Thursday, December 26, 2013

Optimistic tundra

I wouldn't trade these frosty winter morning views
for all the palm trees in Hawaii.

A frostbitten year in review


I’ve made my home in the woods. When I came back almost two years ago I did not plan to stay long. This place was a sanctuary, a haven, familiar and safe, but I did not plan to stay. I came here to rest, think, and regroup. Returning from the cities, my eyes were reopened to the majesty of the wild. I spent almost all of my time outdoors and I loved every second of it.

Back then I was searching, clawing, hungry. I was redefining my life. All I felt were growing pains and heart aches. I didn’t know where I was headed, all I had in front of me was the present - the current of life in motion - and that’s exactly what I needed.

I learned how to be in the present without my past defining everything and without the future overwhelming me. I wrote to you about it often, and that helped put things into perspective.

With that perspective came a chance to begin to see things clearly, as if for the first time. Like a clear winter day, when the frost crusts over everything and the sun comes out, the whole world shimmers in the daylight. It’s blinding, when the sun hits the snow covered world - it’s as blinding as the truth, and it gives fuel to optimism.

To remain resolute in optimism I think we have to be ok with constantly reassessing our goals. That is, not exactly redefining them but checking in from time to time to be sure that what we’re aiming for is still close to our own truths - what we really believe. I think a good way to do this is setting aside some time to review the progress of our lives at the end of the year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Deck the halls


The Ghost of Christmas Present


Traditions, customs - two words that come to mind this time of year. Christmas is a time to honor tradition. Many of us return to our families, to old places we used to call home. We take part in feasts. We try to relax and enjoy each other despite our many differences, and we celebrate life, love, and the year’s end.

Last year at this time I shared my own story of Christmas tradition. I detailed the many observances I grew up with in my parent’s house as a child, an adolescent, and eventually an adult. Those traditions stayed basically the same from year to year. I have a sister who ensured this. She actually made a list one year of all the things that had to be done, wrapped, baked, etc. and at the precise time and order in which each duty was to be executed.

For years we’ve eaten turkey and stuffing at my mom’s house on Christmas eve. Whether that happens before or after church depends on the time of the service, though normally I think we stuck with after so as to avoid the effects of tryptophan (the sleepy stuff in turkey) during the homily. We would always open gifts from each other after dinner, and as of recent years, now that everyone’s grown up, the evening has been capped with what we’ve come to call “Christmas cheer,” a mixed drink brewed up by yours truly.

Christmas on my dad’s side of the family has it’s customs as well. The men take up shotguns and chase cottontails in the snow. Grandpa loves ham so we usually have that, and sometimes, smoked salmon. The house is always packed to the brim with aunts, uncles, cousins, and significant others. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe there are so many people. Grandpa sleeps in the camper - swears the cold doesn’t bother him near as much as all the snoring in the house.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Setting your sights

A sunset over some winter weather lowlands,
A clear December afternoon, 
A good way to clear a mind.

Focus from the frost


I like to work in the winter. The snow absorbs sound outside, our windows are sealed, and the indoors are more silent and still than any other part of the year. This stillness is conducive to interpretation, which allows the mind a chance to catch up with itself - and that’s what I call focus.

Focus can be looked at like a tool, a tool with which to pick things apart. If you’re a thinking sort of person, you get a lot of enjoyment out of this because the focus lets you think through things. It is from a place of enjoyment and also a sort of duty that you turn things over in your head, sometimes for days. It’s sort of like tinkering if you’re a tinkerer, or fixing if you’re a fixer.

In fact this sort of mindless repetition of focus on one thing comes to you so easy you’re hardly aware it’s happening most of the time. Especially if you spend a lot of time alone, you’ll wrestle around with some concepts in an endless pattern until a more pressing matter forces itself to the prow of your consciousness.

This state of being can be both good and bad, as you’re likely to find yourself hung up on one particular issue if you’re unable to take action on it. For instance, sometimes it’s a book list you’ve really been meaning to get to, or a letter you’ve been meaning to write. Maybe it’s a project, like finishing up on your new ice shack or even finding a way to repay a favor to a friend.

