Peace then was everywhere about us, in the riot of young leaves, in the spree of bird confusion and chatter, in the struggle of pre-dawn animals for the start of a new day, a Cooper Hawk that had smashed down through trees for a squealing rabbit, yap of a fox at a youngster, a skunk at rooting.
We had pitched camp in the near darkness, Ed LeBlanc, Brother Bentley, Walter Ruszkowski, myself. A dozen or more years we had been here, and seen no one. Now, into our campsite deep in the forest, so deep that at times we had to rebuild sections of narrow road (more a logger's path) flushed out by earlier rains, deep enough where we thought we'd again have no traffic, came a growling engine, an old solid body van, a Chevy, the kind I had driven for Frankie Pike and the Lobster Pound in Lynn delivering lobsters throughout the Merrimack Valley. It had pre-WW II high fenders, a faded black paint on a body you'd swear had been hammered out of corrugated steel, and an engine that made sounds too angry and too early for the start of day. Two elderly men, we supposed in their seventies, sat the front seat; felt hats at the slouch and decorated with an assortment of tied flies like a miniature bandoleer of ammunition on the band. They could have been conscripts for Emilano Zappata, so loaded their hats and their vests as they climbed out of the truck.
"Mornin', been yet?" one of them said as he pulled his boots up from the folds at his knees, the tops of them as wide as a big mouth bass coming up from the bottom for a frog sitting on a lily pad. His hands were large, the fingers long and I could picture them in a shop barn working a primal plane across the face of a maple board. Custom-made, old elegance, those hands said.
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"Barely had coffee," Ed LeBlanc said, the most vocal of the four of us, quickest at friendship, at shaking hands. "We've got a whole pot almost. Have what you want." The pot was pointed out sitting on a hunk of grill across the stones of our fire, flames licking lightly at its sides. The pot appeared as if it had been at war, a number of dents scarred it, the handle had evidently been replaced, and if not adjusted against a small rock it would have fallen over for sure. Once, a half-hour on the road heading north, noting it missing, we'd gone back to get it. When we fished the Pine River, coffee was the glue, the morning glue, the late evening glue, even though we'd often unearth our beer from a natural cooler in early evening. Coffee, camp coffee, has a ritual. It is thick, it is dark, it is potboiled over a squaw-pine fire, it is strong, it is enough to wake the demon in you, stoke last evening's cheese and pepperoni. First man up makes the fire, second man the coffee; but into that pot has to go fresh eggshells to hold the grounds down, give coffee a taste of history, a sense of place. That means at least one egg be cracked open for its shells, usually in the shadows and glimmers of false dawn. I suspect that's where "scrambled eggs" originated, from some camp like ours, settlers rushing west, lumberjacks hungry, hoboes lobbying for breakfast. So, camp coffee has made its way into poems, gatherings, memories, a time and thing not letting go, not being manhandled, not being cast aside.
"You're early enough for eggs and bacon if you need a start." Eddie added, his invitation tossed kindly into the morning air, his smile a match for morning sun, a man of welcomes. "We have hot cakes, kulbassa, home fries, if you want." We have the food of kings if you really want to know. There were nights we sat at his kitchen table at 101 Main Street, Saugus, Massachusetts planning the trip, planning each meal, planning the campsite. Some menus were founded on a case of beer, a late night, a curse or two on the ride to work when day started.
"Been there a'ready," the other man said, his weaponry also noted by us, a little more orderly in its presentation, including an old Boy Scout sash across his chest, the galaxy of flies in supreme positioning. They were old Yankees, in the face and frame the pair of them undoubtedly brothers, staunch, written into early routines, probably had been up at three o'clock to get here at this hour. They were taller than we were, no fat on their frames, wide-shouldered, big-handed, barely coming