Tag Archives: Ice Fishing

Cold Season

A Summer Place

Snow bears the most wonderful scent. Particularly after a long, hot summer, a warm and wet autumn, when composting grass and molds perfume the air. The tiniest, shortest season-within-a-season is the Foliage Peak, around the first and second week of October. It’s easy to miss this one if you are not out in it, raking leafpiles or sneaking in the last fishing trips to the pond before it is sealed beneath a foot of ice. There will be just a few days when the tons of dried leaves create some of my favorite, delicate aromatic nuances.

The Golden Autumn

Then one morning, arising in the darkness, I open the door to let Sassy June out, and the smell wafts to me through the open door. It smells exactly like that of which it is made, cold and water. It is snow on the way, and this is the harbinger of Cold Season. In my book, there are a hundred subtle changes throughout the year which I identify as seasons-within-seasons. The Standard Four are just too long and vague. Spring has snow, then crocuses, then mud, then tulips, then American Robins and before you know it, the dozen springs move on into the multiple summers.

Sparrow with Apple Blossoms

And after the dozen autumns, the many parts of Cold Season approach. First there is just coldness. No longer do we revel in the luxury of stepping out the door without consideration of our garments. Slowly we add sweatshirts. Then gloves, and maybe a hat. As the season commences, we’ll get out our barn coat and snow boots. By the time we are deep within the middle of this odyssey, we will don long-johns and “base layers”. Wrap our faces with scarves, pull on the big Berne snowsuit, and the felt-lined Ranger Boots.

 

Am I supposed to feel my fingers?

Cold Season sports some of the most beautiful sunrises of the year. Or perhaps it is more related to timing. In the long, easy days of summer, Sun is up way before Sassy and me. In the evenings, it still hangs in the sky after the end of Jeapordy. During winter, Sun seems to seek my companionship. The morning commute is greeted with frozen sunrises. Crystals hanging in red skies. Delicate flakes fluttering Earthward, backlighted by  gold and pink and bright cerulean blue.

Winter Sunrise

The challenges of the season come along at a steady pace. Finding the ice scrapers for the car, closing the storm windows. Firing the pellet stove and gas heaters, the smell of hot dust as the heat machines slowly wind up. Oh, surprise! Forgot to shut off the water to the outdoor faucet, the ice freezing in the spray head, cracking the plastic. “You know your hose is on out here?” son Ryan asks on a visit.

We’ll have a little snow by Thanksgiving most years. We almost always have white Christmases, though I have known a year or two when the day was devoid of snow. For me and my ilk, snow is a requirement for a fully-enjoyable holiday. This year threatened to be green, but we were granted reprieve as the snow fell gently on Christmas Eve. Just enough for a pretty dusting, everything painted new and white. Just when some old guy says something to the effect of “We just don’t have winters like the old days.”, along comes a blizzard to suggest he may be mistaken. Somehow, these are every bit as exciting as when I was a child, and the prospect of a “snow day” off from school was most welcome. A double bonus; no school, and three feet of snow to play in!

Buffeted Crest

On the trails of Engleville, I can venture forth under the most challenging circumstances. Twelve degrees below zero and a ten-mile-per-hour wind. I can imagine myself on a Coast Guard Cutter in the Bering Sea, Sergeant Preston of the Northwest Mounted Police in the days of the Yukon Gold Rush. I’ll stand again atop Nishan Hill for the thousandth time, and feel the wind pounding against me, making me sway like a sapling. It is here I feel closest to this Great Cosmos. This must be what it’s like in space, on the surface of Pluto, the asteroids of the Kuyper belt. Of course, I have the back-of-my-mind assurance that I am only a twenty-minute walk to a hot fire and a cup of steaming coffee.

Now I will count the tiny handful of weekends we’ll have to immerse ourselves in all that is Cold Season. Ice fishing and snowmobiling, ski-joring with Sassy June, snowshoe walks past snow-covered pines, the birds of winter, the long, moonlit nights, gray days veiled in flurries.

This is a quieter season for the most part. No neighbor lawn mowers grazing, no clamoring combines rolling up and down Engleville Road. (Though the Town of Sharon’s big Oshgosh V-plow will rumble past a couple of times a day in bad weather, son-in-law Kenyon waving from the window.) On a sunny, snowy day, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the kids from the farm and the “Blue House Boys” next door, sledding down the hills, building snow forts, engaging in snowball fights, the laughter of children filling the frozen air.

