The first time we met Lee it was a cold wintry afternoon the very day we moved into our house. We had just purchased our farm from an old couple who had let Lee use his barn to house some of his ponies. It was on a Saturday and we had some friends come up from Boston to help us move in. We were just lifting our bathtub through the front door when our friend Paula came screaming out of the barn. At first I thought she had been attacked by a woodchuck or something because she just could not stop crying hysterically and pointing through the barn doors to the barnyard out back. “They’re killing your horses,” she sobbed.
We did not yet own any animals but as I entered the back barnyard I saw someone that had not been there yesterday, a man naked from the waist up and covered with blood working a large knife around the carcass of a dead and decapitated horse hanging from the limb of a maple tree. The severed head lay on the ground, its eyes open and looking up at me. The large man with a generous stomach stopped his work and greeted me with a guilty smile.
“Hi,” he said, “my name’s Lee” extending his blood covered hand, then drawing it back when he realized that it was not at the moment an object that one might want to shake. “I am sorry if I gave that young girl a scare. I suppose she does not see something like this every day.”
I smiled understandingly as if this were standard fare for me. He went on to say that this pony’s meat was for his hunting dogs and he appreciated my temporarily housing his meals on hooves and assured me that they would be gone in a few days. As Lee headed for home that day, he knocked on the kitchen door where we were cooking a meal for our friends and offered a piece of the pony’s loin roast to round out our supper menu. Lee was one of the last folks in my neck of the woods who made a living for his large family by hunting, trapping and cutting a little wood. And he would be the first landowner to hire us to work in his forest.
Marty and I had chosen this corner of Southwestern Maine to be around people like Lee. The Hamlin family had an uncanny way of knowing what you needed before you did. Lee’s father Dana would drive slowly past our driveway, wave and then be back in a few minutes brandishing a ¾” drive socket wrench to loosen that rusty bolt on my truck. Dana and his wife lived way up the valley in a small mobile trailer. Dana loved to hunt coyotes but also had a passionate respect for these predators. Once when he could still get around he took me up back behind his home and showed me a den where a young female was raising her three pups. On the day Dana was buried, Marty and I were heading to his funeral when a huge male coyote walked onto the road in front of our car and stood there staring at us. Over the years our town would prove to be an ideal place for us to raise a family, nurture a marriage and develop long lasting friendships with people like Lee and Dana.
One day in the early summer we were working on Lee’s lot, hand loading 200 lb sticks of hardwood onto a woods sled. The bugs were pretty thick and the day was working up to be a warm one. A friend from college named Ellen had stayed over the night before because she wanted to see the horses working but after about 30 minutes of biting insects she was ready to leave. Having said good-by to Bob and me and the horses, she headed back up over the hill to our farm. Bob asked Barney and Nick to start the load forward but they refused to move. He asked them to move again but no luck. Then Nicker bent his head toward the trail that Ellen had taken and let out a whinny. For some reason I took this to mean that all was not well.
“Hold on Bob, I said. “Let me check to see if Ellen is all right” and I headed up the path at a trot. Not 50 yards away I found her convulsing on the ground in the throws of a full blown seizure. I yelled for Bob and he was soon by my side.
“I think that she may have swallowed her tongue,” I said as her face turned a light shade of blue. I began to panic and I grabbed her jaw to try and pry it open.
“Don’t do that,” replied Bob. “Keep your fingers away from her teeth. She can lock down on them and bite them to the bone. Here, take this stick and pry her teeth open with it.”
So I began to slowly pry her jaw open while Bob inserted another stick to free her tongue. Blood stained saliva bubbled out of her mouth and we rolled her head to the side as she began to breathe again. Finally she dropped into a deep sleep for several minutes.
Bob went to tend to the horses and by the time he returned Ellen had begun to come around. She remembered nothing of what had happened and her hands began to shake when we described how we had found her. Back then there were no rescue units or 911 so we piled her on a mattress in the back of her station wagon and headed for the hospital in Portland. Bob followed in my car. On the way into town she searched for explanations as she lay on her back.
“I have never had seizures before,” she told me. “But both my parents were schizophrenics. My mother was a concert pianist and my father was a composer. I was born ‘placenta privia’ which means that I did not have the protection of the placenta during delivery. The muscles of my mother’s uterus pounded me unprotected into life. My therapist felt that this birth event may have had a profound effect on my psyche and we were just on the edge of exploring this when I came here to visit. I think that I may have just re-lived my birth out in the woods. I always felt that I could not survive re-living such a memory but I have.” Then her teeth began chattering uncontrollably and she had to stop talking.
Maine Medical did extensive research on Ellen, looking for a lesion on the brain or some medical explanation for what had happened. None was ever found. It was not till later in the day when Bob and I returned to the woodlot to bring the horses home that I remembered Nick’s whinny and the warning he gave me.