Best of New England- Senior Category

"Tight Lines" by Ethan Bourque
12th grade, Ashland, Mass.


 Perseverance, determination and perhaps a little bit of insanity marked my path to glory, at least on the water. The morning began with pea-soup fog, the antithesis of ideal conditions when launching a kayak into the ocean to catch fish. That day my fishing buddy, Shawn, and I had one goal; to catch a false albacore, the pinnacle of fall saltwater fishing in New England. These fish are equal parts beauty and speed, with exactness in form matched only by their larger cousin, the bluefin tuna.
  False albacore are usually easy to spot. They are the small silvery tunas with green-blue backs that eat small fish on the surface of the water. Not
seeing any surface action, we shifted gears and caught some small bluefish while we waited for the tide to change. Paddling back in the direction of the launch, other fishermen offered insight as to where we should next cast our lines. I paddled all the way around the jetty and into the harbor and was quickly treated to a pleasant sight, which other boaters also noticed: a large school of peanut bunker was being pushed to the surface by a marauding pod of albies! The sight of effervescing water and tiny fish spraying while colossal objects with fins charge through the chaos is enough to get any fisherman's blood pumping. I cast and hooked up, but quickly lost the fish, leaving me disheartened but undeterred. Luckily, they

were still on the surface feeding. On the next cast, I cranked in once before the lure was crushed. At the start, the fish did nothing crazy, but suddenly I felt the rod pulsing as rapid tail strokes propelled Al B forward, tearing line off my reel in the manner all albies do; fast and furious.
  I kept hoping it would stop, but it did not. I was pulled into the busy boating channel. With boats speeding in and out of my path, I considered
cutting the line and paddling to safety. However, the fish stopped its run, and I began to gain line. A minute or so later, a small silvery flash appeared, shimmering deep beneath me. Slowly, subtle greens and blues became visible as the fish approached. Grabbing it by its tail and sliding it onto my lap, I had won the battle. The albie, 26" in length and around 8 pounds, it was nowhere near the size of Santiago's great fish in Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea." However, it was a great fish to me, as all fish are. I took in the moment with a big smile, and then sent Al back to the depth of the ocean where he belonged; I hope another angler gets to catch him again.
 Upon returning home my family asked me why I was so foolish to endanger my life over a single fish. The answer is simple: I am a fisherman.
Fishing is not only an exciting activity, it is restorative, clearing my mind and freeing my soul.

"Bright Spots" by Lilianna Houston
11th grade, Putney, Vt.


 Sometimes life seems dull, even when you're having interesting experiences you'd think you'd enjoy: an Orioles game at Camden Yards, traversing immense ocean on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, eating pecan pie at a shady Southern BBQ filled with rednecks and fireworks on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Indeed, this trip felt different from usual – I was trying hard to enjoy myself, but it didn't feel right, up until our final road trip destination: Assateague Island, a beautiful slice of national seashore on the Virginia coast.
   We'd brought fishing gear – as always when my dad's around – but hadn't yet found a use for it. We knew full well July surf fishing in Virginia is
fairly nonexistent. The Southern gamefish commonly found in Florida hadn't arrived for their midsummer’s run to colder waters and the northern gamefish were long gone after escaping the cold for Virginia's warmer winter. We decided to purchase cheap artificial bait called "Fish-Bites" – a pliable pink substance resembling Hubba-Bubba, but packaged like bubblegum's  sticky-sweet cousin, Twizzlers, smelling of pungent fish oil meant to lure in famished predators like the Sirens of the Rocks.

