June 18, 2010

Ellie Sarcione: Church-going, tree-hugging, tender-hearted firecracker.

Ellie Sarcione sits outside her pigeon coop. Credit: Carol Robidoux

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – If there is never an Ellie Sarcione Appreciation Society in this town, it could be that she was simply misunderstood.
Sure, she's a church-going, tree-hugger extreme, and will forever be remembered as the “deer head lady,” for the time a few years back that she delivered a severed deer head to the doorstep of a state Fish and Game official to prove a point about illegal poaching on conservation land.
But beneath her radical, firecracker exterior beats the tender heart of an independent, if not slightly eccentric, thinker.
Earlier this week she appealed to the town council during public comment on a proposed fireworks ordinance, asking if she might be granted a permit to continue using firecrackers to keep hawks from decimating her flock of racing pigeons.
“It's the only way to keep 'the girls' safe,” said Sarcione yesterday, showing off her coop of dapple gray homing pigeons, which she's been nurturing for years.
She had 25 at last count, although she figures there could be another 30 or 40 living in exile at neighboring J&F Farms.
“Sometimes, right before they go into the coop at night, they start to swirl around and around in the sky – it's beautiful,” said Sarcione, who has always had a weakness for animals.
Aside from her great dane, Simba, there are currently two geese families who stop by daily for meals on the shore of her backyard pond, sharing space with the ducks and beaver. She also keeps two feral cats well-fed enough not to give in to the temptation of all the edible woodland creatures that frequent Sarcione's mini wildlife preserve.
Her bird collection started in the 1970s with a pair of white doves, which were stolen, cage and all, from a tree in her yard. One day not long after, while traveling the back road to Londonderry, she noticed a large flock of pigeons. So she pulled over just to see where they were going. Several trips and several bird watching expeditions later, Sarcione tracked the pigeons to the yard of big time pigeon racer Bob Gorton, who taught her everything she needed to know to raise a flock of her own.
“It's just fun watching them. It's relaxing,” said Sarcione, who has had more than her fair share of reasons to stress.
Ellie Sarcione and "the girls." Credit: Carol Robidoux
She sits down in the grass and scans the clouds for pigeons, her expression softening when she glimpses four or five darting across the open space above her yard.
“My husband Bill was killed in a motorcycle accident. It will be 21 years in September,” said Sarcione. “After he died, I had to close our business. I took four jobs just to survive. My mother died four days after Bill, she fell and hit her head and had a subdural hematoma. I wanted to go down to Florida to be with her, but I had to bury my husband.”
She pulls her legs closer to her chest and watches a few more pigeons return to the roost.
“My dad was killed by a tractor trailer on my 16th birthday. To this day, I haven't opened the birthday card he had for me. I still have it. I don't need to open it. I was turning Sweet 16 – I know what he was telling me. We always had a special bond,” said Sarcione.
“That's why I'm such a tomboy at heart – I asked him once if he'd wished he'd had another son instead of a daughter. We golfed and played tennis, spent time fixing things and doing things – he just wanted me to always be able to take care of myself, to reach down inside myself and find what I needed to pull myself back up, because no one else will do it for you,” said Sarcione.
Both she and her brother were adopted, a fact of her life she always knew. But the details never followed. She has tried to find out more about her birth parents, but 70 years ago records were not kept the way they are today.
“I've had a blood test, and so I know I have some Native blood. I also have a rare blood type – AB Rh D negative,” which is why, she explains, she was never able to have children.
“Sometimes I ask God why am I still here, when everyone I have loved is gone – and I never got to say goodbye to any of them. I figure maybe it's to tell people you don't ever get over it, but you learn how to live with it,” Sarcione said.
“After my husband died, I never remarried. You have one love in your life and he was it. I guess I've transferred all that love to great danes and birds,” said Sarcione, tossing some cracked corn on the grass as she calls out “babygoosebabygoose.”
Seconds later, two goose families waddle ashore.
She takes Simba for daily five-mile walks through the woods – she figures it must be her Native American blood that binds her so closely to nature, that makes her such a warrior for conservation and preservation of the land.
“This morning I was outside early, and someone threw something out the car window as they passed by my house, so I hollered at him. He turned around, came back and explained he was just delivering newspapers,” said Sarcione, pausing to smile.
“He went on to tell me he was later than usual because his daughter was graduating, and I apologized for yelling at him. I thanked him for coming back to explain – it was so nice, really. People don't take the time to do that kind of thing anymore,” Sarcione said.
“You know, I've been called eccentric – hell, I've been called a lot of things. I just say that if I am, I've worked hard at it all my life.”
Ellie Sarcione with the resident goose family on her Derry property. Credit: Carol Robidoux

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