“I think I hear a noise.” she said as she climbed deeper into the sleeping bag. I also heard the noise but didn’t think much of it—it’s the far reaches of northern Maine and “noises” are common in the forest after dark so I elected to stay warmly in my bag hoping she’d fall back asleep. Well that wasn’t going to happen. “Aren’t you going to check it out?” she asks from underneath the mighty sleeping bag in her best defensive position. Well to be truthful I hadn’t intended to, but feeling her nervous grip on my hand tighten even more, I figured I’d better do something or it might not be the best camping trip of the season. “Sure.” I said in my deepest, most manly voice I could conjure up at this early hour, “I will see what all the commotion is about.”
I grudgingly slipped out of the warmth of the sleeping bag into the cool night air and quietly unzipped the front of our tent in search of the origin of the odd sounds. The strange part is I wasn’t hearing the somewhat familiar sounds most campers are used to hearing. You know, the sounds of a nosy, hungry bear looking for a free meal or the chattering of raccoons as they destroy a campsite…I was hearing things I’d never heard in the woods before. Not scary sounds mind you, just intriguing and unsettling sounds because of their unfamiliarity. I was totally perplexed by what exactly could be making all the strange sounds I was hearing, the sounds were certainly increasing in their frequency and intensity.
As I peered intently out into the semi-light I tried to get my eyes to adjust to the scene before me in the slowly oncoming dawn. The shadows that were present were playing tricks on my eyes, but through the gloom I could make out the shape of my airplane parked safely on the beach merely a hundred feet away. As much as I tried I could not see anything unusual in the direction I’d been hearing the noises—or could I? As I looked more intently and my eyes adjusted to the faint light, I could see shapes moving quite adeptly on the floats of the Super Cub. Not just one or two shapes mind you, there appeared to be three and possibly even a fourth!
After hearing my nervous tent-mate ask for the umpteenth time what it was that was making those noises, it finally dawned on me—I was watching a family of otters having a blast playing on the floats of the plane and chattering up a storm while splashing around in the water in the still of the early morning twilight. I knew I’d go out to that airplane after they’d left and find evidence of many fresh water clams on and around the floats of the Cub, those little critters were having a feast and my floats were their dining room table! Now that was the easy part, my next task was to try and explain to my anxious female companion that river otters are not man-eating monsters intent on catching us unaware in the tent…
I had just turned twelve years old and was staying at some sporting camps in the woods of northern Maine with my Grandfather and a close friend of his named Randy. The owner of the camps had asked Randy to watch over them for awhile so he could take care of some personal business, business that would take two to three weeks. Randy had asked my Grandfather if he’d like to spend a couple of weeks in the camps with him and that he should bring me along—this was the custom, I’d been tagging along with these two in this same airplane since my earliest childhood memories. Well needless to say we had an enjoyable stay in those camps that summer. Having spent time in a camp President Theodore Roosevelt had stayed in and another fascinating cabin called the Indian Camp, it was more than I ever could have asked for and it was truly a great experience for my young soul. I could write a good, long chapter in a book based on my twelve year old memories that summer of ’82, but one stands out and has never been told—until now.
I had left the camp one rainy day to go wander in the woods around the area leaving Randy and Gramp in the cabin. This day however, I didn’t go very far like I typically did, this day I headed across the property and the passed the other camps to where the plane lay tied up to the dock. To me Randy’s airplane was mystical. Sure I knew it was a Piper Super Cub, but at twelve years of age I really didn’t know much. I stood and looked at it for quite some time floating gently on the surface of the rain-splattered lake. I’m sure it was quite a few minutes before I worked up the courage to climb up into the pilot’s seat. I vividly remember sitting there looking out over the instrument panel and dreaming this plane was mine…that one day I would have a plane just like this of my own. I remember the feel of the cold metal of the control stick; I remember the sweet smell of the mixing of metal, wood, fabric, oil and fuel. These are the same smells I still associate with old airplanes. I needed to cut this journey of mine short though. You see, I didn’t ask for permission to climb into that plane. Although I’m sure Randy wouldn’t have minded, I still knew enough to know I was supposed to ask and what I was doing was wrong. So with this in mind, I was sitting there no more than five minutes, probably much less, when I hurriedly jumped back down onto the dock…looked back at the green Super Cub and walked away. I had a feeling in that seat. A feeling I couldn’t put words to if I wanted to, but it left an impression on me that has NEVER left.
I fondly think of this memory from time to time but mostly when I’m on some pond in the woods, right as I settle down into the seat and peer over that very same panel, and out that very same windscreen. I knew I would have a Super Cub one day…I just never dreamed it would be the exact one from my childhood. Now when I push that starter button I can hear my Grandfather and Randy’s voices in that cockpit as clearly as I did those thirty-five years ago. I’m sure they are looking down on me and smiling. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they even knew back in 1982 that I’d climbed into that seat. One thing is for sure though, I know that I owe them both so much…and I’m still trying to repay them.