On another bright winter day, the whining sounds of snowmobiles will be heard from all directions as they ride the abandoned rail bed north to the village, cross the carefully marked trail lanes over the hayfields, climbing to the Corporation Land, Engleville Pond, and the State Forest beyond. And here on the ranch, my grandchildren will tear up the neatly groomed trails, carefully conditioned for an old man and his old dog, riding the Ski-Doo, pulling siblings and cousins on a plastic sled, arguing over whose turn it is to drive.

There will be walks in the woods, down to the Little Beaver Creek. There will be rabbit- hunting in the hedgerows. There will be warm nights in the high school gym watching basketball games. There will be frigid days when we fish through the ice and debate our sanity for doing so. There will be frozen moments alone on a trail, with silent steady snowfall and an evasive sun. And I will be filled with reverence for this place, this time, this planet, this cosmos, this simple, beautiful life.

Then one day, the rest of the world will smell a smell, note the steadily fading snowdrifts, perhaps see a tiny purple flower shoving its way through the snow. A tiny giant, driven by tenacity, unphased by the cold. And they will begin to decry and declare “We’re nearing the end of winter! Look, signs of spring!”

I will feign joy for their benefit.

Though inside, I will shed a tiny frozen tear for the passing of the Cold Season.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Pazlo

 

February Journal

Gosh, here it is the end of February already! Two twelfths of our year gone!

Gosh, here it is the beginning of March already! And I missed my deadline for the February Journal! Well, we’ll write about February in March. Here we go…

It’s been kind of a whacky winter this year, with temperatures oscillating wildly from fifteen below zero F to sixty degrees F in a two-week period. We set a record last Wednesday, with a high temperature of 73 degrees F. In February? What goes on?

Well, this is the first year that I’ve actually heard myself complain that it was not cold enough, and there was not enough snow!  I think it’s good (and fun) to embrace winter activities. Too many people live in this climate just hiding in winter, running from the cold and snow, and wishing for an early spring. Don’t get me wrong, I like spring as well as the next guy. Still, we live in a place that’s frozen and snowy at least 3 or 4 months out of the year. Sometimes it stretches out a little. A “good” long winter will set in around mid-November, and the landscape can be covered in snow until March or later. Most winters don’t quite string out that long.

When kids were little, I’d be out a lot building snowmen, snow sculptures and snow forts. There would be sledding down hills and generally playing in the snow many days. I’ve been an avid fisherman since I was a kid, but didn’t take up ice fishing until I was nearly fifty years old. Not sure why, though there was a time I was not so eager to expose myself to sub-freezing temperatures.

This year I took up yet another new winter activity, namely Ski-joring. Joring refers to being pulled by an animal, usually dogs. (There’s also Cani-Cross, motocross with canines!) Some ski-joring is done with horses, mostly in the midwest. In 1926, ski-joring was an Olympic event! Most folks have never heard of it. Anyway, this year I bought these things called Ski-shoes or Climbing skis, and they have a few other names. Invented and still used by the Altai people in Northern China, they’re called hoks (“hawks”) in the native language.

Altai Hoks

Hoks skin detail

So hoks, or climbing skis, have a “skin” on much of the bottom surface of the ski. A velour-like fabric, it’s like sharkskin; smooth in one direction and grippy in the other. So you can walk up hills like you’re wearing snowshoes, but on the backtrail or downhills, you can glide a bit. They’re not as fast as cross-country skis owing to the large fabric patch being a bit less slick than an all-ski underside.

Of course there’s more to it. I also picked up a trekking belt which goes around your waist, and attaches via a bungee lead to the dog. This way she pulls the belt, leaving hands free for ski poles. I did some water skiing as a youngster, but never skied on snow, so I’m learning the skiing part before strapping myself to a Husky that can run 25 miles an hour! The trail camera got a pretty good snapshot of the joring rig. You can see the Hoks yourself (or buy them) at Altai Ski. I think the whole address would be: http://www.us-store.altaiskis.com. The trekking belt and bungee lead come from Nooksack Racing in New Hampshire. (www.nooksackracing.com) Sasha’s custom-made dogsled harness comes from Alpine Outfitters of Bend, Oregon. (www.alpineoutfitters.net) (That’s grandson Kacey in the green hoodie).

Of course the temps were too warm (around or above freezing) for hok skiing, and even caused the snow to stick to the snowshoes. Then the snow melted and it rained. Boo hoo! In spite of all that we keep on hiking the trails and visiting our Wonder Woods. It’s always great to be out here, even if the weather doesn’t spoil us with perfect climes!