  We hiked out to a remote beach on the island, figuring we might get lucky and catch a small croaker or two. We cast from the beach with our grossly undersized rods, unable to get the bait past the breakers, thus leaving it to sit in about a foot of roily Virginia water.
  With high hopes for relaxation and low hopes for fishing action, my father and I sat in thought. I repeatedly plunged into the bitingly cold, but
wonderfully refreshing ocean water as the lines ruminated. We sat and talked on the sand about menial things, only stopping to rebait our increasingly soggy fish-gum, utterly banishing any negativity. The sun sank brilliantly over the Atlantic sky, while a smattering of reds and oranges mischievously scattered in diffuse patterns. As we began to gather our things and ready ourselves for the trek back to the car, my dad began to bring up his worries about various family concerns – treating me as his adolescent therapist. "Tell me everything’ll be OK," he half-jokingly said after a period of silence. I didn't really listen; my attention was somewhere else.
   I sprinted toward a rod as my dad bewilderedly watched the seemingly undisturbed rod I was so eager to reach. I reeled furiously to tighten the
light fluorocarbon line, feeling a slight weight at the other end, expecting a croaker. Instead, a fluke of halibut-like proportions shot from a foamy breaking wave directly to my amazed feet, like a prehistoric loyal dog bearing a fetched white-meat toy.    

  My father and I looked at each other in amazement, not believing our tiny rod and soggy bubblegum had dropped this behemoth at my feet. As we hollered and cursed in irrationally pure joy, the fish lay unmoving, almost statuesque, on the slick beach, as if it was telling us in a tired, deep voice: “Here I am, your sign.”
 “Everything’ll be OK Dad.”

Best of New England- Junior Category

"All in a Day’s Work" by Eytan H. Goldstein
8th grade, Barrington, R.I.


   It was a hot and dusty summer day when we set out from camp. Our long canoe trailer demanded respect from drivers as we sped down a New Hampshire interstate toward our planned launching site at Lake Ossipee. After a couple of hours in the stifling heat of the bus, we unloaded our gear and equipment in the shade of a stand of birch trees. While some of the campers hoisted the canoes off the trailer and into the cool, shallow waters of the lake, I helped the staff plot our route across the winding lake.
   Eager to set off, we soon decided on a route and divided ourselves among the canoes, two campers and one staff to a canoe. The overhanging
trees provided some shade from the blistering mid-morning sun, and the calm, muddy water seemed to reflect the dusty tranquility this branch of the lake offered. Paddling quickly, our small convoy of canoes shot through the calm branch of Lake Ossipee and into its main body of water.

  Here, man had made his noisy mark on the lake. Large houses, motorboats and jet-skis made this section of the lake a sad testament to mankind’s systematic destruction of nature. But gradually nature regained her upper hand and a large majority of the noise and chaos was left behind. Up to this point, the paddle had gone “without a hitch” … famous last words.
   Seemingly, the storm came out of nowhere. Bluebird skies surrounded me one second and a drenching downpour the next. We pulled up onto the
sandy banks of an island, hoping to wait out the storm. We ate salty ham sandwiches under our towels – a miserable excuse for some kind of shelter. However, in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” Luckily, as soon as the rain had come, it dissipated.
   Shaken but not ready to throw in the towel, our caravan of small watercraft boldly continued our expedition through the winding reaches of the
enormous lake. Arms started to tire, skin started to bake in the late afternoon sun, and that’s when the singing stopped and the complaining began.

  It seemed like an eternity before we reached our last rest stop and approached our planned campsite. As night was falling quickly, we conferred about the location of the hidden inlet and staying together. Promptly thereafter, we gathered up our last remaining strength and paddled into the night. Taking what seemed like a hidden creek into a small pond, the moon cast her long shadow over the lapping shores, and the towering oak trees seemed to be a little bit more dark and foreboding. 
   We turned into a small hidden inlet, where reeds and ivy choked up the waterway. We beached between two towering and majestic, but not quite
welcoming, slabs of granite. Whispering quietly, so to respect the night’s enchanting silence, we pitched our camp, and quickly fell asleep – a fitting end of our arduous journey.

  I woke up before my mates (since I am a habitual early riser). I walked down to the shore. The mist from the lake and the lyrical loon calls reminded me why I am proud to call New England my home.

