Langdon Burton and the Cold, Wet Tourists

A story by Phil Tedrick from 1995

My wife claims Dover-Foxcroft, Maine as her hometown even though she hasn't really spent much of her life living there. She grew up all over the world while her father was in the Air Force. She and I met and got married in Florida and since then have made yearly trips to Maine in the summer to visit members of her family. On one of those trips my father-in-law, my son Stuart, and I had driven up to Greenville and gone on a day trip fishing to Horseshoe Pond. It is accessible by foot, seaplane, or ATV only and we were flown in by Folsom's Flying Service which maintains a couple of camps on the pond. Horseshoe Pond is designated as fly-fishing only and we had a nice afternoon there without having any impact on the trout population.

In 1995 we were living in Southern Illinois and planning our annual trip to Maine. I suggested to Stuart, who was eleven years old at the time, that he and I plan a trip back to Horseshoe Pond to spend a few days fishing and relaxing at one of the camps there. He liked the idea and after a quick phone call to Folsom's we had a plan in place. When vacation time rolled around we flew from St. Louis to Bangor and rented a car to drive on to Dover-Foxcroft. It must have been a hundred degrees when we got to Bangor and it didn't seem to cool off much that night.  The next morning I got up and went to the local super market to stock up on groceries for our fishing trip. From there I went to the nearby Ames store to pick up some fishing gear. I picked up a "Trout Kit" which contained a fiberglass fly rod, reel, line, leader and two flies, everything a person could possibly need to fill a frying pan with fresh trout. On the way to the checkout counter it occurred to me that it wasn't always this hot in Maine and that neither Stuart nor I had packed so much as a long sleeved shirt. So as an afterthought I picked up two long-sleeved sweatshirts, one for each of us.

I went back to the big gray house on Paul Street, picked up Stuart and we were off to Greenville. It was a short hop by float plane to the Pond and we soon had our gear and provisions unloaded on the dock at the camp. It was a beautiful day with no wind and glassy smooth water. We moved into the camp and I unpacked our groceries while Stuart got in some practice fly-casting off the dock. In the process of this practicing he broke the hook off of one of the two flies from the Trout Kit. We hoped the trout would like the remaining fly and got in the canoe to find out. We took turns paddling and fishing, neither of us being too upset that our enjoyment of the beautiful day and the beautiful spot was not interrupted by such things as having to land fish. We gradually became convinced that there really were no fish in Horseshoe Pond and that we were the latest victims of a joke played by the natives on unsuspecting tourists. We really didn't much care. It was a pretty place, very peaceful, and we had come to spend some time together and enjoy it. We had food and didn't need to catch fish to eat. We did see some other folks fishing from canoes and didn't see any of them catch a fish either. We just enjoyed the beauty of the spot and the evening.

When we came back to camp we fixed supper and went to bed. Sometime during the night it started storming, and I thought about how nice it was lying on the upper bunk listening to rain on the roof. We were warm, dry and comfortable.

When we got up the next morning it was cold, rainy and windy. We dug out the sweatshirts and were glad for the afterthought. One thing we had not brought was raincoats. We rummaged around the cabin and found some large, black plastic trash bags under the sink. We tore holes for heads and arms, pulled them on, and went for a canoe ride in the rain. When we returned Stuart wanted to go back out in the canoe by himself. I thought about it and decided it would be okay as long as he kept his life preserver on at all times. I watched as he went to the dock and got into the canoe. I was giving him 15 minutes to come back in out of the rain and cold but I had underestimated him. I dried off by the propane heater and watched out the window of the cabin as Stuart tried to keep the canoe headed in the right direction in the stiff wind. He quickly learned he had to kneel in the front of the canoe to be able to control the direction. He paddled across the pond and disappeared into a cove on the other side.

While Stuart was gone I had seen somebody go by in a square ended aluminum canoe with a small outboard motor on it and then go ashore across from our camp. When Stuart returned he wanted me to go with him in the canoe to visit another camp that Folsom's maintained on the other side of the pond. That camp was empty at the time. Getting cold and wet paddling a canoe across the pond in the wind and the rain is known as spending quality time with your son, so I got back into my trash bag and off we went. It turned out the other camp had a separate building which, on closer inspection, proved to be a sauna equipped with a wood stove and a pile of rocks. We didn't have other plans so we built a fire and soon had the rocks steaming and ourselves warmed up. After we had achieved medium-rare status we got back into our cold wet clothes and paddled back across the pond to our camp.
When we got back we peeled off the trash bags and hung our wet clothes from the ceiling above the heater to dry.  We made some hot tea to help us warm up and whiled away some time with a couple of hands of Gin Rummy, which was our entire repertoire of card games. We also spent some time reading the writing on the walls. Prior inhabitants had written notes of their fishing and hunting adventures. It appeared from the notes and stories that there had been fish in this pond at some time in the past. The weather wasn't changing, the clouds were low over the hilltops, it was about fifty degrees colder than it had been 24 hours before, and it was still raining. I was watching the whitecaps coming in toward the dock from across the pond when I saw that square ended canoe coming toward our camp.

