With all the trials and tribulations that this year has thrown at us here on the banks of Child Lake, there have been some interesting moments that have been pleasant distractions from clean-ups and endless repairs.

I know the Chinese have cornered the market on naming their years after animals, but I doth proclaim this “The Year of the Critter”.

I have not included the regular residents that are seen daily or weekly, like deer, squirrels, loons, and various other common woodland denizens.

Those listed here are mammals and birds that seldom show themselves to us. Some are common to you in the south, but are new here in the Northland.

If not the year of the critter, it has been by far, the  Summer of the Turkey. Though fairly common in the southern part of state and now much of the U.S., these feathered dinosaurs have never ever been part of the north country landscape.

We have seen them the last 2-3 years further west, but this summer they have us surrounded. Though not seen in our yard proper, they have been seen across from our closest neighbor’s driveway to the west. And some have been seen on the south side of the lake, and also a mile east of us. We’ve been seeing them weekly or so it seems.

I never in my wildest imagination, did I ever think I  would  see turkeys in this part of the country.  It’s just a matter of time before they’re doing the turkey trot in the front yard.

Next…

I know what most of you are thinking… “Big deal, a friggin’ bunny!”

Well, most of you are trying to keep these little salad eaters out of your gardens. Here on the northern acreage, I have never seen one in almost 60 years. The local bunnies around here are the snowshoe hares, (not a rabbit at all). The Cotton Tail is a new-bee in this country. Unfortunately it may be global warming that is pushing this species north.

Earlier this spring, we noticed a young rabbit living under one of the cabins. Then, just a a few days ago we looked out the large picture window and there were two! I guess we all know what that means.

Then just a couple weeks back, I was enjoying a morning of cleaning the gutters.  When I looked over the side of the roof, there on my feeder attached to the deck railing and munching on sunflower seeds, was a female Northern Cardinal! Again they are common south and they grace every bird feeder over most of the USA, but up here she was my first.  (Sighting! you pervs…)

Next are the “Occasionals”. Those beasties who make sporadic visitations to our neck of the woods.

This Memorial Day, as I was watching TV with my sisters,  a dark movement caught my eye outside the window. There, slowly strolling by the old garage was a big ole’  Black Bear. Well not really big, but then bears always look huge for the first 2 seconds you see one.

The very next morning, my closest neighbors to the west, awoke to have two bears sitting next to what used to be their bird feeders. One was actually a mucho big ole’ bear.

Next up is the furry floating phantom… the Beaver.  These waterlogged rodents are fairly common up here but seldom seen. They do most of their engineering work under the cloak of darkness. They do that because they know if they show up in daylight I will smack them with a big stick.

My father, and now me, have been battling these bucktoothed buzz-saws for seven decades. We have won every battle but continue to lose the war.

Late last winter, when Sue and I were drinking our morning java down-stairs by the large lakeside window. A quick flash of white ran along a railroad tie that border along the walk-out basement.

It was our slinky quick-change artist, the Long-tailed Weasel. He was dressed in his  formal winter garb, an elegant white tuxedo with a dab of jet black on his tail.

I can’t get enough of these energetic and quirky white killers. It is said they consume half their body weight in caffeine every day, or at least act like they have.

While we are stuck in weasel-land, Sue happened to see his mongo cousin the Otter crossing the back yard. Alas, I was engaged in another part of the house and when I came to her urgent call, the water weasel had been swallowed by the forrest.

It is strange to see one so far from water, but they do move overland from one lake to another. The good news is… they occasionally eat beavers! You go otter!

Then last spring as I was writing an earlier blog and happen to glance out the window, I was very surprised to spy a young Coyote pup. I’m not sure why he was wandering around in daylight alone with out mom or his brothers and sisters. He simply walked past the house like he  had a destination in mind.  I had no clue where he was headed, but he was as cute as the dickens anyway.

Lastly, comes the grand finale. Something that is rarely seen, especially by me. I was driving towards Longville on County 5.  When just a quarter mile from town, I could see a large object on the shoulder of the road. As I drove closer, I almost locked the brakes up on the Subaru. There, sitting so passively was a large adult  Grey Wolf.