State Senior Category

Mount Pisgah by Sivan Nachum
10th grade, Northborough, Mass.

My mother and I walked through
the trail of trees and sky toward where we
would be able to view everything.
The dirt was soft beneath my shoes and
the trees reached far into the air,
piercing through the clouds with their
skyscraper branches.
Their leaves engulfed the entire color spectrum,
ranging from gold to auburn to emerald.
I had always viewed the leaves as a massive sea,
each individual just a part of the whole.
For the first time in my entire life,
I saw the leaves each as an individual.
I grabbed onto a ruby-tinted one
from a low-hanging branch.
I held it in my hand, but I did not pull it off.
I saw the crimson sneaking up on the green
of the leaf, encircling it, strangling it.
The leaf was dying, they all were, but somehow
as they travelled on their journey toward death,
they created a painting of the woods.
I wondered if anything outside of nature
looked so beautiful in death,
but then I reminded myself that everything
in this world was of nature.
And that fact made me smile because
it made me and the leaves have something in common.
Maybe the color of the leaves
and the beauty of the trees were all
somehow a part of me.
I left the scarlet-stained leaf to nature,
and my mom and I continued on our path.
As we walked along, and the sun peaked in
its cycle around the world, or the world’s cycle
around it, I saw something move.
I glanced at the ground, and for a moment
I believe I saw the shadows of all
who had travelled there before me.
Then a brown rabbit hopped across the scene,
and the shadows moved out of my mind.
The world circled back to its former position,
before I had felt the universe and everyone within it
for the first and perhaps last time in my life.
My mother and I continued upon our journey
and I think that I understood, in a way that
I have never understood before, why people always
say that the ending does not matter,
that it is all about the ride.
My mom was more observant than I,
and she spotted some indigo blueberries.
We picked them and we feasted like queens.
The blueberries were tart and they were not
tainted by any creation of mankind.
They were perfect and refreshing,
and though they were nothing like home,
they somehow reminded me of it.
And I felt at home with the trees,
and the mud, and the creeks,
and the sky that stretched on and on
like silk and which perfectly complimented
the color of the berries.
My mother and I continued,
walking and walking and we
eventually reached the peak.
We sat upon hills that were reminiscent
of years past and years future.
Nature consistently goes on and on,
stretching through time,
even as we arrive and depart so ephemerally.

"Change of the Game" by Kaylee Grindle
12th grade, Bucksport, Maine


  "A hunt based only on trophies taken, falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be."
Hunting is one of my favorite sports because it is thrilling yet beautiful. I have never ended a hunting season without getting a deer, and I was confident that wouldn't change until something unexpected happened on the last legal day of the 2015 season.
   Crunch, crunch. The leaves protested against my every step, the cold evening air frosted the ground in a sheen of white crystal. The woods were calm; the only sound was coming from my pounding heart and the light whisper as I exhale a cloud of warm air. I quietly made my way down to my tree stand. I can hardly believe it's the last day of the hunting season. It's the first time since I was a young boy that I haven't shot a deer by now, but my confidence remained and I knew that I would get one by sundown. I settled into my tree stand, listening for anything that sounded like the soft footsteps of a deer. Hours went by, the only sound that I heard was the rustling of birds in the trees and the chattering of nearby squirrels. As sundown approached, I felt defeated knowing it was time for me to head back or else I wouldn't be able to see where I was going. "I guess there's a first time for everything," I thought to myself.
  As I trudged up the trail back to my house, I heard trees swishing and crackling violently. I turned the corner and I could hardly believe my eyes. There was a huge 12-point buck; his antlers were snarled in the tree branches. My heart was pounding, I brought up my gun to my shoulder, finger on the trigger, but something just didn't feel right deep in my "gut." I have always loved the thrill of hunting, but that thrill comes from the challenge of tracking an animal that has the fair chance to run. As that thought sunk in, I took a deep breath and leaned my gun on a tree. I nervously approached the enormous buck; he shook aggressively, panting from the struggle. His antlers were tangled deep within the branches but after a short struggle, the deer was free from the web. He quickly darted into the woods, enveloped by the brush.
  That year was the only year I had not shot a deer. Although it was hard for me to not shoot that trophy buck, easily the biggest buck of the season, I realized hunting was much more than just an easy game. It is an invaluable experience where a man can bond with the woods. I like to look back at that moment with pride, recognizing that not many hunters would do what I did. To me, that made me a better hunter than I ever was.