Snowmobiling, also, rose on the popularity list, became the buzz of the season, then was similarly hobbled by less-than-desirable weather for snowmachines. Max saved his money from working on the dairy farm all summer (and winter on Sundays only), and bought himself a shiny used Ski-Doo. His father, son-in-law Matt, went out after him and bought a sled, too. Not to be left behind (should snow ever fall) I also added a new Ski-Doo to my inventory. Well, not a new one, but a good used sled that will serve me for years. Of course we still have the Arctic Cat Jag my father handed down to me almost ten years ago, which is now painted orange with a “REVENGE” stencil in black on the sides of the cowl. Max had an idea we could take the Jag to the grass drags in Bouckville. Maybe we will, yet. Grass Drags are summer competitions for snowmobiles, where, as the name implies, they drag race on the grass. I guess someone is even more obsessed with winter sports than I am, and couldn’t let the whole summer go by without an excuse to ride his snowmobile!

Any excuse. My Ski-Doo on the two inches of snow we’ve had since I bought it.

We did manage to get a little ice fishing in before the temps warmed up and the rains came. Grandson Max and I plied Engleville Pond for half of a Sunday. It was quite cold, in the upper teens, and a bit of wind was blowing, so it was easy to keep moving out on the ice! All I had for bait was mealworms, which are okay, but not nearly as effective as shiners (or redheads). We drilled holes, we set tip-ups. We jigged with the short poles and made the rounds checking baits. Alas, our cold and wet quarry eluded us. It was cold and blowy, and in that visceral way it was a beautiful day to be out there. A steady snow fell all the while, and we had the whole pond and the little hollow all to ourselves.

Folks often think we’re out of winter when February ends. March sounds so spring-like. Many forget that the biggest blizzards we get are in March. (29 inches of snow last year!) So it’s no surprise, after all my lamenting, that another whopper of a storm is forecast for this weekend, with teens and twenties being quoted as snowfall predictions. Probably too late for the pond, and temperatures are forecast around both sides of freezing, so it’ll be too warm for snowshoes and hoks again.

I’m not getting my hopes up, but I hear there’s a new-ish Ski-Doo that wants to get itself buried in the snow on the trails of Engleville! Come on, winter. One last hurrah.

See you in that altogether in-between season, the season whose only claim to fame is Colt’s Foot and mud. Okay, so some folks actually look forward to Spring!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

January Journal

Closed For The Season

Well, we’ve flipped the calendar page and now it’s January. Now it’s 2018. From here, it looks a lot like 2017, only with different calendar pages.

Here we are at Perihelion, the point in our blue globe’s orbit when we are closest to the sun. It seems ironic, but only for the northern hemisphere. Right now it’s blazing hot in the deserts of Australia and Africa and maybe South America, too. We’re something like four million miles closer to the sun than we are at Aphelion, in July.

It’s been quite cold, plenty of below-zero days and nights with the wood stove cranked up and draft stoppers stuffed at the bottoms of doors. Last weekend, when Sassy June and I took our Wonder Walk on our trails, it was 13 degrees F, but it was sunny and without wind. The pristine beauty of the freshly iced world and the new snow was gleaming bright and filled with fascinating formations.

At work, I found a number of ice “stalagmites” on the ground beneath the drip edge of the roof. It appears splashing droplets of water froze to tiny sprigs of grass, and successive splashes added to the girth. I took some pictures with the low morning winter sun lighting them.

We also had a day of freezing rain, which glazed everything with a thin coat of ice. Bushes and berries, grapevines and winter berries, rose hips and skeletons of Queen Anne’s Lace were transformed into nature’s holiday decorations. A Celebration of The Solstice.

On December thirtieth, we loaded the FunBus with daughter Kerry and her beau Kenyon, and we set out to participate in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. This is an annual “census” of our avian friends. We drive out a specified parcel and note the number and species of birds we can find. We saw three bald eagles, certainly the highlight, and a wide variety of the usual characters.

There was a steady light snow falling throughout the day, which made photography difficult. Aside from adding a haze to anything at a distance, it also messed with the autofocus, so most of my shots from the day are washed out or not quite crisply focused.

Had a lot of fun with Christmas this year. Being the grandparents, with children that have their own homes and children, we did a big themed gift for all three described households. Each opened a small gift while these big ones (they’re about six feet tall, you can’t quite tell by the photo) waited, standing against a wall.

  The Theme Gifts

Each child opened a package containing gloves. Each man-of-the-household opened a package to find a box of paraffin canning wax. Each lady-of-the-house opened a package containing hot chocolate and popcorn. Finally, the big reveal, as the kids shredded the labor-intensive package decorations, the labels “Batteries Not Required” and “Snow Shipped Separately”, to reveal an old-fashioned six-foot wood toboggan that the whole family will fit on!