It’s strange, this is only the third wolf I’ve been lucky enough to see in my life. Yet each time I never think dog or coyote. My brain instantly just went WOLF!

I very much think it’s a thousands of years old  reaction left over from our glacier chasing days in northern Europe, when these savvy pack hunters were a major threat to our primitive survival.

It’s a thrill to see one anytime though.

I hope you really appreciated this blog and noticed that I never once used the “T” word in this post. (It rhymes with three). There is still some year left in 2012, so there may be some future critter sightings and someday, I just might tell you about our Sasquatch encounter. I do believe! I do believe! I do I do I do believe!

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Requiem

Despite the amazing kaleidoscopic fall we enjoyed here in lake country, there is a cool whispering background voice that adds a note of sadness. The trees have become skeletal now, with a smattering of a few stouthearted souls squeezing the last drops from a disappearing star.

Flower beds have pulled up their leaf litter quilts. Leaves have been harassed, corralled,  and put into winter pasture. Gutters cleaned, hoses stored, and wood covered. All the minutia that comes with facing the final season.

Of all these chores that I have dutifully done for many years no matter were I have lived. The one here in the northland that is most sobering for me. Pulling in the dock. I know this seems trivial to many, but to this heart it seems like surrendering, giving up and giving in. It’s the last movement of the seasonal symphony.

When the dock is onshore and the last droplets of liquid lake fall onto the dry parched soil it completes it’s final task. Sleep well pal…sleep well.

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The Elephant Scoopers

Skies are a little bluer, nights a little edgier. Woodlands a little more garish.  The deer have switched from auburn to a somber grey/brown. Gold Finches are not gold any longer.

This change has to happen. As it has since…well…time has been time. The last drops of summer are being rung from this tilty ol’ planet Earth. I guess things like life itself would get pretty messed up if that big ol’ sun  never left the equator.

It’s not an over night thing. It’s starts well before the first yellow leaves or frost, but in more subtile ways that go unnoticed by most. To a farmer it’s when they detect the first signs of soybeans turning. To a pet owner, a little more hair bunnies under the kitchen table. To teachers it’s the back to school ads. We all have our clues.

Yet the subtlest happens near the end of July or early August. Those that live on the land and with land can sense it. One needs your ears and peripheral vision and a keen sense of what’s happening, near and far.

First signs are the quiet mornings, Only leaves rustling, a few crows and ravens calling and occasionally a Bluejay. Even the stalwart loons have even quieted. They are here but seldom heard.

The reverse is the Canada Geese that have quadrupled their raucous repertoire. They arrive at dark, then begin goose squabbling like middle-schoolers in a lunch room with a loose puppy. This cacophony goes through the night and ends around daybreak. You would think they would need their rest for the continental flight that is forthcoming.

Though the carnival decked woodlands seem bereft of most birdlife, this is when your peripheral vision kicks in. You catch furtive movements and darting about, then when you turn to see, there is nothing there. If you wait silently and  stand motionless, they reveal themselves ever so slowly. In late August, it’s the neo-tropical warblers on the march.

They filter through in reverse order from their springtime progression when they were heading north. Those that came through last in May are first to head south in August. Like wealthy Canadians they will spend their winter basking on a Caribbean Island or the coast of Mexico and Central America.

They have abandoned their prim and proper courting clothes of spring, and donned camouflaged fatigues like snipers creeping through the understory. One is now dealing with young of the year, and eclipsed parents. They together have another name…LBB. Little Brown Birds.

Next to come through are the sparrows and thrushes, LBB and LBBBB’s. Little brown birds and a Little Bit Bigger Brown Birds. The exception of course is the Robin. Robins look like Robins, and they are never in hurry to move south.

Then the Flickers arrive. Always dressed to impress, but more in a clownish way. Through the summer months one may see one or maybe a pair, yet mid-fall they cover the ground with dozens and dozens of brethren, looking for ants.

All this takes about 4 months to transpire. Then as the understory drop their cloaking leaves, the progression dribbles to a few.

