we could see until they were big enough to fly away or fall on the ground and get eaten by a cat. If it was that way for the birds, then it must be for the muskrats and we figured the holes in the banks were like those bird nests. The best muskrat times were in a season when the small muskrats came out of those holes in the bank. At those times, the muskrat population in our brook increased dramatically and for a short time we had a bunch of fun.

The adult muskrats were big. I don’t know just how big. I figure maybe the fattest was twenty pounds or so, but to a small boy that was a dog sized rat with sharp teeth and all of the personality that every one knew went along with it. A big wet and mud slimy rat with evil looking eyes, sharp little claws and pointy teeth. That didn’t stop us from throwing stones at them and when more brave; poking them with the longest sticks that would get the job done. Truth be told—we were mostly real scared of those adult muskrats. The little ones that came out of the bank however were not quite so frightening. For a while at least until they grew or left our brook, us boys could practice our muskrat bravery at a closer distance and every once in a while, if memory serves, poke one with a finger as it swam by during those times that we harassed them into confusion.

The brook ran under the street before it went over by one of the project parking lots. There was a metal culvert there under the street and it was mighty dark in there. It was dark and real spooky with an echo making it all the more so. Most of the time all you had to do to get a good scare was to squirm your body down the bank edge and part way leaning over into the ‘cave’ and talk into it. It sounded real scary. Especially when you were all worked up over a dare to get inside. The main reason why it was so darn scary was because the big adult muskrats liked to go in there. Lots of dares and challenges were issued, but to my knowledge not a single boy, myself included, ever crawled into that ‘cave’. There were big muskrats with evil eyes, sharp claws, pointed teeth and bad personalities in there.

Sand Tunnels and Red Ants

Just southwest of the Project was an area of grassy rolling hills. It’s covered with parking lots and commercial buildings now with hardly a hint of what was once, to us boys, a huge area to explore. There were groves of mixed birch, poplar and ash along with sections of nearly impenetrable briars and brambles and grape vines left by a farmer many years before. It was nearly thirty years before my time as a child that the city had encroached on that particular farmland and left things to go to seed. When you came to the edge of the old farmland you hit the railroad tracks and just beyond the tracks flowed the Merrimack River. This made for over a quarter of a mile of old farmland between the road bordering the Project and the tracks and at least a mile long in the other direction. To the north was a major street and old brick mill buildings and to the south was a small but interesting woodland before you reached the big cemetery.

My friends and I discovered that the ground in this area was made up of sand banks under a foot or so of dirt. Somewhere along the line somebody got the idea of digging tunnels in the stuff. Before we were done, we had quite a complex of tunnels to play in. Every once in a while a small section would cave in some, but never anything too serious. I do remember one time when I had to back out of an area that collapsed while digging. There was some coughing and lots of sand in my hair, but that was to be expected. The real trouble occurred when we inadvertently dug our way into a very well populated red ant colony and before we realized it, we had red ants in behind all of our clothing, collars, ears and in our hair. The thing about red ants is that they bite and hurt and itch. We were miserable for days and pretty much gave up on our tunneling adventures afterwards. It didn’t matter because the first big rain caused massive cave INS anyway and all that was left was a series of large holes in the ground where our tunnel complex had been.

Pigeon Launchers

One of our favorite places to play was that woodland to the south of the over grown farmland. Like any other young boys we loved the woods and found all kinds of things to do there. Unlike being in the relatively open fields or playing in and around the brook or ball fields, the woods provided a natural barrier to a line of sight. If there was anything that you wanted to do unseen, the woods were a pretty good place to be, especially since those woods contained all the materials needed to make protective forts—as we called them. These would be built at various times in the form of a teepee, a lean-to or a tree house. Unfortunately none of our forts lasted very long. This wasn’t because we weren’t good engineers. We knew how to build a good fort. No, it wasn’t that—rather the older boys would eventually find our forts and tear them down. It was unfortunate and sometimes after a lot of time and work, pretty darned disheartening. Project kids were tough and we were at the bottom of the food chain.

I suppose the idea was born as a brother to the slingshot or perhaps by accident as one of us (probably Steven) was climbing a small tree. A three-inch diameter poplar or birch tree was chosen for its balance between flexibility and strength. The fun started with the heavier of us, which was Steven, climbing high enough into the tree to bend it over enough that the rest of us could grab hold of it and work our way toward Steven while lowering it further toward the ground. We ended up with the tree describing a tight arc with the top touching the ground. This was most definitely a spring ready to sprung. I was one of the smallest of the group and so was most often afforded the opportunity to go for a ride, thusly. While Steven and the rest of the boys were holding the tree down, the launchee would wrap arms and legs around the top of the tree and hold on for dear life. At the count of three, the tree holders would let go at once and away we go! The excitement of the ride was directly proportional to the number of boys it took to pull the tree down. Sometimes it was all one could do to hang on as the tree remembered its original posture.