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet had a good weekend of sledding weather (much to the chagrin of grandson Max, who saved all of his working-at-the-farm earnings from summer and bought a snowmobile). When it wasn’t five below zero F, it rained.

Ice on the ponds has formed well, with colder-than-average temperatures in December and early January. We hope to drill some holes in the pond next weekend, and see what we can discover beneath.

And so January is half gone already. Our winter half over, really. Winter can be tough in some ways, but it’s also beautiful and exciting. I’m in no hurry to see spring arrive.

Toboggans are terrible on grass.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

 

The Hunkering Down

Buffeted Crest

Buffeted Crest

The sound of Christmas music fades into the distance, the peals of New Years’ bells fall silent. The festive decorations, the electric lights, and the strings of greeting cards will be put away. Old calendars removed and new ones hung. Retire last year’s Farmer’s Almanac to the shelf in the library, beside the previous twenty volumes.

January is here, and the time for hunkering down. Shuttering windows, stoking fires. The winds sweep down Victory Mountain from the west, shaking our little vale, blowing up snow devils that dance across frozen hay fields.  They twist and race across the roads, piling drifts against the hedgerows, beleaguering the geese camping in the corn stubble, their heads bowed, backs to the wind.

Pray for Snow

Pray for Snow

February Snows

February Friends

Snow Shovel

Snow Shovel

The smell of wood smoke hangs in the air, and the singularly magical scent of snow. Sounds are muffled; footsteps, passing cars, yelps of excited children up on the hill, sledding their cares away.

Make no mistake, we may guard ourselves against winter’s onslaught, but we shall not be hermits! Into the wild white and wind we boldly step, to ski the slopes, to drill holes through the ice from which we’ll pull some fish. We’ll ride snowmobiles and toboggans, we’ll don boots and snowshoes. We’ll throw snow balls at one another, and build snowmen and ice forts and igloos and snow sculptures. We’ll get soaking wet and rosy-cheeked and we’ll retire to a fire-filled cast iron stove and a bucket of hot chocolate.

Cathedral Summit

Cathedral Summit

Fishing Duane Lake

Fishing Duane Lake

Dad's Jag

Dad’s Jag

The best is yet to come. When the windows are frosted over like in Doctor Zhivago, and we make a game of checking the thermometer. Minus two. Minus twelve. Minus eighteen.

The wind will howl over our heads, and the fields will be vast seas of blowing white dust. Now it’s time for hot tea and warm hands. Time to close the drapes, put the fir-needle-filled draft stopper in front of the cellar door. Time for double socks and electric blankets, down ticks and cold noses.

Then one day we will find ourselves in the center of a white wonderland, bright sun shining, not a stir in the air. There will be friends and laughter, or perhaps solitude and the rapture of nature. The sun and the snow and the smell and even the cold itself will fill us with the thrill of the season, the bravado of those that brave the elements, the simple wonder of a world transformed.

Winter Sun

Winter Sun

December 30 First

All around lie the remnants of summer and fall.

These dry brown grasses, the tall and the small.

Each conifer stretches, the low and the high,

Each stretches, in vain, its limbs to the sky.

The sun hangs low in its arc, nonchalant.

Neglecting her Earthbound petites enfants.

The Cold comes to slumber, and lumber around,

Packing the earth to hard frozen ground.

The Smoke of Chimneys dances and twirls,

Having never seen the Summer World.

I’ll shutter the window, put a log on the fire,

And patiently wait for the Year to expire.

As into the pink night sky sets the sun,

Another year’s ended

As another’s begun.

Snowscape

Snowscape

Let the peace of the season follow you throughout the year.

Take care and keep in touch.

 

Paz

 

 

 

January Journal

Whitetail Deer, Rosenburg

Whitetail Deer, Rosenburg

Winter has brought its gamesmanship this year, and is keeping us guessing every day. November and December were unusually warm, and we had a “Green Christmas”, with no snow cover. On the 27th of December, I found dandelions blooming on the lawn, and it was 53 degrees F.

December?

December?

We kicked off January with Pop Pop’s New Year’s Eve Sleepover for Grandkids.  We filled the otherwise-empty nest with a few kids and stayed up to watch the famous ball drop in Times Square. We had enough snacks for a party of twenty, and enough confetti for a hotel ballroom.

 

As of today, we barely have a snow cover. We had about eight or ten inches of snowfall, most of which has melted or blown away.

Nowadays I look forward to the snow, even the cold. It really doesn’t last that long, just eight or twelve weeks when you think about it. Even then, there are many days during the toughest winters that are mild. The January thaw, those rare and gorgeous days when there’s snow on the ground, ice on the pond and it’s sunny and 36 degrees F. Beautiful.