Now what about that bizarre heading of this post?  Well, two mornings ago my wife called up from downstairs as she looked out the large picture window at her hosta garden. “What’s that on the ground?” She said in a manner that belied the fact that she already knew the answer. I donned my binoculars and focussed on the three dark animated blobs. They were here…The Juncos! Damn! 

Then as I snuck out on the elevated deck for a keener look. I caught a small movement in the nearby Red Pine. There flitting to and fro like a commuter whose lost their car keys and it’s 7:45 a.m. It’s a Golden- Crowned Kinglet. One of my favorite birds to view. Yet it’s somewhat depressing at the same time. Dare I say it?  The first snows will surely follow them.  Sigh

The Juncos & Kinglets are the tail end of the circus parade that is passing through our little park on Child lake. As we all know in a real circus parade, the large grey pachyderms are almost last in that parade…followed by the unheralded clean-up crew with brooms and shovels.

Hardly elephants, but the Kinglets and Juncos are usually the last migrants of the season. Many will hangout for a bit, until one morning, flakes will swirl around their pantaloons and they will ride the currents south.

As I put down my empty coffee mug. I stared at the gathering throng on the yard below and the nearby trees. I got up, put on a thicker jacket, and went outside, saw my breath, and started looking for my scoop shovel and push broom.

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Summer’s Last Dance

If I promise not to sing, will you forgive me posting about trees one more time?

No doubt your thinking; “What is his fixation with trees?” Well, when you live in the center of a forest, whether good or bad, they are my constant companions. They are the dominant visual force no matter which way you look.

As you know, my trees have not been kind to Bruce this year. But now they are trying to win favor with me again by dressing for The Last Dance of Summer.  It’s a slow seduction that started 3 weeks ago. Like a very subtile strip tease with the trees shedding their temporary colors and gradually exposing  their underlying true colors.

I am very slowly  forgetting and forgiving the relentless attacks of a few months back, but then again colored underwear has that kind of affect on my memory.

The coming of fall is always a bitter sweet yet reflective time. There is a calmness as the lake quiets and there is a noticeable absence of bird calls. They are replaced by crunching leaves  underfoot and the crisp but whispered wing beats of water fowl as they prepare for the epic journeys that they are about to embark on.

The big-tooth aspens and birch, as they yellow, make a blue sky seem bluer. The slightest vesper of a breeze causes them to chatter amongst themselves with rumors of winter. Like golden doubloons they cascade to the ground if the same breeze should freshen.

The nights have certainly cooled, the tired sun has booked his flight to South America. Each day he sinks a wee bit closer to the horizon as if he’s sneaking away and we won’t notice his escape.

The woodlands though, give his plot away. Like a carnival send off they shed their green hues and try to coax him back with resplendent dresses and petticoats that they have been hiding all  summer. They know they have little chance to lure him back, but  maybe…just maybe.

With the shorten days even I feel the need to hasten my work load. Splitting wood, storing deck furniture etc. There’s an urgency that is subliminal. Leftovers from a time when our earliest kin would harvest, hunt, and sew winter clothes before their world would be shrouded. The long time is coming and a silent refrain keeps echoing in one’s mind…”Have I done enough” “Have I done enough?”

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

William Cullen Bryant

 

 
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Tree-Peat

Across the pond, the world’s finest are chasing a life-long dream; to harvest sporting’s most coveted prize and the planet’s most desirable metal, gold!

The fierceness of the competitors in my yard cannot be viewed in a moment, and a replay  helps little. They can only be judged by seasons, decades, and centuries. They fight for their own gold, the Earth’s closest star.

My, did we just have a Richard Attenborough moment? I promise not to do that again.