On the one hand you’re afforded a great deal of concentration on your topic, but on the other you become a bit useless until you’ve brought to light some fruition, some manifestation of whatever it is that’s drawn all your attention. This sounds sort of debilitating (and it is), but I think it’s a good thing.

Nobody uninspired has ever done much in the way of inspiring others...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Great white north

Winter weather land has arrived right on time.

Get on the train or be left at the station


One of the greatest benefits of living in Wisconsin’s great white north is, to be blunt, the great whiteness. White-out snow conditions can blast through with little to no warning, stay all day and night, and leave nary a hint of the normal landscape left recognizable. Yes, that's a benefit.

It’s a benefit because the world becomes new, and from new things inspiration springs eternal. Our surroundings change in appearance and our daily routines change out of necessity. We become more dependent upon each other, so our interactions shift. Suddenly a neighborly gesture such as shoveling a walk or driveway carries a lot more weight; resources like foodstuffs, outdoor clothing, and plenty of hot beverages become essential.

Now, it’s easy to take these things for granted, or even (commonly) grumble about them. Trust me, it’s not my favorite thing to be pushing heavy, wet, frozen precipitation around for six months a year, but I think the innate qualities that come with it are worth the extra work.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The tree stand


Sketch on Flickr

A coming of age tale, Part II


The wind was out of the north west on opening day, surging straight out of Canada as if to warn a deep and dark winter was coming fast. The tree Avery was strapped to swayed back and forth in the cold, in the dark. His tree stand was roped into a gnarly bunch of hard maples, 15 feet off the ground, sitting atop a ridge of mixed northern forest which was criss-crossed by manmade and deer-made trails alike.

“Looks like a highway of rutted up bucks through here, all these scrapes and rubs. Look at this one,” Hurly, his uncle’s stogie smoking friend had told them when he’d led the boy and his uncle out scouting the area two weeks prior. Indeed, there was plenty of deer sign in the spot - fresh tracks, scrapes on the ground every 15 yards, and rubs that shredded three inch poplars down to twigs.

Uncle Amos was hunting the opener nearby, only 150 yards through the woods on the other end of the ridge. Hurly was somewhere far to the west of where they were, or perhaps still in bed up at the hunting shack. Here in his stand though, in the silence of this frozen, pre-dawn day in late November, Avery sat alone, with only his thoughts to occupy him. In fact those stories he played out in his head were the best defense he had against the cold. Sure, he was bundled up from head to toe in eight layers of wool and fleece, tucked into a sleeping bag, with a wool blanket about his shoulders, a thick wool sock pinned around his neck as a scarf, and wearing a beaver fur hat on his head, but the freezing gusts of wind on his back were relentless, and thoughts, any thoughts, were a good distraction.

I am warm enough; I will stay in this tree all day, whether I see deer or not, I will not climb out until the light begins to fade late this afternoon.

His uncle had taught him the trick - a sort of zen practice he’d learned from spending time in the military. While abroad, Amos had been part of a special operations outfit, the kind that ran missions nobody was supposed to know about. He did not speak of it much, but Avery was under the impression his uncle had spent some of those years in the far east. When he came back, the fiery persona that was common in his father’s family had been sapped from his bones, and in its place was only a phrase Amos uttered repeatedly, “This too will wash over, as waves to sand.”

“As waves to sand,” Avery recited quietly each time the wind cut through him.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The hunting shack

A coming of age tale, Part I


The hunting shack looked a little different each time Avery saw it. The first time, he remembered, was many years ago as a young boy. He was with his father, one of the last memories he had of him. It was a good memory, father and son, an initiation for the young boy into the ancient tradition of manhood known as deer season.

