The first place I saw a coyote.
The first place I ever saw a coyote was the State Game Farm in Gray. It was, frankly, a sad-looking creature. Coyotes were still novelties in Maine back in the 1970s, curious visitors from the south who kept a low profile as they shopped for new digs. This one resembled a scruffy German shepherd dog that had somehow found its way into an open-air cage and was wearing a groove in the concrete floor. I thought it was magnificent.
My family owned a camp on the swampy edge of Middle Range Pond in Poland, and so the game farm was a regular stop on our summer trek from Scarborough into “the woods.” (When you are ten years old, an hour’s drive seems positively transcontinental.) The itinerary often included a hamburger at Harmon’s Lunch and a detour to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village so my parents could look at furniture. But what I remember most vividly were the wild animals. Moose and deer and enormous bears — to think those strange creatures were lurking in the Maine forest ignited a flame in my imagination. I studied dog tracks in the roadside mud trying to persuade myself they might possibly have been left by a bear. Hiking in the woods, I watched for trees I could climb if I needed to escape a rampaging bull moose.
We tend to romanticize childhood as a time of wonder. But I have come to believe that my love for the state of Maine — the reason I am still here decades later — took root during those long-ago vacations. And I smile when I think of the kids who will have that same experience this summer, whether they are coming from a far-away place or just forty miles down the road.
A lot has changed since my summers in Poland. As Kim Ridley writes in this issue (page 74), the game farm has become the humane, welcoming, and educationally focused Maine Wildlife Park. Our old A-frame camp is gone, and the woods have receded a bit, but the swim beach on Middle Range Pond is busier than ever on a hot summer’s day.
And I see coyotes regularly now, and hear them even more often. The canny canines have moved into every corner of the state with such resolve it’s hard to believe they were ever not part of the landscape. In a way, I can’t help but empathize with them. Like many visitors who unexpectedly fall in love with Maine, they just couldn’t bring themselves to leave.