On with today’s competitors:

                                                 The Bur Oak

AES…3     YdCom…5     Val...5 

We also have Red Oaks, but not directly in the yard.  And the Bur Oaks are not like the massive ones of the open prairies or your yard. Living this far north, they never sport the thick trunks and heavy horizontal limbing of the oak savannas further south. It has much desired wood for both fireplace and table saw. The seeds make this a nuisance tree in the urban setting, though not here. An  acorn seldom has a chance to bounce on the ground before a critter pounces on it. Just ask the red, grey, and flying squirrels, the grouse, ducks, and jays.  Ask the chipmunk and deer mice. The raccoon, skunk, and foxes have a say, too.  And the deer and bears collect their kickback as well.  (13)

The Ironwood

AES…4     YdCom…4     Val…3    

A strange, uber-slow growing understory tree. Not all that common, but I have a couple in the yard. The few I have cut with the chainsaw have lived up to their name. It felt like trying to saw a flagpole.  It would score much lower in AES, but for the beauty of it’s unusual and oriental looking catkins that droop from its branches in mid-summer. The fact they also look like hops (as in beer-making) give rise to its other name “Hop Hornbeam” They are a great food source for  grouse. (11)                                                                           

                             

                     

The America Elm

AES…4     YdCom…3     Val…2

This is one of the few that has survived the dreaded Dutch Elm onslaught of the last few decades. If  I gave points for sentimentality, this trooper would gain a few. I’ve always enjoyed the elm’s vase-like silhouette.  Anyone whose tried to split elm for firewood has cussed the day the tree sprouted. Their tendency to grow in a corkscrew fashion gives one a splitting headache. The wood and smoke tend to smell like urine. (Not my first word choice.) (12)   

                                                     The Sugar Maple

                                    AES…4    YdCom…4     Val… 5

Always a charmer, good fall color and nice shade. This one was transplanted by my father and nursed into adulthood like the first test tube baby.  I have few on the property, but my neighbor to the east has hundreds, if not thousands. Maple also yields great firewood and furniture. By the way, it can be drizzled over your pancakes and waffles, too. (13) 

 

The Red Pine (Norway) 

AES… 5     YdCom… 5     Val… 3

This is really my favorite yard tree. Why? It looks great and it plays nice. Hunh? What I mean is, it grows out the ground like a toadstool.  No base mounding, no roots showing, and it hangs onto its branches like a banker with a buck. But like its big sister, the White pine, it shouldn’t be used in a fireplace. But if you want to build your log cabin,  fifty years from now we will have a kazillion of ‘em. ( 13

                                   

The judges have conferred and the tallies are in….

GOLD goes to the… Paper Birch!   14/15

Silver goes to the… Red Pine    13/15

Bronze… looks like a two way tie between the Oak and the Maple   12/15

So that concludes the Tree Olympics for 2012. I hope you rooted for your favorite tree and didn’t pine for the losers.

I was going to build a medals stand out of some lumber I had, but that seemed, well…, insensitive.

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Tree Olympics

Back in a different universe on a planet far, far away, I once competed in gymnastics. I never became too proficient at it, but it brought me great joy. It was the adrenalin rush that most teenage boys need at that age, and the uniforms were chick magnets.

I’ve been mesmerized by the recent Olympic gymnasts at the London games, and the absolutely jaw dropping tricks that deny both gravity and physics. Now the scoring criteria has changed since I donned the always too tight stretch pants, and gasoline was only 35¢ a gallon.

In the olden days, everyone was awarded a score of 10 before they even performed their exercise. Then during the performance the judges would subtract points for what you didn’t do, and how well or poorly you did the tricks you did perform. In other words, form and execution.

By now you are probably scratching your heads, wondering what the hell this has to do with living in the north woods?

Welcome to the Child Lake Tree Olympics! It is an event where I will judge each and every species of tree I have to mow around in our way too big yard.

I know you went from scratching your head to rolling your eyes. Trees AGAIN? But this time were going to separate the good guys from the bad guys. So hang in there.

I hope this will be a bit fun and a bit educational. (Take notes because there may be a quiz.) I’m changing the scoring a bit by using an additive instead of subtractive method. A max score is 15 based on three criteria.

1. Aesthetics: (0-5 )  How visually pleasing the tree species is.

2. Yard Compatibility: (0-5) Is the tree friendly, or a pain in the aspen?

3. Value: (0-5) Does the tree have benefits when no longer vertical?

Got It? Shall we start the competition.