“The guys are gonna try and play tricks on you,” his father told him as the dim lights of the tiny cabin compound came glaring through the smudgy truck windshield that night. Through densely packed hardwood and balsam trees, the truck rolled up and over roots and rocks in the narrow driveway which twisted its way up a gentle hill to a series of low-slung buildings with heavy, sagging roofs. Surrounding the main structure were smaller, saggier out buildings and flood lights grouped together atop tall poles. They illuminated everything. Those bright beacons were hard to forget, shining every which way into the woods, as if there was an imminent attack from bears or wolves.

Inside the truck cab, Avery pulled nervously at the fingers of his gloves. The dim dashboard lights emitting a quiet glow of safety from the unknown. The metallic clang of brass and nickel keys a familiar comfort as they slapped against the steering column of the truck.

Back then he was a bashful boy. Now though, Avery road up to the shack not as a boy, but as a man - or so he hoped. Now he visited with his uncle, taking up the tradition. Success in this year’s whitetail gun hunt would prove his maturity into the masculine inner-circle. It would prove he could scout out the right spot, recognize sign from big bucks versus little bucks, and plot out exactly where to be and when. It would prove how well he could shoot, how well he could track, and his endurance to withstand wind, rain, sleet, and snow for hours, even days, on end. It would prove he could eat and drink his own weight every night, wake early every morn, and piss straight into the wind at will.

They will test me, all of them. The men, the boys, the deer, the weather. I will be challenged at every turn, and if I flinch, I will fail.

His hands placed palms down just above his knees, he kept an even face as the shack lights brought the truck into view of the men inside. His jaw was set; he let the anticipation boil just under the surface of his skin, let it simmer until it was only a dull roar, and then, quiet. I will master my fears. He pulled at the hairs on his chin.

Men began to pile out of the shack, adorned in brimmed hats with ear flaps, wool pants, and orange coats. Some of them were already stumbling, while others were determined not to. Avery did not know all their names, these were his uncle's men. They were from a different generation, when men sprouted from the earth full of spit and vinegar, made of oak roots and red granite. They were hard men, relentless in willpower and stubborn in thought.

“Amos, we thought you’d decided to stay home this year,” said a tall and lanky man with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. He stooped a bit, as he reached up to handle the stogie and take a puff.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Communication

Journals can be great for recording one’s thoughts,
whether you share those thoughts or not is up to you.

The notebook-letter-journal


When I was a boy, my mother gave me a notebook and told me to write in it. She said that I could write whatever was on my mind, that I could tell her anything I wanted in it. 

She also explained when I had finished writing to her I should leave it on her nightstand next to her bed and she would read it and respond. In this way we would be able to write letters back and forth to each other.

It worked well. As a youth, I had a very difficult time talking about sensitive topics. Whether that be bullies at school, fears or aspirations, the notebook gave me a way to reach out for advice and support.

She would always tell me that no matter how bad a day was, how sad or mad I felt, I could always come home and write about it. I could tell her about it in the notebook, and if I wanted her to read it, all I had to do was leave it on the nightstand. And if I didn’t want anyone to know, then I was allowed to just hang onto it myself.

It was cathartic for me, this process...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

White pine virtue


High above the river bend the great, noble pines of the north
beseech the attention of generations of man.

An old-growth tangent


Recently, someone asked me what my favorite tree is. I had to think for a second; I was a little taken aback. We were driving, so my first instinct was to look out the window at the close-knit forest blurring together at 60 mph. Maple, balsam, poplar, birch all mixed together into one brilliant painting. I kept thinking, spying up the road to see what was up there - a tall batch of red pines.

Minutes later and still I didn’t have an answer, but I was definitely thinking hard about it now. What should certify a tree as my favorite? What qualities should I be looking for? Were we talking about a nice shade tree in the summer or something that has beautiful colors in the fall? What trees are most common around here, I began to think.

Maybe the tree should be selected for its overall value on the wood market or its intrinsic value to Northwoods habitat. Or, maybe I should pick something that is more rare so as to stand apart from the crowd. Wait, am I really thinking along those terms?

Then it dawned on me...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween

Me in my gorrilla costume and Chris not so impressed.

