It is not easy speaking about my “criminal past,” but the statute of limitations is up on this so I think it’s pretty safe to talk about the time I was “nabbed” by a “legendary” Maine game warden.
I’m not kidding. This guy is a legend. He’s even in the Maine Warden Service Hall of Fame. The Maine Warden Service is the oldest in the country, by the way, so while that doesn’t put me on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, I think it gives me a certain amount of street cred.
Well, it’s more like dirt road cred, but you get the point.
One fall decades ago, my father, a family friend and I were out cutting firewood in a wood lot not far from where I grew up in Aroostook County. At one point during the day, my father told me to grab the .30-30-caliber rifle we had taken along and my hunter orange vest to go looking for a deer. It was deer hunting season, but I was too young to be hunting by myself, according to state law at the time. Hunting is a rite of passage for Maine youngsters, because it teaches responsibility, accountability, and a love and respect of nature. Hunting was an experience my father had when he was a youngster and he wanted me to experience the same thing, even if the state of Maine didn’t think I was old enough.
Problem is that the road my father sent me ambling down, up came driving the regional game warden, John Robertson, who just happened to live down the hill from my childhood home. So, John knew how old I was since I was in the same class with his youngest son, Alan. But he asked how old I was anyway. Of course, I fessed up. My folks preached not lying, especially to the law. And, frankly, John Robertson was a fairly imposing man in size and because he carried a large gun.
He took the rifle, removed the shells and drove me back to where my Dad and a family friend were cutting firewood.
John graciously acknowledged that when he and my Dad were younger it was OK – even encouraged – for youngsters to grab a rifle and go out into the woods for game or to simply plink in a gravel pit they happened to come across. But not that day – and certainly not now.
The game warden did not issue a citation that day. I think he saw the embarrassment in my face and that of my father, for we both knew what I had done by walking down the road to hunt was illegal and, because of that, simply wrong. John Robertson could tell the lesson was learned.
But he was a neighbor, too, not just a game warden. As I recall, he felt bad enough to call my father later that day to make sure there was no ill will between the two. And there was not and I recall that my father was humbled and impressed that the local law enforcement officer – there was a part-time constable in town, but no police department – had taken time to call to make sure neighbors could be neighbors.
It is a lesson – perhaps the kind of lesson you learn growing up in a small town more completely than any place else – that stays with me today. No matter what the situations that come during the course of a day, at the end of the day, neighbors still have to be neighbors.
And what got me started on this whole thing? Well, last week I ran across a DownEast.com blog item written by George Smith of Mount Vernon, who is described as “a columnist, TV show host, executive director of the state’s largest sportsmen’s organization, political and public policy consultant, hunter, angler, and avid birder and most proud of his three children and grandson.” The blog was about how this past hunting season had been particular safe, and that part of that came from hunter safety education on hunting laws and enforcement by the state’s game wardens. And that reminded me – as if I really needed reminding – about John Robertson.
Here’s a link to the blog for those of you interested in hunting.
Here’s a story – a story and a letter to the editor from a cat – about John Robinson that was included in a history of Portage Lake, Maine, when the town turned 100 this past year. (The history, compiled by the entire community, is called “Portage Lake: History and Hearsay – Early Years to 2009.”) The story on John Robertson was accompanied by a photo of Robertson in uniform in a canoe – one I’m certain he either built or repaired – on water. The letter to the editor was accompanied by a photo of, well, the cat.
Legendary game warden honored
The Star-Herald, Presque Isle, Maine, 2005
When retired Game Warden Sgt. John Robertson of Portage Lake went to Orono on March 11 (2005), he expected a celebration, but he didn’t expect that it would be partially in his honor. The Maine Warden Service used their annual spring meeting and awards ceremony to celebrate their 125-year anniversary, making it the oldest warden organization in the country. This made receiving an award even more special. Warden administrators take the opportunity every spring to thank the most exemplary wardens with recognition going to those demonstrating investigating skills as well as other enforcement and field skills.
One of the most coveted citations is the Legendary Game Warden Award, which recognized the lifetime achievements of a retired warden who has dedicated his life to the warden service and who demonstrated the leadership and skill necessary to survive in the Maine woods and keep others safe as well. To his surprise, Robertson was the 2004 recipient of the award.
Robertson, who typically attends the banquet, didn’t know about the honor, though his wife Wilza knew for weeks.