 First up. . . .

The Eastern White Pine.

AES…5  YdCom…3  Val…3

This is the flagship tree of the north woods. It commands attention by size and beauty alone. Not a great yard tree. Branches snap easily under wet big snow. Roots grow on surface causing chipped teeth during mowing. No firewood value really, but can be milled into high quality lumber. (11 pts)

 

The Paper Birch

AES…5   YdCom…4   Val…5

Easily the most identifiable tree in the yard if not the northland. Grows singularly  or clumped. Tends to mound up at base.  A strong breeze and it sheds like a sheepdog in August. Great fall color. Yields good firewood and comes with it’s own fire-starter! (14)

                              The Black Ash

AES…2   YdCom…3   Val…4

This is actually a swamp tree, it likes it’s feet wet. Slow growing, but has beautiful interesting wood with a darker grained core. Produces great fire wood. In the yard though… it be ugly.  I think it’s slow growing because it’s lazy. It’s the last to leaf out in the spring and the first to drop them in the fall. If a robin lands on a limb, it dies…the limb, not the robin. (9)

The White Spruce

AES…5   YdCom…3   Val…2

This one of my favorite conifers – to look at, that is. When they mature the drooping branches take on a Spanish Moss like appearance. We are on the southern edge of this tough spruce’s territory, that grows to the arctic circle. Their major drawback is that their octopus like root structure fans out across the ground the same diameter as the branch spread. A lawn mowing nightmare and I have a stack of ruined  mower blades to prove it. (10)

                                                        The Basswood

AES…  3      YdCom…2    Val…2

This species is right in the same category as my dreaded Balsm Fir (6). It only edges it out due to it’s perfume-like fragrance when it flowers in late June and early July. One can smell it from a great distance. It has the same nuisance root quality as White Pine/Spruce. It jettisons branches even on a windless day. The wood is of little use to me unless I take up the guitar and whittle my own. I’ve written the International Society of Arborists to petition to have the “B” dropped from it’s common name. (7)

That concludes Day One of the tree semi-finals. Stay tune for the conclusion and eventual winner. So keep your toes pointed and stick the landing.

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Love/Hate in the North Woods

As many of you know I am an ardent outdoorsman, and a lover of all things that are wild and wonderful. When I retired, I got to live out my lifelong fantasy of living full time on the shores of Child Lake. Therefore, I have immersed myself in a world that is totally controlled by the raw forces of nature.

This is a land of stark contrast. Beautiful and serene one day, then tempestuous and ominous the next. It is a place where one callous mistake or wrong decision can have far-reaching consequences.

Deep into our third year residing on the sunny shores of Child lake, thoughts and feelings about this place have evolved, as one lives and breathes the entirety of the land.

One feeling that has changed in me a great deal is about trees.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I still love trees, and I still feel a great deal of remorse when felling a living one. But I have become a harden tree snob. I have compiled a short list of one species that I have little affinity for, if not out-right hatred.

Number 1 on my hit list is:    Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Now to the unseasoned eye one could argue that this is one of those most beautiful and symmetrical tree in the forest. I would have to concur. But aesthetics aside. This is the Devil Tree!

Doe-eyed tree hugging romantics will be appalled, but I shed no tears when I bring one to its knees… err limbs…whatever. Cut them, burn them or shred them, then stomp on their babies,   Don’t let their pretty little looks deceive you. They breathe danger and rain destruction.

Excuse the expression, but this is the wussy tree of the northern forest.  They smell great, they look great, but after that they have little going for them.

Top 10 Reasons Why I Hates This Tree

1. They just don’t live long… 50-60 years.

2. Their roots grow only 2-3 inches under ground.

3. They tend to rot from the base up.

4. They grow 60-75 feet tall, then grow multiple tops called “sails” that weigh hundreds of pounds and soak up snow and rain like a sponge just to get more top heavy.

