The year 1981 was an active one filled with a wide variety of activities. With the Moody Mountain manhunt fiasco finally over, I was relieved to again be back on routine patrol working night hunters, night after night.

Aug. 23, 1981, I found myself on another K9 call. It was in the black of night when I was asked to assist my boss, Sgt. Bill Allen and his K9 Satan. Thanks to Satan’s tracking ability, they were securing the scene of an apparent suicide in Pittsfield.

Bill had requested I join him at the site while he awaited the arrival of the proper authorities to investigate the young man’s death.

He requested I sneak in to where he was without using my flashlight. Apparently, the victim’s family was conducting a search of its own. Some of them were highly intoxicated and extremely defiant of a police presence. Bill assumed if they arrived at his location there might be some serious issues.

It was our duty to prevent anyone from contaminating the scene until the proper investigators arrived. Bill certainly didn’t want to be dealing with a family fiasco by himself and who could blame him.

I crept along in the dark, eventually arriving to where my boss and his dog were perched in the tall ferns and grass. I knew nothing about the circumstances of the suicide, other than it appeared the deceased had bled to death from his self-inflicted wounds.

Bill was concerned the distraught inebriated family would locate the victim and chaos could ensue, which certainly could happen during such a tragedy.

As I crept toward the area, I cupped the end of my flashlight in my hand, directing a small beam of light to view the corpse. As I flashed the burst of light over the body to make a quick scan, it appeared as though the deceased person suddenly moved. It was an illusion caused by the shadows of the thick ferns moving across the victim’s back and torso.

Bill quickly jumped in a somewhat startled reaction, and he violently bumped into a rotting dead tree directly behind him. The top of the tree broke, tumbling down on top of my boss’ head, whacking him in pretty good shape. This sudden commotion startled Satan, which resulted in a sharp tongue-lashing from my boss, ordering me to “get the hell away from that body.”

As gruesome as the scene was, watching the boss jump and take a thumping as he did elicited a rather morbid laugh to escape from the two of us.

Eventually, the medical examiner and a team of police investigators arrived at the location. They quickly determined the young man’s death was a suicide and they ruled out any possibility of foul play.

Bill and I quickly cleared the area, heading back to the field to spend another night waiting for a hunter to stray across our paths.

This was yet another incident when a K9 proved valuable to law enforcement. Without the nose and expertise of Satan’s tracking, locating this scene may have taken days, instead of the few minutes it required.

Eagle eatin’ a deer

Aug. 31,1981, I found myself headed to Monroe to meet with excited Trooper Greg Meyers. Greg was parked on a back road, watching what he claimed to be an eagle devouring a small dead fawn in a nearby field.

Greg certainly wasn’t known for his wildlife identification capabilities. At times, I questioned if he knew the difference between a partridge and a duck, but dealing with these issues wasn’t his bailiwick, nor was it his requirement.

For those of us who knew him well, he could be found dealing with the “wild life,” but not this kind of wildlife.

As I headed his way, Greg said, “This bird is huge. Its white head is a dull red all covered in blood. He is gouging on that poor little fawn.”

“Should I shoot it John,” he anxiously inquired.

“No! No! No,” I shouted over the radio.

“Don’t shoot it, Greg, What ever the hell you do, don’t shoot it! Eagles are highly protected by the feds and shooting one is not an option,” I adamantly yelled.

I could just envision him blasting our national bird all to smithereens and then having the nature-loving public surround the area. We both would be headed for the federal “hoosegow” in tight handcuffs.

At the time, eagles were extremely scarce. Personally, I was quite anxious to hopefully get a close view of one of these majestic creatures.

Within moments, I pulled up alongside the excited trooper. “Look out there, John! That poor little deer never stood a chance,” Greg sadly sputtered.

I couldn’t for the life of me believe any bird was capable of causing a fawn’s demise – but there it was, perched in the field a short distance away. The small carcass was viciously being picked apart by a large feathered creature with a dull red head.

The difference being, that it wasn’t an eagle as Greg assumed. It was a turkey buzzard pecking away on the dead carcass, completely oblivious to our presence.

In the distance, a couple more of the large birds slowly circled overhead searching for a meal of their own.

Turkey buzzards were just beginning to migrate to Central Maine. As I began my journey north to become a warden, Southern Maine had already been infiltrated by the scavengers.

Their dull red featherless heads gave them the appearance that God had tired of completing His mission of beautifying the world. In their case, He simply quit work. They were, by far, the ugliest of any flying creature to recently infiltrate our countryside.

