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Today is, of course, Ground Hog Day, and according to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring. After last week’s storm, there’s some doubt (even among ground hogs) that this winter will ever end, and the evidence is all around us!
The departed storm left upwards of two feet of snow in our state when we already had plenty on the ground – and this is only the second day of February! I have already had calls from folks who can’t find any place to put the new snow. The banks are so high now that tossing a shovelful of snow over the top just causes a mini blizzard to fall down on the hapless homeowner. (This seems to be the perfect time to bring up global warming, but I think I’ll leave the more thrilling details of all that to our illustrious former vice-president.)
One of the advantages of being an outdoor person is that you tend not to worry about power outages, water stoppages and dead furnaces – that’s all “indoor” stuff and of no concern to us! And, if the roads are closed and likely to stay that way for a day or two, that “Hurrah!” you hear echoing off the hills is some hunter or fisherman about to plan a day away from it all.
No matter if I’m heading for the woods or the water, I always pause a moment to make sure my little woodland friends are still out there. It’s always surprising to me that, blizzard or not, the local flock of chickadees, accompanied quite often by a tag-along nuthatch or two, will be singing away out there even when the snow is thick on the trees and the wind is blowing hard enough to knock it all off.
Heavy snow means quiet in the woods, so you’ll have to listen closely to hear them, but the little black-capped buggers are always there. In fact, you can lure them in close with a soft, high-low whistle that imitates their mating call. I can hardly begin a day outdoors without checking on these ubiquitous little songsters. I have found them in every state from Georgia to Maine and west to Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. It’s always a flock of a dozen or so chickadees accompanied by a couple of nuthatches, and they will always swing by for a look before heading into the forest in search of food. I don’t always find deer, bears, moose or the other game I may be seeking, but chickadees and nuthatches are always there!
Our meeting adjourned, I focus on the business at hand, which could be a rabbit hunt or a fishing foray on some nearby lake or pond. Because rabbits will be tough to see after a heavy snowfall, I often opt for a fishing trip, leaving the hares to themselves until visibility at least slightly favors me. Looking for a white blob among millions of white blobs is a great challenge at any time, but rabbit hunting is best left for one of those post-storm days after the storm’s tailwind has had a chance to knock the worst of it off the trees.
Normally, the few days after a major storm are sunny, still and even warm in some cases. These are perfect conditions for a day on the ice, and the odds are you’ll be the first once to drop a hook if you go in the next few days. Be sure to bring a shovel to clear the snow off the ice, and clear a spot big enough to accommodate you and all your gear.
If I had my choice, I’d go after pickerel or perch, or any species that is likely to provide plenty of action with little finesse required. Pickerel are easy to catch and numerous, so the odds are good that you’ll have plenty of flags to tend to over the course of the day. It’s fun to anticipate a strike while watching your traps, but there’s nothing like seeing a flag go up with a loud, “Snap!” indicating there’s another hungry pickerel on the line.
You may have cursed the storm that blew in last week, but a few minutes’ work with your shovel can create a cozy shelter that is warm and wind-proof, ideal for a long day on the ice. Of course, you’ll build your shelter with its spine into the wind and facing the sun. If necessary, put a small tarp or Space Blanket over the top to keep blowing snow from sifting down your neck. A small shelter like this can last several days as long as conditions remain balmy, so if the fishing is good, plan on coming back a time or two between storms.
There may be days that you won’t catch a thing worth bringing home, but keep in mind that the true purpose of these winter outings is to get you away from the dark recesses of your house, where cabin fever dwells, and into the wide open spaces where the wind, sun and fresh air will revitalize your spirits and give you the energy you need to carry on till spring.
I always notice a major spike in my outlook after a day outdoors, and it’s usually enough to keep me chirping like a chickadee until the next storm blows in. A simple walk down the road can wash the dark moods and grumpy outlook that most people have in winter away on a sunny day. A full day afield, even in the dead of winter, can do wonders for your state of mind, and if you’re one who counts the days till spring, you know what I mean.
Get out there every chance you can. Walk, hunt, fish or just find a warm stump to sit on for an hour or so. Soak up the sun and recharge your mental batteries. No one knows what the ground hog may decide about the end of winter, but if you take steps to brighten your own days, you’ll find that you won’t really care how much longer it’s going to be!
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