"Grouse Hunt" by Lauren Kircheis
12th grade, Bucksport, Maine


  My alarm shrieks out its dreadful call, a sound not unlike that of a rabbit just prior to becoming a hawk's lunch. It's 4:30 a.m., the stars still shine brightly in the morning sky. Exactly why I drag myself out of bed at such an unearthly time on a Saturday morning is a mystery to many of my friends and family, most of which thoroughly enjoy sleeping in on their precious weekends. I make my way down the stairs and am greeted by the inviting smell of coffee. As usual, Dad is ahead of the game.

  We gather an assortment of snack foods, several thermoses of hot and cold water, and extra layers of clothing. Lastly, we load our shotguns and several boxes of shotshells. For over a week we have marked potential hunting routes in the Gazetteer, a mixture of places we have had good luck in the past, and places we want to explore. This is my favorite day of the year, the grouse hunt Dad and I have taken even before I could shoot my own gun.
  The drive up is quiet; very few cars roam the roads before 5 on weekend mornings. We make our way north, watching the horizon burn red with the rising sun. We turn onto an old logging road; the dirt is adorned with glimmering frost. The frozen puddles in the roadway indicate we are the first to drive the road this morning. It is early yet for the birds, as the cold air makes them reluctant to leave their roosts, but we don our orange vests and place our guns within reach. As the sun rises above the treeline, the frost on the roadways recedes. The animals begin to make their way into the sun spots to warm themselves after a long night. We roll down the windows of the truck and scan the roadsides for the striped breast feathers of ruffed grouse.

  After several miles of roadside scanning, a bird is spotted. I cautiously open the door of the truck and step out. Slowly and quietly I pop two shells into my favorite 20-gauge shotgun.Walking a short distance back, I spot the bird again. It is alert, yet reluctant to move, unsure if I am an immediate threat. I raise my gun, one-by-one aligning the bird with the pearl-white and brass beads. I slowly
pull the trigger. With a sharp percussive blast, feathers and leaves fly, the bird is grounded. The bird greets me with a flurry of frustrated and fearful flapping. Maroon blood stains its delicate feathers; its eyes are full of fear. I am saddened by the fact that the bird did not die instantly, I feel bad to have caused it so much pain in death. As the life fades from its eyes, I am thankful for the bird. My father looks at me, a smile spreads across his face. Bird in hand, I walk back to the truck, and we carry on our way.

State Junior Category

A Memorable Moment in a Tree Stand, by Nicole Wilkinson
7th grade, Higganum, Conn.


 As I climbed up the tree stand I looked around at the bright fall-colored leaves. I reached the top and sat down, pulling the bar over my head and locking it into place to insure I wouldn't fall. I sat up there for hours, motionless, just waiting for something to walk by. I looked up and watched the warm, colored leaves fall from the trees and rest gently on the ground. It was peaceful. But then, there was rustling, something's feet were crunching the leaves and stirring them up.

 I slowly turned my head and, to my surprise, it was a beautiful doe, a few of them, actually. They walked with great  pride but their strides were fluent like a dancer. They were gorgeous and looked around very gracefully. I sat in that tree stand for hours, and this made it worth it. They were strong, but went about themselves like they were fragile glass figures. I watched them for minutes, and then a big bulky buck showed up. His antlers were perfect like a tree branch in winter. He watched the does like he would protect them with his own life. The does gazed at the woods and the buck gazed at them.