After giving my trooper friend a quick lesson in proper bird identification, we hiked toward the deer, scaring away the scavenger. I was anxious to determine what, in fact, had caused the small fawn’s demise. The large bullet hole in its side quickly resolved the matter.

Greg still wasn’t totally convinced the bird he’d been watching wasn’t an eagle. That fact alone explains why he was a trooper and I was a warden. For the most part, troopers were not all that interested in dealing with flying critters or four-legged creatures – they were more prone to dealing with two-legged culprits who strayed over the line and didn’t abide by society’s rules.

Greg was good at his job as a trooper and for that I’d give him credit but, there was no need for him to apply for a warden’s career.

Staying afloat

The summer of 1981, I met another trooper, one who would eventually provide me with many memories to be recorded in the diaries. However, most of them I probably will never dare to put in print.

It was a hot August summer afternoon when Warden Gilbert and myself stopped by Unity Pond camp of Maine State Police Capt. Millard Nickerson.

I was well acquainted with Capt. Nick and occasionally stopped at the camp for a quick game of cribbage, a shot of toddy and a good chuckle or two. Ironically, the captain had received my grandfather’s department-issued raincoat when he first joined the Maine State Police. My grandfather had been a trooper in York County.

During my 13-week stint at warden school, myself and a couple of classmates were called out of class to officially meet the captain about an investigation he was conducting. It was a criminal investigation involving us.

I’d purchased a brand new car stereo player from one of my fellow classmates at a ridiculously low price. A real bargain I thought – but I soon learned it was one of those “buyer beware” bargains. It had sounded too good to be true, and it was.

Long story short, a warden recruit had stolen the stereo from a department store where he had worked prior to joining the agency. Apparently, he had carted several items out through the back door of the store’s warehouse.

He claimed to have received two identical stereos as Christmas gifts and was willing to sell one to me for a much cheaper price than anywhere I could go to buy one. “A real bargain,” he said.

Capt. Nick investigated the matter after hearing that my classmate was selling other items at ridiculously low prices. Needless to say, that recruit’s schooling came to a rather abrupt end. Instead of becoming a warden, he found himself standing as a criminal before the very judge who had spoken to our class two days before.

The rest of us were cleared of any wrong doing; we were deemed innocent victims of a blue collar crime.

On this particular hot day in August 1981, Maine State Trooper Mark Nickerson was making a quick visit to his dad’s camp. Mark had recently begun his own career and had been assigned to the Greenville area.

It was quite obvious Millard was a very proud dad to have his son following along in his footsteps. Mark had some big shoes to fill.

After introducing himself, I noticed Mark was intently staring through the camp window, engrossed with something happening out on the pond.

“Do you have your binoculars with you?” he politely inquired.

“I do,” I said as I went to retrieve the glasses. Handing them to the young trooper, he focused on a boat anchored in a remote cove near the camp.

“Just what I thought,” he chuckled. “People are required to carry life preservers in their boats aren’t they, John?”

“They are,” I responded, wondering if possibly I might be missing a violation.

“Well, take a look at the boat over there by the island with the two women anchored in that back cove. Do you think those women would stay afloat if they should capsize,” he said, chuckling.

He obviously was speaking about different flotation devices than I envisioned.

Grabbing the binoculars, I quickly spotted what had seized the young trooper’s attention. Two topless women in the boat were sunning themselves in a cove, completely unaware the eyes of the law were watching them.

I knew right then and there that I was befriending someone who might be a future challenge. Within a few months, Mark planned to transfer to Unity to replace Trooper Reitchel, who had been promoted to detective.

I thought to myself, “Here we go again. Yet another trooper coming to Unity to break in. There had been several come and go over the 10 years I’d been on the force, For some reason, they didn’t seem to hang around the Unity area for very long.”

Eventually, Mark did make the journey to Central Maine. Prior to that, for me, it was business as usual.

From that first meeting with Trooper Mark, I knew damn well my diaries would fill up with memories. I just don’t know how many of those memories I’ll actually be able to publicly reveal. I certainly will have to screen exactly what I can and can’t write about – that is if he doesn’t break into my home and steal my diaries beforehand.

A new era was certainly in the making.

John Ford Sr. is a retired game warden, Waldo County Sheriff and Chief Deputy. The wildlife artist and award-winning columnist lives in Brooks with his wife, Judy. He may be reached at jonnylaw@fairpoint.net.