An old soul and a child at heart


Some kids would make fun of me for dressing up as a gorilla almost every Halloween in grade school. Those same kids always froze their butts off while trick or treating. I got the last laugh and more candy.

The gorilla suit worked well for a few reasons. The first, of course, was because it was warm. It was comprised of a black sweatshirt and sweatpants with patches of fake black fur attached by safety pins. I had a rubber, roaring gorilla mask, and each year I added to the costume. Sometimes it was more fur, or different color fur, or one year, I made a big commitment and ordered a set of gorilla hands and feet.

At least one of those Halloweens, I even inspired a couple of my friends to dress up as gorillas with me. We went out trick or treating as a trio of tiny, chest-pounding apes and terrorized neighbors until they filled our plastic pails with sweets.

Ah, the good old days.

It seems like such a long time ago now - the excitement for the parade at school with an early dismissal afterwards, trick or treating, staying up late with friends, old vampire movies on TV. As a kid, Halloween was magic. It was something to look forward to and celebrate, and even though I wore the same costume most of my trick or treating prime, I still loved getting dressed up.

However, now that I'm an adult, I can think of a million different reasons not to get dressed up for Halloween. I'm grown up and I don't have time or money to put on a silly costume or mask. I have to be to work the next day. Trick or treating is for kids. Candy will rot your teeth, don'tcha know?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Crossroads

The mass of memories I have behind a dirty windshield
on old cars and trucks making their way down cracked and crooked
back roads in northern Wisconsin is immeasurable and irreplaceable.

Highways and forest roads


Growing up in rural northern Wisconsin was difficult for a lot of reasons, but one of the hardest things to cope with was the lack of activities for high school age kids. If you were not in sports, you were pretty much out of luck.

Instead, my friends and I had to come up with our own thing. We organized get togethers over video games, paintball, music, films, and fast food.

For whatever reason, I remember spending a lot of time in parking lots. Stores that had lots along the highway were prime locations as anyone could venture past on the road and stop to say hi. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure we congregated in those lots because one of us was usually working in the store the blacktop was in front of.

I guess we just had different interests than were offered by the school. We used to make short films, music videos, trade music, listen to music from whoever's car was parked in the lot. We laughed a lot, did impressions, picked on each other.

Another popular thing to do back then was drive the back roads outside of town. You know, the Wisconsin county trunk highways. Driving all those winding routes through the woods and meadows, past lakes and rivers, finding what linked up with what, hitting dead ends and back tracking to civilization. A lot of trial and error and beautiful sunsets. It worked good for dates...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Welcome back apples

Apples sprouted from every available space on the
branches of this backyard apple tree in Glidden.

A northland reunited with its fruit


I went through a stage in my earlier life when I slowly became allergic to several different fruits and vegetables. For a few years, I couldn't eat watermelon, cantaloupe, peas, carrots, bananas, or strawberries. All of the above made my throat swell and itch and it was all I could do to not have a panicked, choking sensation.

At that time, I learned to avoid eating those items, but as the list grew and grew I started to feel a bit desperate at losing all those foods I really enjoyed. Right around that time, apples also began to affect me, and I just about panicked at losing one of my most favorite fruits. After some experimentation though (dangerous as it may have been), I discovered peeling the apple before eating it spared me the itchy / scratchy / impending doom sensation.

Lucky for me, the allergy to these foods was something I eventually outgrew, and I can now eat all of them again (even though, on very rare occasions, a certain melon or carrot may still give me a hint of itchy-throat. If you can explain this phenomenon to me, please write).

Last year, though, I had to go through losing apples all over again. The early spring tempted our local flora out of hibernation very early on. It was wonderful to have buds sprouting and warm, sunny days in April, but it also proved to be quite costly to some early budding crops. One of those crops was our north midwestern yield of apples, and when a frost swept through the region, almost all of those apple flowers were burned away. The result was a very poor crop of apples last fall, and to me at least, it seemed like losing my favorite fruit all over again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Scouting season

The lay of the land


Time to get out the guns. Time to take out the bolt, clean the action, polish the barrel, the bore, treat the wood stock. Time to sight in the scope, track down some extra ammunition, and remember this or that rifle has always shot a little high and to the left.