 They walked together like they were a family, and sniffed at the ground. I smiled. I could watch them for hours. I looked in awe and felt only joy at that moment. Me dressed out in camo and them in their brown suits of fur. I just looked for a while. They slowly began to walk away from in front of the tree stand, to look for another place to look around. They were pure figures and their elegant, poised bodies almost seemed to drift off like a log or stick in the ocean, just peacefully drifting away. I sat in the tree stand for a few moments longer. I unlocked the bar and climbed down. I slowly walked back to the house with a great big smile and a million thoughts roaming through my head.

Hunting Blacky in Northern Maine by William Maines
7th grade, Gray, Maine

 Boom! The shot echoed across the mountains and forests. The family target practiced in preparation for the next day. As the golden sun sank below the mountains they hiked back to the cabin, had supper, and bunked in for the night.

 Early the next morning, Michael got up and headed downstairs, where the smell of eggs and toast filled the air. He saw his gun by the door and sat down for a delicious breakfast. At 7:00 the family was loaded up and ready to go. They piled into the red pickup and drove north eventually pulling into an overgrown tote road. Willy and Mom hopped out, loaded their shotguns and started down a small path. Michael grabbed his rifle and he and Dad dissolved into the trees. Weaving through the spruce, fir and hemlocks the two headed for their blind. The terrain was steep and rocky, but they were familiar with it, and in good condition. A rabbit darted through the trees, and a soft breeze blew.

 Ten minutes later father and son were settled into their blind overlooking a small chopping with thick raspberries. A hawk soared high above in the sky and the squirrels were lively, scampering about and gathering nuts and leaves. Once in a while, they would hear a faint shot coming from below on the property and dream about all the delicious meals that Mom could make with partridge. They even got to see a six-point buck wander through the firs stopping here and there to nibble on grass and plants.

 After hours of patiently watching, there was a loud craaack! Dad nudged Michael and they peered down at the spot. Nothing. Shhck! Shhck! Shhck! Michael snapped back up at the noise and slowly propped his gun up to scan the area. Suddenly, they saw a wall of black move through the trees about 60 yards away. Michael's heart was pounding when they saw the head of a black bear poke through the trees. The large bear scooted to the edge of the trees and looked around. After a couple of minutes, it put its large brown snout in the air, sniffed, then lumbered into the chopping.

 Slowly moving along, it nibbled on sprouts and raked the raspberry bushes with its huge paws and dagger-like claws. After 10 minutes of

watching the bear in awe, Mike nudged his son. "Take the shot," he said as quietly as possible. Michael slightly adjusted his rifle, then, moving slowly, he peered through the scope. This was the moment he had been preparing for, for the past six months. "Make it count," Mike said nervously. "Right on the front shoulder." Michael gripped the gun tightly, his knuckles turning white. The bear was shoving raspberries into his massive mouth, his large white teeth flashing. Michael centered the crosshairs on the bear's shoulder, and took a deep breath. He clicked off the safety, his whole body shaking. Boom! The shot echoed across the mountains and  forests.

My Monster Shark by Liam Wilson
8th grade, West Hartford, Conn.

 The wind seized my face as we jumped over a wave while heading to the fishing grounds on our 26-foot lobster boat. My brother and I were on the bow as we watched the sun peek up over the horizon at the predicted sunrise of 5:34. Our motor slowed as the chirping of seagulls began. My dad checked the depth chart for the ideal fishing location to catch our monster. “Toss the anchor,” my dad commanded. I let the anchor fly into the air and over the bow with a splash.

 Fishing is one of the best parts of life, I thought, as I prepared to catch some bait fish that would hopefully catch our shark. I grabbed our smaller rod and let the line down slowly, like a tiger creeping toward its prey. Clunk, my weight hit the bottom. I waited for a few minutes. Then, my line started to shake and I had a fish on. I reeled up the line and saw I had hooked a pollock. I grabbed the fish in my hand, his skin like sandpaper, and took him off the hook. I stored my smaller rod and put my fish on the shark hook.