“You can’t talk about certain things as a warden’s wife,” Mrs. Robertson recalled. “You learn not to talk about things. I didn’t tell anyone.”
Mrs. Robertson recalled her husband’s 33 years with the service recently.
“His job was his life,” she said. “He’s honest, almost to a fault, hard-working and conscientious.”
All were points of Robertson’s personality agreed upon by wardens nominating him for the honor.
“He was a warden’s warden,” said Jim Dumond, retired game warden from Portage. Dumond recalled Robertson saving the state of Maine money by using his skills as a mechanic to repair warden service trucks himself.
“There was one night that a guy lost a transmission in the woods,” Dumond said. “It was 20 below and John got out there and changed the transmission for him.”
Robertson spent most of his career with the warden service office in Ashland doing various jobs such as servicing trucks and canoes, being a firearms instructor, and teaching new wardens skills they’d need in the field.
As a sergeant, he was in charge of riding with new wardens and covering territory from Route 11 to the Canadian border.
“John knew the woods like the back of his hand,” said Investigator Sgt. Terrence Hunter, who worked for Robertson before John’s retirement in 1985.
At 71, Robertson still hasn’t slowed down. He is a registered Maine guide and can be found leading hunting and fishing expeditions as well as Boy Scout camping trips.
He also goes out in the winter on snowshoes to mark town lines and shovel camp roofs.
“He’s not a city man or a town man,” said Mrs. Robertson. “He’s a woodsman.”
Robertson continued to work for the warden service for 15 years after his official retirement, caring for guns as an armorer.
This is not the first award that Robertson has received. In 1975, he was given the Game Warden of the Year Award.
“He has been a huge asset to the warden service,” said Warden Jim Fahey. “He’s well deserving of this award.”
Retired Warden Robertson is the cat’s meow
The Star-Herald, Presque Isle, Maine, (Unknown date)
To the editor:
I owe my life to a very special person. Let me tell you the story. It is a simple story that not very many people know.
Once upon a time (late November 2003 to be more exact), I figured that I was at the end of my very short existence. I do not remember what happened prior to that cold November, or how I got there, but somehow I ended up in the Great Northern Maine Woods at a location that had a pond and a cabin. This is 37 miles west of Potage, the closet sign of people and civilization. This was a great place for hunting and fishing, but not a place for me!
I had been alone out there for quite a while. I don’t even remember if I had any brothers or sisters or what happened to my Mom. I was getting pretty discouraged, very thin, scared and had to look out daily for my survival. I knew that cold weather was setting in and that I had not had much to eat other than a few mice. (Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that I am a cat.)
I finally found a cabin and sought shelter underneath it. One day I heard sounds and voices associated with humans. One of them discovered me and started feeding me. (Boy, dog food and pizza were a great and welcomed combination!)
During that week, my fate was being contemplated by this man. He was guiding a hunting party and was to leave at the end of the week. I later found out that this man had three options in dealing with my future: do nothing and let the elements and nature claim me; humanely destroy me (of course, I was under his camp and he would have to crawl under the camp to order to retrieve my body and to dispose of it); or try to catch me and to give me a new lease on life. You have to realize that by this point in life I am pretty wild, scared, starving, and leery of everything.
Toward the end of the week, a live trap with delicious smelling food was placed within my sight. I went in to investigate and lo and behold I was on my way to a new chapter in my life. The trap and I were placed on the back of a pickup truck and we traveled for a long time to my new home. I was delivered to a local farm house where this man had made prior arrangements for my arrival.
Yes, I was only a kitten then, but I am now a grown cat having had a wonderful life. It has taken quite a while to overcome my fears. I now curl up with my cat and dog friends, have access to all the mice that I would ever want to chase, sleep with my human every night, have all the food that I want to eat and have very few worries in my life.
I have one person to thank for saving my life. That person is retired Game Warden Sgt. John Robertson of Portage. John has recently received the state of Maine Game Warden’s Legendary Warden Award. (Folks, that’s getting inducted into the warden’s Hall of Fame.) His life-long commitment to protection of wildlife, preservation and appreciation of the outdoors and outdoors values, saving of lives, his value of life, his family values, his compassion and his heart of gold are evident in what he did for me. There are just a few qualities that are evident in his nomination and receipt of this prestigious award.
Just think how easy it would have been for John to have done nothing or to have ended my life. I am proud and grateful to know him. Thank you, John Robertson!