I went down to the dock to greet the visitor and was met by a small man dressed in well-worn yellow foul weather gear. It was immediately apparent from his accent that he was a native Mainer. He also had just a hint of a speech problem, which I later learned was a telltale reminder of a previous stroke. He introduced himself as Langdon Burton, a native of Dover-Foxcroft who had spent much of his adult life in Texas working as a plumber. He was in his early fifties, had had at least two each of heart attacks and strokes and had been bedridden in a Texas nursing home for a while after one of his strokes. He was ferociously addicted to cigarettes and a doctor had told him he shouldn't expect to live too long. Langdon had examined his priorities and decided to move back to Maine and spend his time camping in a tent on Horseshoe Pond and catching and eating trout. He asked if we had caught our limits the night before and informed me that we were the only ones on the pond who hadn't.

When he heard that we hadn't caught any fish the evening before, he asked if we wanted to catch some trout and said he would show us how. I said I thought it was too windy to cast a fly line but he said he would tow us to the other side of the pond where the hills and trees would block the wind.  When Langdon saw the trash bags that Stuart and I had improvised into raincoats he reached in his canoe and brought up two more yellow rain suits for us to wear. He reached into a small box, thoughtfully chose a couple of flies and told us to put them on the ends of our lines.
All of this was completely unexpected but Stuart and I followed his instructions, got into our canoe and held on to the edge of his while he started his small outboard motor and headed across the pond to a more sheltered spot. When we got to the other side Langdon instructed me to drop the anchor and try casting there. He assured me that this was a good spot to fish and moved his canoe a little farther away, dropped his anchor and started casting. Stuart and I started casting, trying to emulate the technique of the obviously more experienced fisherman who immediately started catching trout, which he would then gently release.
After a while Langdon noticed that we were not catching any fish. He brought his canoe alongside ours and cut the green colored fly off the end of his line and gave it to me. He said it looked like the trout preferred green to brown that particular day and that I should try the green one. He was right and I almost immediately started catching fish. We stayed there for a while, shivering but catching fish until we were all pretty thoroughly chilled and we decided it was time to go back to camp to warm up. We kept some trout to fry for supper and headed back having proven that there were indeed plenty of trout in Horseshoe Pond.

When we returned to camp, Langdon said he would show us how to cook the trout but that he wanted to show us how to clean them first. He reached in his jacket for a knife and in no time at all had the fish ready for the frying pan. He thought it bordered on blasphemy that we hadn't brought along any salt pork to fry in the skillet as a source of grease to fry the trout in but said he could at least demonstrate the technique by cooking them in margarine. As he was cooking the trout he made sure he fully described the proper way to do it using salt pork so that I would never in the future desecrate a trout by cooking it in margarine.

The next morning Langdon came over from his camp to visit again. We were to be picked up by one of Folsom's pilots about mid morning and returned to Greenville from where we would go back to Dover-Foxcroft. It wasn't raining but the clouds were still low and we weren't sure the float plane could make it in that day. We were not concerned since I still had a few days before I had to return to my job in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and we still had enough food for a couple of extra days. We were all packed for the return and spent some time listening to some of Langdon's stories and in the process learned some more about him. He said he was listed in the Skowhegan phone book and invited me to call him if we wanted to catch more fish the next time we came to Maine. By late morning the clouds had broken somewhat and we heard the sound of an airplane overhead. Our ride had arrived.

A few days later I was back at my job in the Emergency Room in a hospital in Cape Girardeau, Missouri when one of the nurses I worked with asked me if I had found people in Maine to be cool and "standoffish". I smiled thoughtfully, said that I had found quite the opposite, and gave an abbreviated version of the story of Langdon Burton who changed the whole experience of our trip to Horseshoe Pond. We had been total strangers and he had loaned us rain suits, taken us to a favorite fishing spot and actually cut the fly off the end of his line to give to me so that I could catch fish on that cold, windy day. Not only that, but he had also cleaned the fish and cooked them for us so that I could have a demonstration of the proper technique. I thought that if that was the way people in Maine treated total strangers, they must really be nice to their neighbors.

This happened in August of 1995. By December we had moved from Southern Illinois to Maine where we remain thanks in part to our chance encounter with Langdon Burton.