THE BIG WOODS CLUB

This Way Outdoors

March 31, 2014
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Herons, Canada Geese and Firearm Safety Field Days

displayA sure sign of early spring in Minnesota is Canada geese skimming the house-tops, Great Blue Herons returning to their rookeries, and the start of MN DNR Firearm Safety field days. Yesterday I had the privilege to join a terrific group of youth and their first-class instructors for a field day on a sparkling clear 40° F day at the Dakota County Gun Club in Rosemount, Minnesota. That bunch of youth trudged through half-frozen mud, patchy wet snow (sometimes knee-deep), and icy run-off streams to learn firearm handling in field conditions that no hunter would have to deal with. They performed excellently, handling their firearms safely and conscientiously throughout. In addition, the youth learned to identify poison ivy and oak trees in the cold season, saw plenty of deer sign including buck rubs, and had real fun. I’d say we can look forward to some life-long outdoorsmen from that group. It was as near to a perfect day as any outdoor educator could hope for. Thanks to everyone involved, especially Bruce and Steve. To those youth, you did a great job — welcome to the campfire circle.

TX10 little blue heron 111_0539And just this morning, I spotted a bird that looked a heckuva lot like a Little Blue Heron fishing in the 15′ circle of open shallows on our local slush-covered pond here in the Twin Cities metro. I know that a Little Blue would be unusual this far north, but it had the right shape, similar coloration, and was about half the size of a Great Blue. While the Little Blue is unusual here, there have been sightings in Iowa as well as in Sherburne County, Minnesota. At any rate, the Great Blue is highly predictable and I bet if I drove over to the Mississippi River I could find them in their new rookery south of Camden Bridge. It’s been a wild winter, and with this sighting it’s already an unusual spring (at least for me). Darned if spring isn’t here.

 

 

January 6, 2014
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Winter is the best season

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Winter is our favorite season here in Minnesota. That’s why it’s so cold. The only reason we agree to summer is so we can have winter. It’s owed to us for suffering through summer. Winter is the most outgoing and least compromising season we’ve got. It’s also the most dangerous. Like us. That’s winter; fully-realized, just itself, no excuses — the perfect expression of that dark and stormy Minnesota soul. And winter makes us laugh. So when the sun is shining, the air temperature is -10 °F, and people are laughing through their mufflers, welcome to Minnesota.

Winter is so potent that all you have to do is say the word and people react. Some make loud groaning noises, others get mad and cuss. Other folks say “I just looove winter,” in a weird voice that makes you nervous. Kids will be screaming and jumping up and down for excitement. They love winter, the most.

It’s surprising that despite our love of the season, and even with the youths already outside having fun, we “grown-ups” need to be reminded and even pushed, to get outside. Hey! The sun is shining, let’s go outside. Exploring nature in winter is the best. Winter camping and dog-sledding is the stuff of legend.

Imagine, you’re out in the snowy forest, following wolf tracks, the sun glistening and sparkling, listening to the croak of ravens and the lonesome moan of wind in the evergreens. Quiet. Beautiful. Moody. Poetic. Dangerous. Invigorating. The snow refracting a rainbow, the white birches leaning, the grays and browns of the landscape. Painters and photographers love winter the most, too.

Don’t forget your sunglasses. It’s true. Without sunglasses you could get snow-blindness and become lost. Then you’d wander, sightless and whimpering through the snow for hours until you freeze to death a quarter mile from the parking lot. And become coyote food. Don’t let that happen.

If you do forget your subirchbark gogglesnglasses you’ll have to make a pair of snow goggles out of birch bark. This picture shows a nice pair. A double layer of birch bark sewn together at the edges. You only need one layer in a pinch. And you don’t have to sew it. A string in the back helps though. The smooth side goes against your face. Simple. You could make a couple of pair to learn how and keep them in your pack, just in case. Also, if you burn, bring suntan lotion. I scorched my face one bright, snow-covered winter’s day out at Louisville Swamp (MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge). But with sunglasses I still had a great outdoor day in 9°F weather. The aloe and lotion came later.

Maybe you’re a dedicated lakes person, summer or winter. Hard-water aficionados are the unacknowledged rulers of outdoor sports. Nobody knows more about cold, ice, water and misery. The popularity of ice fishing is linked to its practicality — it’s one of our food-gathering sports. For that reason it’s also one of our most ancient, going back to pre-historic days.

Ice skating is also ancient. It was first practiced in southern Finland more than 3,000 years ago when people strapped caribou antlers to their shoes. Since then ice skating has become the Queen of winter sports. Pond hockey is the sport of the gods, reserved for those listed in the secret book of ice and fire. Ice boating is the one I’d like to try. Skittering across a big lake in the glow of a winter sunset, that sounds good, to me.

And don’t forget those winter nights. After all, the signature event of winter is night. Star gazing doesn’t get better than on a winter’s night. A fire in the fireplace will bring out the story-tellers. Or just watching the moon-lit, snow-covered forest through a window in a warm darkened room is an evenings entertainment. If you’re lucky, a pair of foxes will dash through, or the rabbits will come out and do their leaping dance on top of the snow.