5. Every thing in a sixty foot radius is a potential landing site.

6. They have little to no firewood value at all.

7.  You can’t make decent lumber out of them.

8. They have 1 billion branches each when they hit the ground.

9. They have sappy pitch that gums up my chainsaw and permanently binds to clothing, hair, and human flesh.

(and most of all)

10. In a windstorm, they surrender like an Iraqi Army!!

(70 footer with sail)

Now this behemoth is not leaning to be playful, my         garage is 50 feet down range.

I’m not as heartless as my post seems to indicate. I do have some fond memories about this tree. For the tops of these aromatic evergreens have graced the Marzinske living room of many a  Christmas.

At the end of deer season my father would simply walk out into the woods and shoot the top off a particularly nice one with his 30.06. I was fairly grown  before I finally discovered that other fathers didn’t shoot Christmas trees.

I have carried on the tradition, however… with a slight twist.

                       

                      Now I Simply Cut Off Their Heads!

“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch..beware the awful avalanche!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



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Turn the Page

Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its’ long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.

Hal Borland

We flipped the calendar and have put January in the rearview mirror. We’ve paid our dues a second time.

I prefer the seasonal calendar over the solar one. The spring months are March to May. Summer is June to August. Fall consists of September to November. And winter is December to February. That way winter is two thirds done now!

The clinker in that system is the month of March.

I view March like I did ninth graders when I was teaching junior high school. They were too old and cocky for junior high, and yet far too immature for high school. March has one foot in spring, and the other on frozen barren ground.

It has to go somewhere to keep the symmetry in the system, so spring it is.

Last year when Sue and I moved north and faced our first winter, we didn’t know what a full winter was like, living half-way to Santa’s workshop. We had sneak peeks from the many Christmases we had spent here through the years; but they were just snippets.

It was cold… check. It was snowy… check. It was long… check, and double-check. When we asked locals, they all said it was the hardest winter in the last decade or longer. We looked at each other and blinked. It didn’t seem that bad. Really.

How does one get through a northern Minnesota winter?

To me it’s the small things. Being chief fire-tender, takes up a fair amount of my day. Splitting kindling at ten below is almost musical, and takes one-fourth the effort.

A trail walk is also usually on the docket.

I’ve walked my trails hundreds of times. Like beach-combing it’s never the same twice. The snow records the nightly events that the other seasons only wish they could. It may be the ever-present set of deer tracks, or maybe a snowshoe rabbit. If I’m lucky, it could be an elusive fisher track. Each passing night is an ever-changing detective story.

Besides a bobber slowly sinking down a cylindrical ice portal, another of my favorite winter sights are my avian friends.

Winter reduces the bird population to an uber-hardy few. We have the normal upper mid-west winter residents. Jays, Crows, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, White and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, and of course, Chickadees.

My feeders have not been nearly as active with this balmy winter as last year.

Squirrel attacks have been virtually non-existent as their woodland booty is barely covered with the thinnest white covering. Their numerous tracks in the snow indicate a sizable population living well off the cleared homestead site, and are doing quite well.

I do however miss our infamous black squirrels. With the sharp increase in the price of black sunflower seed, and bird seed overall, due to a disastrous growing season in the Dakotas last summer, my sadness is tempered a bit.

Their absence is duly noted, however.

It had been a rather dull viewing season as far as birds go, then a week-long cold snap and high winds changed that at the end of January. It shook things up a bit.

First, a smattering of Purple Finches arrived, always cool. Then one morning looking over a steaming coffee mug, I noticed one, then three, then a horde of my favorite arctic buddies… The Redpolls had finally arrive!

This industrious little finch of the far north, can quickly change a drab day into a joyous festival of color and sound in seconds. Their frantic actions and  incessant chattering can fill the deck and surrounding trees in a heart-beat.

They also have to be one of the most nervous birds with the power of flight on the planet. I swear, when they hear two snowflakes collide in mid-air, it puts the whole flock into such a tizzy, no window in the house would be safe if they weighed half a pound. I have yet to have a casualty, but thumping at the windows usually indicates their presence.

The true stars of the winter landscape has to be our resident pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. Their ominous size brings respect and awe when ever they make carrier landings on the deck rail to attack the hanging suet feeder.

Attack is really not an overstated verb in this case.