It’s funny how people think of the weather calendar. Last fall it was barely September first and folks started saying things like “Before you know it, there will be snow.” with a twinge of agony. These same folks are looking so far ahead and thinking of misery. We had all of September and October to enjoy with hardly any likelihood of snow. Once in a while we’ll see a flurry before Halloween, on Halloween once! This year we had no snow right through the end of the year. A new record in the books for latest first snowfall.

Oddly these folks aren’t talking about seeing their first Colt’s Foot, an event that’s barely eight weeks from now.

January skies are second only to February skies. The air is clearer, the colors deeper. Sunsets and sunrises are my favorites. Walking the trail with Chuy The Wonderdog, we often “put the sun to bed” as we walk the last hour of daylight.

Haven’t been ice fishing yet this season. The first half of the winter was too mild to form enough ice. My fishing buddy Joe, a real die-hard ice fisherman, has only been out a couple of times. Not looking good for this weekend either, as temps in the low teens will combine with 20 mile-per-hour winds to make it bone-chilling miserable on the open ice.

And so, January 2016 is history. A twelfth of the year gone already. Time sure flies when you’re waiting and wishing for snow and that perfect winter day on the pond.

Meanwhile, time to plan our Zhivago day, where we put the 3-hour movie on, sip hot coffee, wrap up under blankets, and be thankful we’re not in Siberia during the Russian Revolution.

Bet they had some great ice fishing, though, once they cut through the four feet of ice.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Big Saturday

 

Barn & Cottonwood At Sunrise

Barn & Cottonwood At Sunrise

I’m awakened by the whoosh of the bedroom door flying open, followed by some huffing and puffing sounds, followed by jingling of dog tags, and sometimes a wet nose nudge to my face.

It’s Big Saturday, and Chuy’s the first up, ready to make the most of it.

Any given  Saturday will find me thusly occupied: driving to the “transfer station” with the trash, reviewing the list in my head; chores and demands of the day. On one of these Saturdays I suddenly remembered Saturdays as a child.

Saturday was the best day when I was a schoolboy. No school, Saturday morning cartoons (back in the when, they were a Saturday thing), and all day to play!

Riding along in the Funbus, I declared to Chuy “It’s Saturday!“, as if I was ten years old and had just leapt from my bed. Since that day I remember that spirit and make the same announcement aloud each Saturday. It reminds me to greet the day with a sense of excitement and wonder, ready for adventure, and to remember we have all day to do as we please.

First Frost

First Frost

For quite a number of years now, the biggest thing after the dump run is Big Saturday Walk with Chuy the Wonderdog. On the Big Saturday Walk, Chuy leads the way. We go where he wants to and stay as long as he chooses. Sometimes we’ll make our way to the eastern extent of the trail, up to the hardwood forest. Sometimes we’re drawn down the side trails, or over the crest of Widowmaker field.

This is a constitutional walk for me, more so than one for exercise, though in snowshoes trodding through a foot of snow there will be a workout. We cover a regular circuit, much as a wolf pack would do on an occasional basis. Checking the perimeter, marking our territory. Chuy sets the pace, and I dutifully follow (often with Doone the Cat), usually remembering the camera.

This ritual is without a doubt the Biggest Big Saturday part of Big Saturday for me. This is a time when I can truly slow down and relax. We’re away from the homestead, so I can’t see all the chores and tasks that must be done. Aside from the camera, no other electronics are allowed.  No phone, no music player.

My companion is quite reticent. He’s also hard-of-hearing, so calling out is pointless. That’s fine with me, as I rarely utter a word aloud, except perhaps an exclamation of wonderment at some magical moment afield.

Between the walks, Big Saturday is filled with a wide variety of chores, labors of love, and adventures. In summer, we may spend most of the day mowing the lawns and nature trails. In winter, we might ride snowmobiles around the yard & trail, or perhaps do some ice fishing. In spring we’ll wade a couple of creeks stalking trout, in fall we’ll spend some time on the rifle range, siting in a new scope or just target-shooting for the fun of it.

When the time finally comes to take off our shoes and don some soft pajamas, I feel best when I can tell Chuy “We wrung the heck out of that day, didn’t we?”. Then it’s on to Big Saturday night TV-watching of Superman (the TV show), Star Trek (the original series), Lost In Space, and  Svengoolie, an old-time hosted horror movie show.

For this Big Saturday, we’ll have a Family Game Night with two daughters, their beaus and a couple of grandkids. We’ll loudly play some board games around the big kitchen table, warmed by the pellet stove, the homestead of 31 years, and the love of family (and probably some hot chocolate!).

Take care and keep in touch.

 

Paz