Springtime Buzz

Illuminated in a high, bright morning sun, it and a refreshing south breeze in my face, there it lay, clear as day: my trodden trail carved into a short March-brown hayfield, the thin, angled depression still easily discernible after a long, cold, snowy winter freeze, no foot-traffic I’m aware of in quite some time.

I myself hadn’t taken that familiar route for months, probably last walking it in mid-January, before the fields iced over with treacherous ice that promptly left me with broken ribs and sat me nightly for eight long weeks in a La-Z-Boy-recliner sleeper chair, never missing a day of work or interfering much with my many daily winter routine. Yet there it was, the path, still easy to follow, pointing south-southeast. Even Chubby ran down it, as he often uses my paths. Why? You tell me.
And while you’re at it, explain to me why deer often follow those same paths.

Do you find it surprising? You shouldn’t. Haven’t man and beast shared the same trails as long as they have coexisted? Oh well, so much for the age-old advice to never leave sign of your presence in woods where you hunt for deer. I long ago learned that advice was bunk. Honestly, I have walked a predawn trail into a morning stand and, lo, an hour later watched wary deer cautiously walk virtually the same path right past me. Doubt me if you will, but it’s true, and has often happened over the years, seemingly less in the evening.

Though I have seen just one deer thus far this spring, they’re back as roadside attractions in my neighborhood. My colleague and neighbor told me Monday that on Sunday evening before dark he saw five blending in along a wood line I daily walk. I told him I had that day followed their tracks through a thin patch of woods between fields, then all the way across the muddy upper edge of that wooded escarpment before dropping down into Sunken Meadow. There, I have been noticing a large solitary track for a couple of weeks now. It’s not the distinctive splayed track of the soon-to-be 5-year-old buck I’ve gotten to know. I suspected through winter that he may be dead, taken by a bowhunter across the street from my home. But then, just last week I encountered that track in wet snow and it may have been his. We’ll see.

A nice buck with a black snout, he patrols the Greenfield Meadows and its bordering ridges. The last time I saw him was a year ago, towering over four thin, leggy does across the brook from me at dusk in March. The last time I saw his antlers was two falls ago on the side of the midnight road, a nice 6- or 7-pointer. Not a spectacular trophy rack, but a keeper for sure.

The deer whose tracks I’ve been daily following are bedding in the cattail wetland lips surrounding the hayfields I traverse. They stay hidden by day and come out before dark to feed in the fields, where they seem to be concentrating on the red- and white-clover stubble clinging to damp brown turf like week-old whiskers on a heavy-bearded chin. The shoots may not be big, tall and luxurious, but they’re plenty green and nutritious, in fact more so than at any other time of year. That’s why hungry winter deer gravitate to it and other fresh spring growth, and it’s why we humans will soon be hunting wetlands for wild fiddleheads and visiting asparagus farms to help make for a healthy spring. Just Tuesday morning I searched through two of my favorite fiddlehead stands, below an escarpment’s snow-covered underbelly, and couldn’t find so much as a hint of any sprouts poking through. Not so for wild leaks and skunk cabbage, which have emerged through a carpet of brittle leaves that retain moisture in the soil to incubate young growth.

Home, at the southeast corner of the barn, the first rhubarb sprig this week broke through 75-year-old horse manure I spread from under the stables in the fall. Rain will bring many more in the days to come as my daffodils, not far east in a flower bed down the southern foundation, prepare to burst into brilliant spring yellow. Often they’re in bloom for Easter. Not this year, an early Easter and late spring, one the maple-syrup producers apparently aren’t bemoaning. Just this past week I spoke to two such folks, and both said they were having a good year; not their best, but better than most in recent memory. So expect the price to stabilize.

Which reminds me. On a recent trip to pick up my grandsons in Vermont ski country, a gallon was selling for 45 bucks, $7 less than the going local rate. My wife, a shopper, was anxious to buy some on the spot, where it was only advertised, not sold. Oh well. Never hurts to support local vendors. They work hard to make syrup and related products, all of which I love and am willing to pay for to sweeten my mornings.

Switching gears, so inspired was I by the recent warm snap that I even dug out all my flyfishing gear for spring inspection, just in case, focusing particularly on the aluminum-tubed bamboo rods and their zipper-cased reels hanging in a separate bag. I took out one old Orvis CFO IV reel and left it handy in its brown suede case for my grandsons’ next visit. I intend to replace 30-year-old, 4-weight, double-taper floating line on that reel to easier-to-cast 4-weight, weight-forward line I bought on sale last fall. Why not include my grandsons in the project, and explain why we’re doing it? It may plant a seed, maybe even inspire us to the river to see what we can catch. And even if that doesn’t happen, they may want a casting demonstration in the yard before trying their hand at it, beginning with roll-casts, then graduating to traditional overhead casts, which, in my opinion, they’re too young for. You start a kid with manageable bait-casting lessons.

I guess what got me thinking about those two dear young fatherless lads is today’s poignant date. Today would have been my younger son Rynie’s 30th birthday. Three years after losing their father, my grandsons lost Uncle Ry-Ry, whom they dearly loved. His passing occurred a year ago Wednesday, a day before he turned 29. Though life isn’t always fair, you must go on and make the most of the hand you’re dealt. That’s what I impress upon the boys during teaching moments.

Could there be a better setting than a rattling mountain stream singing a sweet song of freedom as kids learn to catch trout in nature’s classroom? Not in my mind. It’s oh so liberating and healthy for the young mind.

Off I go.

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