Yes, it’s quiet at Hewes Brook Lodge in Portage. As we enjoyed morning coffee in one of the lodge’s beautiful historic rooms one morning, watching the Fish River slide by, Dana tells me about the time he was sitting outside with a guest on a bench that his grandfather made. Dana said, “Listen to that?” The guest looked at him curiously. “I don’t hear a thing,” he said. “Yes, that’s what it can be like here,” replied Dana.
For years, my friends Jim and Jenness Robbins, Steve and Donnie Lucas, Pete Williams and I, have hunted wild pheasants each fall in North Dakota. But in 2015, we decided to break out of that routine and hunt grouse in Maine’s north woods. Jim selected Hewes Brook Lodge for our fall adventure, after visiting there during the previous winter while snowmobiling in the area.
It turned out to be a great choice – well, except for the grouse. But first, let me tell you about why I loved Hewes Brook Lodge. Start with its history, displayed on every wall with things like the Daggett’s grandfather’s snowshoe. You would love the story that goes with the snowshoe. I encouraged the Daggetts to walk through the lodge and video tape themselves telling those wonderful stories of the mounts, art work, and especially the historic items. Phil, Dana, and their younger sister Sue, are the fifth generation here. They have so many great memories of growing up at the lodge and their stories kept me entertained every evening.
The meals here are remarkable. All of the Daggetts are great cooks. One night, Sue made their mother’s old fashioned caramel custard. Sue called it “very basic” but it was soooo tasty. Their mother only made it for special occasions. I told them every time I’m here, it needs to be considered a special occasion! And then they tantalized me with a story about their mother’s brownie pudding, which she called “poor man’s pudding.”
The only complaint I had about the food was there was too much of it. After returning from a day of hunting, they’d have a table full of appetizers, followed by a huge dinner. Luckily, we walked a lot each day.
The old log siding, inside pine boards and floors, very comfortable rooms, amazing food, Fish River flowing past, and three million acres in the North Maine Woods right outside the door, well, it’s all spectacular, and I haven’t mentioned the wonderful hospitality of the Daggetts. I loved listening to them in the morning, preparing breakfast together, laughing and laughing.
They have managed to link the modern – including hall lights that snap on when you step out of your room at night, powered by a solar unit – to the historic – including journals from the twenties and furniture made by generations of Daggetts, including Phil who made the gorgeous dining room table at his work shop in Skowhegan.
Enjoying an old brochure for their grandfather’s camp, Chrystal Springs Camps on Portage Lake, I read: The fishing for landlocked salmon, trout and togue in these waters can seldom be excelled. Salmon average in size from 2 to 5 pounds, and square tailed trout about the same. The togue run larger up to 12 pounds and even 20 pounders have been caught by lucky anglers.
And while bear hunting is a very important economic boost for camps in this area, I noted in the brochure, No bag limit on bear. Bear are numerous in this section, owing to the fact that there is no bounty on them. Bears are still numerous here, but now we’re making money from the hunt, not paying hunters to shoot them!
And here’s something else that has changed here. The brochure noted, “These camps are easily reached by canoe or team.” Today a good gravel road takes you right to the lodge.
And I just have to tell you something more about the food here. I liked Dana’s story of a guest, as he sat down to his first meal here, and told them, “Last year I gained 10 pounds here. But I fixed that problem this year.”
“What did you do?” asked Dana. And the guest reported, “I didn’t weigh myself before I came!”
A snow storm in this area the previous May wiped out grouse broods, so the birds were few and far between. Each of us got a bird or two every day, but as we traveled the roads, appreciating our access to all that private land, admiring the stunning beauty of the fall foliage, seeing moose, deer, and even a bobcat, and walking old logging roads and trails with the dog working hard to find birds for us – well, it was wonderful, relaxing, restorative trip.
Phil said, our last morning there, as we enjoyed stories by the fire, awaiting their typical huge breakfast, “Like that song California says, you check in here but you can’t ever check out.” Don’t I wish.