 I was all set now, equipped with bait and a perfect location, all I needed now was a bite. The live bait fish twitched on my line like electrical pulses coming from the deep. All of a sudden my mom yelled as we saw a Mako shark jump completely out of the water. The sight of this was amazing and something you would see on the National Geographic channel. It landed sleekly in the water like a knife slicing through cheese. Now we were on high alert

with adrenaline pumping through our veins. The sharks were here and I was expecting a bite at any second.

 The minutes seemed like hours. Then … my line tipped. I had a shark at the other end of my line. It had been three hours and now one had finally hit. I reeled as hard as I could, but the shark overpowered me. My line was taken. My hand gripped the reel like death grips, a fish out of water. I was glued to my rod waiting for the

shark to tire. After the run I reeled and gained some line back. It was now just a little ways from the boat. I cranked hard and my hands ached, but it was worth every bit of pain. The Mako shark finally came into view and it was the best thing I had ever seen. The teeth were nails. It was a crazy sight as its head poked above the surface and posed with his teeth flashing. Then, his teeth clamped together and cut the line.

 Just like that it was over. There I stood, exhausted, but totally exhilarated. I had caught my monster. It was an experience of a lifetime. One I will never forget.

"October 3rd, 4:30 a.m." by Charley Blair
7th grade, Leicester, Mass.

 One day my dad had asked me if I would like to hunt. The reason he had asked was because Massachusetts offered a one-day youth hunt last year, allowing any kid 12 or older to hunt for one day only. I jumped at the opportunity and even had to go to the local sports shop and get my own permit.
 Oct. 3, 4:30 a.m., my alarm went off, finally the day was here. Walking downstairs half asleep I met my dad in the kitchen and he said we needed to get dressed quickly. When we were done I grabbed my 12 gauge and we are out the door crossing the yard and starting our descent down the trail to the tree stands in the dark hoping we didn't jump one. When we reached the stands, my dad tied the gun to the rope so he can pull it up after we were seated.

 The sun is just peeking over the horizon bringing light into the woods. In deep thought, I think about how beautiful the woods are

and how lucky I am to be hunting with my dad. While whispering very quietly we heard a stick break ... it's a squirrel, they're everywhere. I began to ponder if the squirrels are just doing this to aggravate me. 
 As I'm trying to get in a comfortable position, I happen to accidentally kick my dad's tree and it started to lean forward. I thought for sure he was going to fall out and so did he, even though he was harnessed in! Thankfully, he did not, and just freaked out a little, which I thought was hilarious.

 When I stopped laughing I put my head in my hands and he asked what was wrong and I said "Dad, I just want to get one." In the middle of my dad's sentence we hear a stick break. He looks down, turns back to me and points, mouthing "There's four under me."
Now with so much adrenaline, I see the deer. Picking up the gun, I put it to my shoulder, took aim and shot. Not feeling the kick back at all, I looked down and a doe dropped dead in her tracks!

 I am now shaking so uncontrollably that my dad has to calm me down by putting his hands around mine. "Daddy, I did it, I did it!" I kept saying. My dad was nearly crying because he was so happy.  When we climbed down the tree we stopped and said thanks to God and promised nothing would go to waste. In the process of gutting the deer, I tied the homemade strap to the hooves of the deer, then started dragging her out of the woods with my dad's help because she is 90 pounds. When we reach the house my Mom, neighbor Jess and little sister all came running out because they are so happy for me.

 A few minutes later our friend Tom shows up, then the people who live down the street, just to congratulate me and see my deer. Tom then helps us hang it in a tree to drain the blood before taking it to get butchered.   When I relive this moment I realize how lucky I am and I hope I can do it again this year. Still to this day when I'm in town, people congratulate me. I am so thankful for my family and friends, and that my dad hunts!