Time to get out and walk some county land. Time to take out the Platbook, the Gazetteer, the compass, the GPS. Let’s talk to some landowners, farmers, guides; take a drive down the forest roads, check the creeks, see who's already up at their cabins.

A trip to the store for some new boot laces, load up on hand warmers, get the licenses required by the state, maybe even pick out a new Stormy Kromer hat - all part of preparing, part of gearing up...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Truthiness

Fog, islands, and inspiration on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage.
Samuel Larson on Flickr

Deli meats, beers, and bird dogs in a boat


Commonly, the first rule of writing is just this - write what you know (perhaps that’s the only rule). So, if you want to truly write about something, about 90 to 95 percent of your time should be dedicated to learning about that thing. When you look at it from such an angle, it's easy to wonder how anyone writes about anything at all.

More commonly, though, I think, folks arrive at writing in the opposite fashion. Yes, rather than choosing a topic arbitrarily to study for several years, I think it must be true that most educated, passionate authors of anything arrive at their passionate, learned selves of said topic only after living out what they write about.

That is, one does not simply wake up one day and say, "I shall write about the best way to make sandwiches," and then go ahead scrawling all his or her ideas down about breads, meats and cheeses without first having some experience with those ingredients. Most likely the author first has been eating sandwiches all his or her life, or at least making them - perhaps in a delicatessen...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Autumnal review

Death and rebirth are beautiful things. Full photo on Flickr

Set for perpetual regrowth


Do you ever have those moments in your life where you feel like you're living in a film? Or maybe a good novel. Suddenly your whole life, where you live, who you love, what you do and who you are is revolving around you in slow motion, and you feel yourself defined. Hopefully what you see makes you happy.

The sensation can strike at any time, but I tend to believe certain conditions spur it on, and for me, autumn is filled with just the right ingredients. In these weeks when the trees are shifting colors, the air is crisp, gardens are being harvested, and hunting seasons are picking up is when nostalgia hits.

We reap now the seeds we sowed last spring, thus everything is in review. Our investments are set before us, our progress made evident. Marked on a mental timeline is where we've been, the steps we've taken, and how we arrived at who we are today - someone different than past us.

Just over a year ago, I wrote one of the heaviest pieces I've ever tangled with. At the time I was going through a very tumultuous, personal crisis, and this column gave me a way to express my grief. I felt isolated and lost, but reaching out to you, reader, was my way of wrestling depression.

At that time, reconnecting to nature allowed me to escape, while writing publicly about my pain forced me to face hard truth. When I asked for help I found it in the solace of words. Telling stories of freedom and adventure only served to create in me a hunger for more, which in turn forced me to seek more adventure to write about.

If I've learned one thing, it's that nature is full of positive energy, and following that pureness has lead me right where I need to be...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Trapper versus furbearer

The coyote that outfoxed two trappers. [Flickr Photo]

Canis latrans, a true survivalist


Two men wander through a forest made thick with fresh snowfall. Tree limbs bow low under the weight of a winter storm cascading over a dimming gray sky. The wind picks up to rustle snowflakes into the mens' bearded faces. Again and again, the blizzard cuts through the trees at the progress of the heavily-flanneled men, testing each footstep made in the rapidly growing snow drifts.

One man carries a shotgun, the other a flashlight. No words are exchanged as the pair tramp deeper into the dark wood with day's light quickly fading. Brutishly, yet quietly, the man with the flashlight steps over fallen trees in his wool pants, separating the ice and snow-laden underbrush by spreading his arms out in front of him. Behind him, his armed companion keeps his eyes up, off the ground and searching the lifeless, frozen tangle ahead of them. He is always listening, always watching for movement.

