Murray is seen here as a young conservation officer in Ontario
In the autumn of one’s life, one often sits back in the easy chair and rehashes all the good and the bad, the indifferent and some moments I don’t care to ever disclose. For the past few years, I have gone one step further and am attempting to put those memories down in a book that Lisa is constantly nagging me to finish. Actually, I don’t mind her nagging, as in another three months, I graduate into the senior class of 87 years. Generally at that age you have lost some of your hearing and anyway my memory is sometimes clouded and I always seem to forget to put my hearing aids on.
Being a conservation officer is a little bit of everything. First you have to be fair in your thinking of others, but there are times you just have to be a mean son of a bitch. You have to accept that your working days are not an eight-to-four job, but could be a 24-hour job or even longer. You will be working alone in this specialized job, day or night. At times, you will be wanted, but other times, clearly unwanted.
When some people meet you in the backlands, they will call you conservation officer and maybe, if you are lucky, even “sir.” But when you are gone, the reference might include game warden, fish cop, or worse. When some fisherman or hunters ask you a question on some fish or wildlife, they expect a detailed explanation. But on the other hand, should you explain something to them on those subjects, they may think you are a know-it-all. Oh yes, as a conservation officer, you have to realize that if you hunt or fish in your own patrol area, you are said to be taking exceptional advantage of your government job.
That is why I chose to hunt moose a long ways from my patrol area. In fact it was a 13-hour drive to get to the wild Groundhog River in Northern Ontario. Then it’s a day and a half to rope freighter canoes up over the Ten Mile Rapids. As we pulled the canoes with a long and short rope along the shores of the rapids and looked out into the 2 to 5 grade white caps, we knew that, with a moose in the freighter canoe, it was not going to be just one Hell of a ride, but rather, a ride down through Hell itself. On our first year down through the “The Devil’s Run,” my true-to-heart hunting buddies in the other two canoes suggested my canoe should go first because I was a conservation officer and knew how to do this stuff. In reality, they were saying, “you are a conservation officer, and therefore can be the sacrificial lamb.”
Now what about a conservation officer’s family? No doubt if I charged one of the other kids fathers for illegal fishing or hunting, there was going to be some trouble brewing at school. Not so bad with my family because I had five kids and to bully one meant the other guy better have a bigger gang than the Martin family. (It remained at five for, being a conservation officer, I studied the sex lives of animals and recognized the difference between a steer and a bull.)
Most normal families have pets. This could mean a cat or a dog, maybe a gold fish in a glass marine cage, or a singing budgie in a bird cage. Of course, we had a German short-haired bird dog that would become quite famous in later years, but out in the cage in the garden was a great horned owl. Actually, I found the owl near the base of a tree. It had its one eye pecked out and then pulled from the nest by the crows, just a few days after it had broken from the eggshell. As days and weeks went by, we set up a mouse trap line and would feed the dead mice to Hoot the owl. Later we would trap the mice alive and put them in the cage with Hoot and Hoot soon learned her own preparation for lunch.
Later on, I helped the police force in our small town 1,000. With just one police chief (the only cop in town), any time he called on me for help, I responded. One day he knocked on the door. I told him to come in and wait until I got my uniform on. He quickly said that he didn’t need me to go out, but he was calling on me because of Hoot. Now Hoot was free to go at any time but would always come back to her open cage. The reason for the call was that Hoot had already killed 11 cats in the community, but now I should keep that story for the book Lisa keeps nagging me to finish.
As strange pets go, the next was Bobby the skunk. Of course, conservation officers have to respond to all wildlife situations. A female skunk had been killed by a vehicle, but a newborn was staying with the body. When I saw the small skunk, it looked like the baby skunk was not yet six weeks old and would not be capable of spraying. I picked it up and took it home and put in a box in the back outside the kitchen. The next morning, I walked into my friendly barbershop and asked my friend if he would cut the white strip off my pet’s back. For some reason, using words found in the good book, he ordered me out of his shop. I crossed the road to show the clothing store owner, who was down on his one knee patting his friend’s dog, and asked if he would like to pet my little friendly pet. Both the dog and its owner ran up the street, closely followed by the clothing store owner still on his all-fours. By the time I reached the food store, the door was locked and the owner, with a big smile on his face, was shaking his head no.
I crossed the corner and the owner of the restaurant was waving me to come over to his place. He knew about the six-week fairy tail about skunks and told me to take the skunk to the back kitchen and show it to his wife.
I walked up behind her and then asked what she thought about my new pet. She turned around, screamed and ran to the screen door in an attempt to run outside. Unfortunately, both for the skunk, for her husband and I, the screen was locked and her hand went through the screen right up to her elbow. Needless to say, things were rather cool around the restaurant for Ron and I and I would guess it was no doubt just as cool at their house. Not too sure about that saying “those who laugh last, laugh best,” at least not in this situation.
Now things are a little different even for conservation officer’s wives. My wife would go down to the local butcher shop and ask for any meat scraps. Often the butcher, who knew conservation officers did not have a big pay salary in those days, would offer her a free roast, or four or five chops for the family. She would say it was for our pet owl. “Oh sure,” he would say, not really believing her, that is, until his cat became a side order for Hoot. Well of course there is more to the story of Hoot, but we will leave that also to the book I’m being encouraged (I think) to finish. Forgot about those darn hearing aids again.
Of course conservation officer’s wives don’t have many things that normal wives do. Number one, they can’t expect for that dear C.O. to be home when he promises you he will be. Number two, don’t expect life to be normal or plan anything further than 15 minutes ahead. To open the refrigerator to find a couple mink pelts there, or maybe a couple fish heads her dear conservation officer husband is keeping for a court case. True, the life of a conservation officer can be much different than the general run-of-the-mill happy household, but I wouldn’t have missed it for a million dollars.
I will close with the following: When you go to a conservation officer’s wedding, you will hear the minister say “through sickness and health, for better or worse, through fishing seasons, deer season, moose season, duck season.” Of course I will say Amen to that, brother.