Battery Acid Wine
By: Raymond Greiner
In 1961 while hiking along the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada I came upon a trail leading up the riverbank. I decided to explore this trail. As I crested the hill above the flood plain a cabin appeared. As I approached the cabin a Red Bone hound bounded toward me, barking with tail wagging. He then turned and ran back toward the cabin continuing to bark. The cabin door opened and an elderly woman stepped onto the porch. She waved, and said, “Hello, I haven’t seen anyone in a long time, come in. I’ll make tea.”
I was startled to see her. A small, hardy looking woman and it was apparent she possessed great beauty in her youth. I guessed her age to be mid 70’s. She had been cutting firewood; with a large pile cut and split, ready to stack. She wore old fashion clothing, high-laced leather boots, flannel shirt and brown cotton pants, clothing styles seen in old photographs from the 1920’s. Her conversation revealed a quick mind. She impressed me, an elderly woman living alone in the deep forest with her dog. The dog’s name was Ranger; he pushed the screen door open with his nose, went inside and flopped down in the middle of the floor. As we entered the cabin I noticed six auto batteries in a corner of the porch next to a wooden bucket with a lid. The woman’s name was Laura and told me she had lived alone in her cabin for twenty years since her husband died. Her son lives in the nearby village, visits and brings supplies once a month. He tries to convince her to move to the village but she refuses to leave her cabin.
It was delightful to sit with Laura and Ranger sipping tea. During conversation I asked Laura, “What are those auto batteries used for?”
She laughed and said, “Oh, those are for making battery acid wine.”
I asked, “Battery acid wine?”
She responded, “It’s not wine to drink, I make it for my animal friends, they come from all over to smell it.”
Laura then explained how she and her late husband enjoyed seeing woodland animals and they developed the wine to attract them.
“I crush fruit my son brings from the village, gather ingredients from the forest, pine cones, wild flowers and various roots, marinate this mix in my oak bucket with battery acid. In early evening I place the bucket near the edge of the forest, remove the lid and animals gather near the cabin to smell the wine.”
I asked, “Do you do this every night?”
Laura said, “Oh, yes, every night.”
I set up camp nearby and joined Laura and Ranger that evening on the cabin’s porch. We sat quietly with Ranger between us sipping tea. Shortly movement appeared in the surrounding trees, a buck deer, followed by snowshoe hares, a black bear, beaver, squirrels, porcupine, chipmunks, ermine and a pair of Canada jays surrounding the cabin, a surrealistic event. Laura looked at me and smiled, her eyes sparkling, as we three enjoyed this moment. I watched in disbelief and told Laura that this was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. She smiled and as darkness descended led me into the cabin and served soup and biscuits, which were surely made by God. I told her I would stop in the morning on my way out to say goodbye.
After breaking camp I approached the cabin. Laura was sawing firewood, she looked like and angel with her infectious smile. I told Laura, “I will never forget our visit. Thank you, so much, and I hope to visit again someday.”
“You are always welcome, we enjoyed your company.”
Years passed, and In 1970 I returned to New Brunswick. I was eager to find the river trail and visit with my friends. As I crested the hill I saw only an open space where the cabin was before. In its place were two wooden crosses, a large one and a smaller one. The large cross-said, “Laura”, the small cross-said, “Ranger”. Tears flowed as sadness overcame me, as my memory flashed back to that wonderful evening I shared with Laura and Ranger.
In a state of morose I walked to the village. As I approached the village an attractive middle-aged woman was tending her garden. I stopped to talk with her.
“Hello, my name is William, and I visited in 1961, hiked the river trail and discovered an elderly woman, Laura, and her dog Ranger living in a cabin near the river. Laura and her late husband developed a concoction of natural ingredients marinated with battery acid and used this to attract woodland animals in the evening. Do you know anything about what happened to them?”
The woman was oddly silent, then said, “What year did you say you visited Laura?”
I responded, “1961”
Again she became silent, but for a longer time, then sat on the ground dropping her hoe.
“Laura McKenzie was my great aunt, and as a child I would sit for hours with Laura watching the beautiful animals emerge from the forest in the evening as we sipped tea.”
For the third time she became silent, then asked, “How old are you?”
I said, “Thirty”.
Now tears were flowing down her face as she buried her head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. She was trembling and I tried to comfort her. After a time she raised her head and said, “Laura and Ranger died in a fire that burned their cabin to the ground in 1945.”
We both fell silent. I hugged her, and silently walked away. I never returned to New Brunswick. Haunting memoires remain vivid of that evening with Laura, Ranger and the battery acid wine.