ASHLAND – After three Sundays of the new season of Mountain Men on the History Channel, Mountain Men viewers all around the world have been introduced to Aroostook County's own Charlie Tucker- Ashland resident, retired logger, storyteller, and woodsman. In a modern world of GPS technology, processed food and speed, Tucker is keeping alive old traditions from slower days, like landscape reading, five-mile snowshoe hikes and trapping.
“All my life, I've been in the woods,” said Tucker, about where he picked up his expertise. “At two, three, four, five years old, I rode around all day long [with my father] in the woods.”
Although Tucker made his debut on the History Channel based on his passion for trapping, the sixty-year old is modest about his skill with this relatively uncommon craft, saying that he knows men who are much better at it.
His real skills lie more in his overall ability to navigate around the woods and to survive in unexpected situations, which comes from a lifetime spent learning how to be a woodsman.
“You learn so much about the woods, you get a love of the woods,” he said.
Tucker said that his path started as a one-month old infant, when his parents brought him with them to Squapan in the 1950s as part of his father's work as a fire warden with the Maine Forest Service. He said at that time there were no roads into the area and the MFS usually flew them into and out of it, although the fire tower was also accessible through a 10 to 12-mile boat ride.
A quick web search reveals the presence of a 48-foot steel tower in that area, Township 11, Range 4, which the MFS erected in 1926 to replace an older, 1918 wooden tower that was 22 feet lower.
Tucker learned the ropes about trapping as a child first from his father, who eventually became a district ranger for the MFS, but he said that his interest turned to sports in high school. It wasn't until later that he came back to trapping, after pursuing an interest in flying, getting married and eventually pursuing a career as a logger.
“I went to cutting wood, working in the woods, that's all I've ever done,” he said.
Tucker appears to come from a long line of self-sufficient frontier men and women, based on the research he's conducted into his ancestry. His grandmother on his father's side, he said, was a French woman from Limestone, while his grandfather was a railroad man from New Brunswick. His grandfather on his mother's side was an Irish orphan who spent part of his life in a Catholic monastery in Chattam, New Brunswick and his mother's mother was from the Masardis/Ashland area.
Despite Tucker's feature spot in the Mountain Men show, his grandfather was the real trapper, he said- a man who spent two years in the Northwest Territory during the Depression. He said that most of his own knowledge, after the initial start with his father, has come from trapping seminars and conventions he attends.
“It's such a fever,” he said. “Every day your mind is just thinking about trapping. It's an every day thing if you're going to be good at it.”
He added, in a description of the toll that such mastery takes on your private life, “It can goof up a family life. You end up being alone a lot.”
Spending so much time in the woods makes it difficult to engage in casual conversations with people, because the people he meets in restaurants and bars are talking about things about which he knows nothing. His friends tend to be people who are older than he is as a result, he said by way of explanation, but from the story that he tells, this has been a trend in his life since he was first starting to learn the old-time skills as a young man.
Since about 1980, he's pursued a more serious interest in trapping. An alternate passion of Tucker's complements his love of the trapping craft, by giving him endless opportunities to observe wildlife- that is, snowmobiling in the woods in the winter.
He said, “Even if I didn't trap, I'd still go snowsledding.”
Like his grandfather, who was a teamster when “teamster” still meant driving a team of horses long distances, he snowmobiles for extreme distances off the groomed trails, sometimes doing 300 miles in one trip by himself. He carries snowshoes on his sled in case his machine breaks down, and recently ended up walking for six hours with them out of the woods when just that happened.
“It was the first time I'd walked that far on snowshoes in two years,” he admitted.
“That's what being in the wilderness is about- being prepared; being fit; relying on yourself and your ability to survive,” he added.
“I should have been with Lewis and Clark,” he said, and chuckled.
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