John Harrigan: Too cold to snow, vicious bobcats, and other missives and musings
Herein, a mid-winter potpourri, and that does not mean a mixture of dried flower petals and spices.
-- A Plymouth reader took affable issue with my writing about it being "too cold to snow," commenting that the Weather Channel might disagree. My note in reply will say that I never watch the Weather Channel, preferring to look at the big mountain across the river to see what's coming down the lee side, and indeed have never known it to snow when it's below zero. Readers?
-- People are complaining about the cold, and rightly so. Me too, because it was 22 below at my house the other morning and I had to make twice as many trips as usual to load up the outdoor furnace. But we tend not to think of the effects on wildlife, except maybe birds at the feeders. Deer have an impossible choice to make in such killer temperatures, which is to either curl up under thick evergreens to conserve body heat or range for much-needed browse to generate that same body heat. Beavers, on the other hand, have it lucky. Their winter habitat in a lodge is slightly above water temperature, not-so-balmy high 30s, but it's a whale of a lot better than sub-zero on terra firma.
-- With the annual moose hunt now taken for granted, here and in Maine and Vermont, the controversy about it all seems a dim memory. But a reader sent in a reminder in the form of a New York Times clipping from Oct. 20, 1993, titled "Vermont Holds Its First Moose Hunt in 96 Years," under a photo of an 848-pound bull being weighed at a checking station in Island Pond. The 30-permit, three-day season, the caption noted, "was set over the objections of animal rights advocates and legislative leaders." New Hampshire's first hunt in 1988 sparked wide-spread controversy, but it all faded away when the hunt was shown to be exceptionally well conducted, sustainable, a just reward for hunters' long-term commitment to law enforcement and conservation, and just plain made sense.
-- On the strange side of things, I've been saving a clipping about a bobcat that attacked and severely clawed and bit a man and his nephew in Brookfield, Mass., and was subdued and shot by the man and his wife, a pretty gutsy thing in my book. Wildlife officials suspected rabies, and shipped the carcass off for tests while all three victims underwent rabies shots. This harkened me back to the early '70s, when a rabies scare was sweeping New Hampshire, and a bobcat crept onto a shed roof and through a slightly open bedroom window in Colebrook. The woman of the house shooed it away.
-- Several readers had things to say about the recent subject of starting fires in the outdoors, one a complaint that I didn't really get into the "how" of it. This basically involves finely split kindling or small dead branches (easily obtainable under any small evergreen) and using paper or birch bark to start a small fire, slowly adding wood of increasing size as the fire catches on. Many people don't have the patience for this slow but sure approach, don't have any kindling, or are trying to start a fire with green wood.
-- On winter sojourns on skis or snowshoes, I usually have a little bag of tinder in my fanny-pack - birch bark, dry moss and a few tiny sticks of cedar - and either tramp down a fire pit in the snow or find two or three big pieces of blow-down to serve as the base for a fire atop it. Again, put your tinder atop some crumpled-up paper and gather a few dry branches from under softwood trees, and you're off. (Plenty of times, by the way, we've had our skis or snowshoes off and sticking up in the snow, and a good fire going and refreshments to match, and snowmobilers have pulled up to a halt, like so many horses hitching up at a saloon, and joined us around the fire, creating some of our more memorable trailside moments.)
-- One reader wrote about muzzle-loaders of yore stuffing tinder into their barrels to be ignited when shot from the barrel. No, I replied, I think they instead placed their flintlocks down alongside the piled tinder, added a few grains of powder, and ignited it with the trigger-snap of flint on steel.
-- This reminded me of Lancaster's Ken Walker, who milled out the logs for my remote camp back in 2004 and is an avid shed (antlers) hunter. Ken is a consummate woodsman, and when we wanted a fire for some reason or another at the construction site, he pulled out his flint and steel and made one of the fastest fires by that method I'd ever seen.
-- Finally, reader Lary Burleigh responded to a frequent topic here, which is the many ways people think up to deal with mice in camps, some of them bordering on maniacal (the methods, not the mice).
Often I've mentioned weasels (ermine, in their winter white-coat stage) as one of the best mice-controls possible. Lary sent me a photo of an ermine chowing down on something, probably a mouse, on the floor of his camp on Success Pond, near Berlin, and I wrote him back, "Lucky you."
John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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