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Setting out and taking in

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This time, the fiddlehead fern foray was different. Instead of some people going with me, I went with some people, and for the first time in my long career as a guide de bois I paddled bow in the canoe. Because the river was low - dry spring - I found a number of fine rocks never before charted, and drew numerous comments on my skill from Betty, who sat amidships, and Dick, who endeavored at the stern to correct my misjudgments at the bow. It was a lovely Maine May morning, with ice in the birdbath and the robins chirping ''Chilly, ain't it?'' This is good. A coolish morning discourages the black flies, which have been numerous and friendly of late. We ''put in'' and planned to fiddlehead about six miles and then ''take out.''

The fiddleheads - the edible tips of the sprouting ostrich fern, used as a green - were of extra good quality but not far enough along. We got enough, but found a good many of the crowns still snug, to be better in a week or so. That's all right, because the important part of going for fiddleheads is to get away from the vileness of man and commune in the wilds. Our river winds in a forested valley, and although we are never far from a road we might as well be on the Allagash.

''Duck!'' I yelled at one bend, as I saw a merganser coming up river toward us. She was a foot or so above the water, tooling right along, and she discovered us just as I discovered her. She made the usual waterfowl detour, rising to treetop height, circling over the trees around us, and then returning to the river to keep on going as before. But this time she almost didn't make it. As she flew over the trees, a hawk appeared, and just as he was about to connect the merganser altered flight and was spared. The hawk pulled up, and then disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared, to await another chance.

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