Rainstorms and Curbside Rivers

As just about everyone knows, things are bigger when you are a kid. Of course you don’t realize that when you are small; it’s only when you’ve grown up and revisit a place or thing after many years, that you have the needed perspective. Some things really were bigger and one of them was the size and ferocity of rainstorms. They also came more frequently. I remain convinced of this.

The street we lived on was very nicely crowned and living in the Granite State, all of the curbs were constructed of beautifully cut and put together blocks of granite about eight inches high and deep and six feet long and placed tightly end to end. The street was crowned so that rainwater would gather on the side of the street containing storm drains. When it rained heavily, we would have a very strong river of water flowing down the street between storm drains and this made for a great place to test our boating skills. You might be surprised at what could pass for a boat. There was basic stuff like sticks, balls and plastic bowls. We used real toy boats and even ones that were made from Popsicle sticks glued together. One of the more sophisticated designs involved a block of wood with a mast of some sort and a sail of cloth or even cardboard attached. Some would manage the storm flow better than others, but all manner of craft got the chance. It doesn’t sound like much, but we had great fun while the water flowed.

Everything that went down the storm drains ended up in the brook with the muskrats and then if a boat wasn’t retrieved from the brook or hung up in some weeds or branches along the way—ended up in the Merrimack River. The muskrats liked to come out when the brook was high and it looked to us an awful lot like they were playing as they swam around in the current. It wasn’t unusual to see one of the boats swimming near a muskrat. It was an exiting thing to see your boat floating by a muskrat. I suppose the boat was an extension of oneself in a way and got to do what you would have liked to. Most of the boats that made it down the storm drains and into the brook were lost to us, because the brook was too dangerous for us at such times and the banks would be very slippery with mud and wet grass. Sometimes we could find the more valued boats hung up in weeds and such afterwards, though.

It was also good fun to just run around in a pair of shorts or a bathing suit in such storms splashing in puddles and throwing water at one another; stomping in the puddles and just generally out of control. This was one of the few times that the girls were included in our antics. One of the few times. The rainstorms were bigger back then and we children got a lot more mileage out of them than children do today. 

I am also sure of that.

Ye ‘Ol Strap Vest

•September 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I have used and maybe even abused this Filson Shelter Cloth Strap vest for 12 seasons, now. One of the best pieces of equipment I have enjoyed. Simple. This old vest has become like a good old friend with a lot of great memories attached.

I have really gotten fond of it. I use those two little pockets meant for a training device differently than intended.
I keep two shells in each one and while hunting, instead of reaching into the larger pocket–its so much easier to grab shells from the wee pockets. Having the inner and outer pockets is nice for dividing hulls from loads. The inner pocket usually gets a snack and a water bottle floats well in the game pouch –front and rear loading.
Yup—an old friend.

It appears that Filson has brought it back. I contacted them a few years ago about that. Perhaps others have.
But at the $225 tag—I will continue with this one for another 12 years.

It was nice to know that the vest is still being made in the USA—-much of their stuff isn’t any longer.


•August 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

It seems my good friend Ryan of Beaver Oklahoma has put up an interview in the form of a podcast and it is on iTunes and soon on his website.

I was honored for the chance to chat with him, although I felt ill-equipped to do so half as well as so many other folks that I know. At any rate, I hope you find something to benefit.

I sure had a great time with it.

A New Season Draws Near

•August 18, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I can see September just up ahead and some things start to stir within and subtle changes  without. Morning coffee and the pups out for the much needed bathroom call is not quite as bright as only a couple weeks ago. Its become obvious the days are shortening.

My mind has begun to think about what the coming season will bring and the memories that will get tucked away in safe spots. The excitement associated with a young setter’s chances to learn more while afield and the hopefulness that an old friend has the legs to hunt a little bit, also.

Max will be 17 months when the quail season starts here in Oklahoma and Tucker will turn 13 in early September. Considering these two, my heart is both jubilant for the young and experiencing a warm sadness for the older. Such is the way of loving dogs with more than just a passing connection to them.

The Prairie– so new to us all calls; as does a possible trip in October to the Northwoods for Grouse and Woodcock.

Electronic gear has been taken out and charged again, clothing has been checked a couple of times and the gear bag gone over to jog memories of what might be forgotten.

Shotguns have been wiped with an oiled rag and shouldered several times accompanied by covey rises and grouse flushed–in the mind’s eye.

Oh ya–and the much needed booties for the pup have been ordered a size larger–those sand burrs are vicious.

Soon hot steamy days and air conditioning will be traded for the cool crisp mornings of fall and a chair for a crate.

Are you thinking of the season ahead?