The male, dubbed Barc Anthony, strikes the frozen suet with such voracity that he broke the connecting chain not once, but twice! I had to replace it with a heavy-duty cable-tie to withstand his feeding onslaughts. His mate, Cleopectra, seems to feed a bit more demurely, if a crow-sized, feathered jack hammer can be considered demure.

I’m writing this post on one of my favorite holidays, Groundhog’s Day.

I read this morning that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and deemed six more weeks of winter. Here on the gloomy shores of Child Lake, our resident woodchuck, Buxton Bill, not only did NOT see his shadow, but couldn’t even see his feet!

The fog being so thick. He said, “What winter?” Then flipped us the claw and crawled back in his hole.

So I wish all of you a continuing “sping-inter”, (Sorry Margie) and if you feel so moved, go put an extra scoop of seed in the feeders.

What could it hurt?

“I realized that If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”

Charles Lindbergh 

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MacArthur Goes Fishing

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Like the storied general from WWII, I too, returned.  To Upper Red Lake that is.  A little overdramatic, most certainly… a little redundant, most likely.

With my trusty side-kick Rollie, we planned another assault on this monster lake in the never ending quest for the fabled walleye.

All week the weather pontiffs were prognosticating fair skies, warmer temps, light winds. You know the rest… they lied. They came closest on the temps, but it was pretty much cloudy and the wind was a devil.

Rollie brought along an old teaching friend, Dick, with him on this trip. A Red Lake virgin, so to speak.

We drove onto the lake a little before noon and fished until dark without a great deal to show for it. A couple of smaller fish and lots of time in between to question our sanity. Somewhat dejected, we drove back to shore and stayed at a small mom ‘n pop motel and hit the rack early.

Tomorrow had to be the golden day.

We re-hit the lake at dawn.

With a sliver of sunrise we punched some holes and set up camp.  This time we were fishing out of light weight portable fish houses and not the hard house from my earlier post.

I had to tether mine down with  guy-ropes and specially designed ice-screws to keep my gear, and myself, from becoming a red and white tumbleweed heading for Manitoba in the strong southern breeze.

What exactly does it take to be a successful ice-fisherman these days?

My heart first goes back to my formative days when on rare occasions my father would take me out on the ice, usually during an ice-fishing contest.

Every podunk little prairie town in southern Minnesota near a lake, had a contest in the winter. There would be about a two acre site on a frozen lake, already predrilled with a zillion holes. Usually three hundred people showed up and after three hours perhaps three small fish were caught. None by me, ever.

There would be random drawings of prizes provided by local merchants all day.  None ever won by me, ever.

I sat on a bucket and tried to imagine a monster pike threading the gauntlet of of two hundred dangling hooks just to bite mine. Nope, not never! (Sorry, Margie.)

I remember one contest where there was the usual prize for the largest, smallest, and the most fish caught. They were all won by one guy! He caught the only fish. Nope, not me… ever.

Now back to 2012.

What does it take? I’m sorry to say it… grrrr… TECHNOLOGY!

Cold weather gear has come a long way from when I wore knitted woolen mittens that chaffed your nose raw as you sniffled and wiped. (And yes, they had a string  going from both hands.)

Gone are the days with seven buckle galoshes with three pair of woolen socks. One can actually move now.  And if you happen to fall down, your sister doesn’t have to help you to your feet in front of your buddies.

I now own a handheld GPS unit. It contains a card that has every cotton-picking lake in Minnesota, and it’s depth contours registered in. That’s over 10,000 flipp’n lakes!  Three satellites hovering in black space triangulate where I’m at, and where I want to go within seven feet! It tells me the depth of the lake before I ever drill a single hole.

I don’t want to like this stuff, but man it’s cool.

I fire up my gas powered auger and drill holes faster than a pocket gopher. I then get out my portable sonar locator and check the depth to try to catch my GPS lying to me. It never has.

If you look closely at my unit’s screen you see a black line at the top of the column. That’s the bottom of the ice, about two feet thick. Then there is a super thick band just shy of the ten foot mark.  That’s the bottom of the lake. Below that is just a false echo line.

