As might be expected, the “70 Degree Day” last week was followed by a weekend snowfall that set the landscape back about two weeks. White, clean and bright, with no indication that, just a few days earlier, the ground was nearly bare and the daffodils were starting to poke through. I have hundreds of bulbs of various types planted on the south side of the house close to the foundation where the sun and warmth encourage crocuses, daffodils and tulips to start growing. To me, February is too early for such activity. The same things happened last year and much of the foliage burned when winter turned around again for a few days. We don’t control the weather or the growth of plants so there’s nothing we can do but sit back and watch.
At this moment it’s snowing again and my enthusiastic, optimistic daffodils are slowly being covered in white. They’ll survive, no doubt, but I suspect some of them will suffer the consequences of their impatience.
There was more mud than snow in the woods last week prior to the Sunday storm, and so I had to make an effort to get out and see what was going on. As expected, the muddiest places were covered up with the tracks of deer, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, porcupines and turkeys. I did some digging of my own in the leaves along the trail and found handfuls of acorns that had survived the winter. As far as I could tell all of the critters listed above had come to fill up on the leftover mast, along with mice, blue jays and mourning doves. It’s as if the critters knew that the respite from winter would be a short one and that foraging would once again become more difficult as fresh snow began to pile up.
I had a hunch that some of these animals had taken up residence under my wood shed (formerly a chicken coop), and so I decided to find out for sure. Just after dark one evening I slipped outside with my best million-candlepower light and shined in under the building. Sure enough, several sets of eyes were revealed. Two were raccoons, one was an opossum and two others were porcupines – quite a crowd considering the building is only 12’ x 24’. All sorts of birds and animals spend time under there as they pass through the area, and I know that more than a few squirrels, mice and birds have made nests up among the floor joists and beams. In summer a few ground hogs will dig their dens in the cool, darkness under the shed, but until they start raiding the garden I pay them no mind.
I have passed the halfway point in my wood pile, and way back in the last row of split oak I found the remnants of a flying squirrel’s nest. Sadly, one desiccated, dried-up squirrel remained in the nest, otherwise I would not have known for certain who lived there. I have had flying squirrels in the yard and in the wood shed for many years but have not seen them as often this year for some reason. I have seen more than the usual number of stray cats, however, including some that spend the night in the shed, so the math is easy enough to do in that regard. I often find piles of feathers here and there in the shed, proving that birds roost there and that some do not live through the night. The shed is typical old-school construction (piecemeal!) and is impossible to secure due to holes in the floors and walls. It has a good tin roof and (so far) sturdy walls, good enough to keep my wood dry, but it provides little security for overnight inhabitants.
I mentioned last week that spring has to be on the horizon due to the number of seed catalogs I have received in recent days. Now I am being buried with catalogs aimed at fishermen, targeting everyone from saltwater big-game anglers to small stream trout fishermen. Most of the attention, it seems, is directed at bass fishermen, no doubt because these days bass are the most popular freshwater sport fish. I know it sends Maine’s trout purists into a tailspin whenever the name “bass” is mentioned, but the trend is clear. Fifty years ago trout and salmon ruled the waterways but for a wide variety of reasons (environmental and practical) interest in the salmonids has dwindled while attention to bass is almost universal now. For one thing, few anglers ever returned a trout to the water, regardless of size, and most bass fishermen release every fish they catch. The math here, too, is simple enough: Keep them all, none remain. Release them all, all remain.
A couple of things have stuck in my mind since the early 1970s. On one trip to the Moose River in Rockwood I saw boatloads of anglers coming ashore with their limits of 5-pound brook trout, back when, I believe, the daily limit was 15 fish. In many of the rental camps in the same area I saw wall tracings of trout that were 24 to 30 inches long – incredible specimens that are no more. There are reasons besides overfishing that contributed to the precipitous decline in trophy-sized brook trout in Maine, but keeping them all could not have helped matters much.
In over 50 years of fishing in Maine I have caught exactly two 5-pound brook trout, both in Moosehead Lake. One was taken around 1976 and the other 10 years later. I released both fish in hopes that they would live on and produce more giant-sized brookies but, alas, their numbers continue to dwindle. It’s now front-page news when an angler catches such a fish.
Such are the things that go through one’s mind while staring out the window during a late February snowfall. It’s much too early to think about gardening, cutting wood or fishing but daydreaming never goes out of season!