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November 1, 2013
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Fall is the Perfect Season to be an Outdoor Mentor

The harvest cornucopia, green tomatoes and pumpkin pie, the smell of fallen leaves, fires in the fireplace, wool jackets, crisp mornings and foggy, damp nights. Fall is a glorious season. Romance and nostalgia, melancholia and exuberance are all intermingled. In this season, like geese headed south, we outdoor folk instinctively dig into the closet to shake out our hunting gear, grease up our boots and head outdoors to scout and tramp the fields. We clean up the garden, hit the gun range and sit in the kitchen paging through cookbooks in search of recipes for squash, wild birds and venison.

For every outdoor veteran planning these precious weeks, there’s a passel of young men and women hankering to get out and spend a day in the field with someone who can show them the ropes. Yes, they have to go to school during the week when it’s quiet in the woods, yes, their schedules are complicated and they don’t always call back… but be persistent. Young people really appreciate it when adults show some backbone on their behalf. Be an outdoor mentor – especially for a youth who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. Offer to take them to the gun range and into the field (with permission from their parents). It makes you feel good, creates life-long memories for the youth, brings a new-comer into outdoor recreation, and earns you an admiring friend.

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April 6, 2013
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Aries in the Air

displayRain, thank goodness. Melting the old snow. Mallard hens are waddling about on lawns looking for nesting sites. Robins were here all winter, thanks in part to the infamous European buckthorn berries. Rabbits will be gestating in fur-lined beds. The ground is thawing and fragile. Good time not to walk in your garden. April is my favorite month. Also poetry month, and the cruelest month. To me it seems like the shortest month. Several of my best friends were born in April, including my sister.

My friend Gar is going turkey hunting for the first time on April 21 with a MN DNR mentored youth turkey hunt. Thanks to Mike Kurre. He’s 16 and just got his firearm safety certification. Congratulations, Gar! Some people think firearm safety should be taught in schools. Bowling and archery are, why not firearm safety? We know that learning about firearm safety does not promote firearm violence, any more than sex education promotes sexual activity.  Although it is spring, and sex is what we’re supposed to be doing. Well, even if that’s not happening, you could at least try to be optimistic.

One of my favorite aspects of April is the air. April is full of wonderful air. I’m a great connoisseur of air. I’m out there pleasure-breathing. Good exercise, too. Early-spring is my favorite, preferably from the north; blown down from the Canadian taiga, full of wilderness with scents of pine forest and thawing lakes. I wish my nose was bigger, so I could smell more of what’s on the breeze. I’ve always admired people with large noses. Do you know that smells are carried by particulate matter? When a dog follows a trail, they are breathing in microscopic particulate matter left behind by the animal or person they’re following. That’s inspiring. Fun then, to work the old sniffer when you’re out in the woods, pay attention to smells and air movement, follow your nose off-trail, across the breeze, looking for sign, who goes here, who lives here? Wonder what we’ll find as the snow disappears and last fall’s secret lies revealed in the rain.

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February 6, 2013
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The salad days of winter are here

ruffed grouse 2We’ve been having a few days of perfect light snow. It’s beautiful at night to see falling snow sparkling in the ambient light. Rabbits appear magically in the dark and romp around eating my rose bushes. The crows are happy. I kept a bag of fat from the doe that graciously gave herself to me this fall, and threw it out into the yard. The crows have been daily visitors. They dig through a few inches of snow, and if it gets too deep I kick it aside for them. Crows carry the wilderness in their strut and caw. Watching them peck and tug at the frozen fat, and seeing their tracks in the snow makes me feel a little closer to the wild.

Today we warmed up to 27°. We’re supposed to hit 35° by Saturday. Spring is here!  I don’t care what the calendar says, today the air smelled of earth and spring. Every year there’s a day in February when the air carries the scent, we notice the lengthening days, and you can feel our little spot on the globe (44.9800° N, 93.2636° W) roll toward the promise of spring. Today was that day this year.

My favorite winter months are February and March. With the (relatively) warm days, blue sky and those slab crappies practically jumping up out of little holes in the ice… man, that’s the stuff. When the end of winter is in sight for one more year, the snow-covered days become precious as they slip away. I get a bit nostalgic for the beauty of each season as it’s ending. The end of winter is in sight, long live winter.

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December 18, 2012
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Come Sit By My Fire

Winter-Camping-By-TentAs cold, hard winter finally sets in and cardinals become flickering signs of hot life in the frozen air, we gather around the crackling fire to drink gallons of boiling tea and tell the stories that we hope can help the sun rise just one more day, even if he does disappear into a seemingly endless string of murky dawns, we find the joy of being alive stirs anew, and also that we haven’t failed to pay for wild love with the sad, hard truth of our il_430xN.28884931 - 1days, carved into our raggedy traveler’s hide as proof, a kind of love brand, even after that last horrific and horribly ironic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it morning, still we offer hot cup for this funny-looking roamer coming in to our fire, where he’ll warm his white-owl-in-winter-78153backside, bring new road news, old stories, and offer us a wedge of the orange he saved just to share from across the high mountain pass, now covered deep in snow and howling wind, we’ll listen with our hands loose and hearts softened as he sings of far-away love and distant trouble, twining his verses into ours to make the many-stranded, never-ending story of the search for home and how we made our way on that curly road.

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In the morning, while you’re loading the sleds, you could check for new posts at the BWC Journal and the Movie Log.

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