That skinny, single black line just above the thick one is my lure and bait.  The trick is to get a double thick mark to show up out of nowhere and merge with that single mark.

What does that mean? Two golden walleye fillets, lightly breaded in a bubbling bath of 475 degree peanut oil!

Now does it work? Well, you judge.

If you’ve seen a more obese yellow perch than that, I guess I would have to eat it.

As it turned out, the two lines merged often enough that we caught a limit of walleye for all three of us. With several mongo perch, to boot, that would have made the record books if they hadn’t tested positive for steroid use.

Three happy soldiers folded up camp and turned the trucks south after another successful campaign on Red Lake. There’s a month left to go on the walleye season, and if I can locate a corn-cob pipe, I Shall Return!… again.

———————–

P.S. I know many of you have been wondering on the price tag for all this. Some of you may even be male. Fishing legend, Koos Brant, captured my fears best.

My biggest worry is that my wife (when I’m dead) will sell my fishing gear for what I said I paid for it.  

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A Different Kind of Wealth

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
― Aldo LeopoldA Sand County Almanac

It’s mid-winter, and she has finally decided to play.

The seductress that she is, winter has been fashionably late this year. She has shed her brown frock and is bedecked with the thinnest white  gossamer gown. Her icy breath is descending upon the north country as I type. I await our dance.

It seems the weathermen have finally rid themselves of their Tommy Bahama tropical shirts here on Child Lake. They’re telling us that the bottled up arctic air can only be held back so long. All reports have the Canadian prairie provinces are about to unleash its frigid fury on it’s neighbors to the south.

Actually in an absurd sort of way, I welcome it.

I spent too much time pulling wood ticks and deer ticks off  parts of my hide that are hidden, and swatting deer flies and mosquitos off the parts that weren’t, not to reap the benefits of all that work in the woods.

You see I’m self-employed now. No pay, but the wallpaper’s outstanding!  I collect wood. That’s it…wood.

Wood is a year long pursuit here at the lake. You’re either cutting it, splitting it, stacking it, hauling it, or re-stacking it again.  So I’m damn sure going to burn it.

Bring on a bit of the cold!

Most of the north country has slowly been overrun by people whose bank accounts have let them loose touch with the land that they have worked their entire lives to move to. I’m talking central air, geothermal heat, hot tubs, heated flooring, two story cathedral windows, etc.

All fine, but there is no reason to leave their comfortable MacMansions except to pull their progeny around the lake on a hotdog-shaped beach toy on the 4th of July.

Unfortunately, or maybe even fortunately, I’m not blessed with such a bank account and will never own an inflatable hotdog pull toy, thank-you kindly.

But I do feel a strange sense of wealth whenever I walk towards one of my many wood piles. Each piece of wood I know intimately, for I have handled it many times. Within its confines are locked all the countable summers that our closest star has bathed it in.

My childhood, adolescence, adulthood are contained in those growth rings.

They hold the essence of my parents, fresh from a war-weary odyssey as they came of age. Strolling hand in hand, claiming this sandy, swampy, patch of woods that nobody else wanted, as their own.

(*Me by the dog)

This wood is permeated with the sounds of laughter as three small naked children splash and play in a crystal clear, always too cold lake. These pieces of wood have held onto summer as only we wish we could.

It is now my job to release it.

And so it is with great reverence that I take chainsaw to these overseers. I choose my trees carefully. Those destined to be toppled by disease are first to go. Those that have slowly let gravity threaten property and safety are next. And finally, those who have lived to their maximum longevity fall before me. I do not take it lightly.

Yes, it is work. Yes, it is messy. And yes, it is arduous. But like they say, it is honest work. There are more efficient ways to heat and survive a northern winter. Yet as long as my back stays strong and the woodland provides, I will continue the harvest.

Many people check daily their portfolios and smart-phones constantly for stock quotes. I need only to set my coffee down and step out the door, walk a few paces and make a withdrawal.

You see,  I live in the middle of the bank!

Posted in Dis n Dat | Leave a comment