Crazy as a Coot


Family heritage was woods and forest. Early arrivals after chasing the Mayflower gang to Plymouth migrated north to Eastbrook/Waltham area. One ocean trip across the North Atlantic was enough. Our name had derived from an early keeper of the game who’d saved some royal when a a wild boar (then spelled “bore”) charged him. Keeper’d been awarded the name “Wildbore” complete with coat of arms, and, as will be, name was fidoodled over the years to “Wilbur.” So, I guess my outdoor enjoyment, that moment of a fish strike, that held breath when a flock of duck-types settles to the towlers, and most of all the gorgeous sun breaks when it’s time to be serious comes naturally.

Sometime around turn of the 18th/19th century, one of the great, greats (perhaps an extra great), headed in the direction of the “million dollar island.” Took about three generations to move the 45 miles. Mid 1900s, grandfather Herbert Sr., an avowed deer hunter as well ( I still have his old 38/40 Remington) had taken up residence in Bar Harbor. My father, Herbert Jr., who’d come “over the ridge” for first time at ripe old age of 22 to discover Southwest Harbor, settled here with Mother and I in 1946 after WWII. And that’s why I say.... I’m the luckiest guy I’ve ever known.

Dad immediately took up deer hunting then gradually added duck gunning to his repertoire. Next door neighbor, now famous bird-carver, Wendall Gilley who had the first television in the neighborhood and where I spent many evenings was an avid coot hunter. Another was local contractor, Austin Gott. Then later, neighbor Terry Stanley and I would go as the elders became reluctant to face the cold.

Old enough to handle a 20ga. Shotgun (pre-teen), I was allowed to come along on the weekly October/November Saturday morning hunts at Hadley Point in Bar Harbor. Vivid memories of setting the decoys in darkness, then hunkering down behind a few rocks, butt cold, waiting for a flock to set wings into the decoys.

Coots are really dumb birds. Near sighted, “Crazy as a Coot” suits them well. Sometimes we’d down a few and they’d come around again, just to see what they’d missed out on the first round. But they were fast. Used to kid ourselves about the misses, “Box of shells a bird.” “Try a car’s length lead on the next pass.” Their skin was like leather. Might wound one then spend precious time chasing and firing again as they’d dive then surface just out of range.

Early morning sets at Hadley first of season weren’t too bad. Still warm from the truck ride over, we’d quickly set the towlers, have a cup of warm something and hunker down. But as morning wore on, breeze came up it could get wicked cold. Especially as season crept into November and sometimes early December.

Both Dad and Wendall had aluminum, square-bowed “jon-boats,” 12’ long and narrow. Why noone ever tipped into that frigid water is a gift. Person setting out would be in the middle rowing, decoys heaped fore and aft, inches of freeboard. He’d set out by rowing if it was calm or running downwind after throwing a window weight over as anchor. Later, I think it was Wendall, had purchased an outboard motor, making the entire process much easier, but never safer.

I don’t recall for sure what the limit was, perhaps six, and occasionally we’d limit out. There were literally hundreds of birds coming into Frenchman’s Bay at the time. Whatever we shot was never wasted. Some would go to the neighbors or Dad’s older patients, but most mother would soak for 24 hours in milk then cook into Coot Stew or casseroles. She was a great cook, grew up during the “Depression”, family of eight, then faced the rationing of the war. Nothing was ever wasted.

Coots have pretty much disappeared from this area. I’d assume they’ve migrated further to the easter’d and colder climes. Eider’s drove them out so I’m told, and that’s a mystery to me as tough as Coot’s are. Perhaps because Eiders are larger and more plentiful.

Got a chance to rattle a few pans last night doing some scallops from our friend Cecilia. Decided I wanted the scallops to yield their great flavor yet work in a few fresh ingredients as well. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

• R E C I P E •

Scallops with Greens and Yellows

1 lb. scallops, halved across grain
1-1 ½ handful curly parsley (chopped)
10-12 small yellow tomatoes (halved) w
1/8 Vidalia or sweet onion (chopped)
Pinch salt and white pepper Safflower oil
Splash white wine. Pref. Pino Grigio
1 ½ T butter

Pour enough oil and the butter into large fry pan and bring to temperature. Saute everything but the scallops and wine. Scoop onto a holding plate. Add a touch more oil, add scallops on medium/high heat, saute’ and turn as they cook. When Scallops are almost done, hit the pan with a dollop of wine. Simmer for about a minute allowing the wine to flash. Then add back the cooked ingredients. Stir in to warm. Let set 4-5 minutes before serving with Long grain white rice and a green such as Collard. Let me know what you think.