Connor–A Grouse Dog

•February 26, 2019 • 1 Comment

Before Maxwell, before Bromley, before Tucker, before Buddy that loveable rescue setter–there was Connor.

Connor was a block headed chocolate Lab with a lot of British in him. Connor was my first grouse dog, a wonderful friend and partner and Toni and I loved him dearly.

I shot my first Ruffed Grouse over Connor and its a day I will never forget. An October morning of bright leaves and sunlight along and old tote trail at the front end of ‘Goss Cover’. The cover I named after the family that owned the land that gave access to the area and in honor of the patriach that gave me permission to pass.

There were two grouse having breakfast on some tender greens off to the right and Connor set them to flight. One of them went off at a 90 degree angle to the right into trees and safety. The other more or less straight ahead along the edge. He fell to the forest floor at the bark of the gun. An easy mark for Connor and he picked up that Ruff with his ever soft mouth and brought it to me with a smile. I will not forget the soft warmth and heft of that bird. We must have stood there together for several minutes admiring the result of our partnership. Connor taught me the excitement and rush of a Ruffed Grouse flushing.

Connor has been gone for some 15 years now. He was taken early at 5 years young by a hit and run driver. A very sad and late night for Toni and I, but I don’t have the heart to recount that tale this morning.

Connor and I discovered the singular enjoyment of the uplands together. I knew no other bird hunters at the time, deciding to pursue this activity on my own. I’m struggling for a word other than ‘sport’, because hunting upland birds with a four legged friend is something more than simply ‘sport’. Still struggling. Perhaps another day will suggest a better word.

I was out on my workbench a few minutes ago, adjusting a gunstock soaking in acetone and happened to look through the contents of a jar setting there.

I found this old tag that belonged to Connor.

I have few pictures of Connor. He was of a time before we carried smart phones everywhere and those pictures I did have of him in the field were lost when a hard drive failed some years ago.

I did often carry a camera while working. Connor was also a job site dog and was always there making sure he didn’t miss anything.

You are still missed, Connor. You were a good boy.


A Season

•February 24, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Thinking back on the upland bird season from here in the extreme northeast corner of Oklahoma, I must say considering all things, a good one.

Beautiful country and the start to a few friendships, an old man of a setter and a young pup full of vim and vigor coupled with a positive attitude—make for a good mix.

We searched for bird holding cover in two states coming up short in any close by areas. By close by, I mean within 2 hours. It seems that the states may be a bit ‘too’ optimistic regarding bird opportunities in places. Habitat, weather and the realities of change do not make way for optimism. Facts are stubborn things and do not give way to hope or anticipations.

Having said this—there is reward to the searching and of course, watching the dogs excitement when the tires hit the gravel roads.

My heart also begins to race at the sound of thrown gravel and the rumble felt through the seat and wheel.

Its part of the adventure and never to be considered a waste of time spent.

Like all of us that pursue such things, back home in New Hampshire, I spent many years, tire tread and boot leather searching for likely bird cover and the honey holes such cover may reveal.

We are starting all over again in this strange and so different land.

“Older now and still running against the wind”.

We give many thanks to those friendly and unselfish souls who have offered suggestions and more.

Thank you.

Next season is just around the corner of a hot summer to come. May all of you and your four-legged friends have a fine and healthy time between the seasons.

A book or two to read, memories freshened with pictures and conversations of the last and the next.

Back to the Panhandle

•February 14, 2019 • 2 Comments

So a bit of a recap after musing. The kind of musing that goes on during a solo drive home after a hunt.

The vastness and after walking over several lows and highs where they all look much alike, it is a bit intimidating.

The dogs tend to keep going–mostly. Max stretches out pretty good and is always hunting. This makes me smile–a lot.

It smells fresh and particularly nice in the early morning with a mist rising up out of the river valley.

The sand burrs were not bad at all but I booted the young fella anyway.

The prairie is large and a north woods hunter needs to re-evaluate distances and water toting.

Good boots are required.

An eye or sense of rodent holes can make a difference.

I think that Mother’s pack vest bought years ago and is nearly unused–will get some use next season. It will hold more water and a layer shed.

The tightly woven cap that holds water works twice. Once for the dog and again when redonned.

There is wind on the prairie…terrain causes shifts.

Quail on the prairie: its very cool that the covey once pointed and flown, provides additional multiple opportunities for a pup and the guy watching the pup and smiling.

Quail can run….a lot.

Quail will find a hole after being feathered or leg broke.

When they fly over a rise, there is no telling if they broke left right or kept straight.

A mist in the morning makes a difference–for about 2 hours.

Dogs love the feel of running in a big open space–like the prairie.

Lesser prairie chickens sound much like a ruffed grouse when taking off.

No need to be askeered of sand burrs…pups likes booties.

Both pup and the fella following and smiling are glad to get back to the vehicle.

The prairie is a lonely place.

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