This isn't how trapping is supposed to go...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Aquatic invasive species

Collecting plankton samples on English Lake

A brief lesson in the changing biology of our lakes


Hand over hand I pulled the sock net into the boat. The porous fabric let lake water out while capturing tiny creatures inside. As I pulled up on it, the net ushered the little creatures into a plastic tube at the bottom, and once the seven-foot net was completely out of the water, I unlatched the tube at the end to see what was inside.

Thousands of tiny freshwater plankton - a brown cocktail of basic living organisms that look like insects you've never seen before - bubbled at the bottom of this 500 ml, white, scientific-looking tube. They came from the deepest part of English Lake, 25 feet below the surface of the water. Some of them were creepy crawlers with exoskeletons, others were just gelatinous blobs of life (think amoebas). But among the living test-tube cocktail squirmers we did not notice any spiny water fleas.

Originating from northern Europe and Asia, the planktonic spiny water flea is an invasive crustacean among our American waters. It was inadvertently introduced into the Great Lakes during the 1980s and has since been detected in inland waters in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York and Ontario. In 2003 it was discovered in the Gile Flowage in Iron County...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Green and gold

Growing up a shareholder


The Pack is back. When the green and gold take the field in San Francisco this Sunday afternoon, it'll mark my 18th season as a true Packer fan. Consciously a Packer fan, I should say. See I remember watching Reggie White crush running backs on TV as a child before I understood what was going on - living rooms full of adults shouting at the television - that was my introduction.

It wasn't until '96, when Brett Favre led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title that I learned what Title Town meant. I remember that year well. The big game was cause enough for my parents to spring for a new television set to see the big game. We jumped up from our 15-inch dial set to a 30-inch monstrosity that came with a remote control! Oh the picture quality! The players were so huge.

A few years after those pair of Super Bowl trips in the 90's, we visited Green Bay to see training camp and tour the Packer Hall of Fame. Seeing the players in real life - how big they were, how fast they could move - truly blew my mind. I was in junior high school at the time, and though we didn't get to see a real game, we did spend the day in the shadow of Lambeau Field - the first great earthly monument I'd ever seen.

That all paled in comparison to when I went across the street for a slushy though. On my return to the bleachers where my family sat waiting for me, I was walking down the sidewalk alone when a tall figure came trotting up to me. His shadow blotted out the sun, and by the time I yanked my face up out of the slushy cup in my hand, he was nearly on top of me. His gaze met mine, a broad grin formed across his mouth, his eyes sparkled, and that's when Brett Favre greeted me, a dorky, awkward seventh grade boy who thought Packers were living gods, with a simple "howdy". A quick two-finger-mock-salute accompanied it, then he turned and leapt onto the charter bus that hauled the players from the practice field to some unknown location.

I've used howdy as a greeting ever since...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Storms like shows

Äquinoktium photo from flickr

So much changes in so little time


There is nothing quite like being jolted out of bed at four in the morning by a crack of lighting in your backyard. The thunder - which is strange to refer to as such because it happens simultaneously - is both piercing and blunt at the same time. So much energy happens so quickly, that it's only afterwards that you can begin to put it into words. In that single sizzling moment, most all that comes out of one's mouth is a "yelp!"

Given a sturdy roof to sleep under and a quick scan of the local weather forecast - maybe rushing around the house to close every window - it's back to bed until the sun comes up. And that's when you get to really settle in. Going back to bed for a few hours rest while listening to the gusting thunderstorm outside dump gallons worth of raindrops on the shingles above - few things are as cozy as this audible broadcast.

When I was a little kid we used to go outside on the front porch with a blanket. If it wasn't too late yet, my parents would let my sister and I sit on the bench swing hanging from the ceiling out there. We would wrap ourselves up in the blanket, pull our feet up inside it and watch the heavy rains come in. On the lookout for lightning, once we spotted it we'd count out on our fingers how long it took for the thunder to roll.

Of course our metrics were a little messed up at that age. I think we went back and forth between the number of fingers we counted were how many miles away the lightning struck, how fast the storm was traveling in miles per minute, or how much rain/how powerful the storm was with one being the highest. Oh the simple days…

*Note: This article is part III of a IV part series enveloping the four classical elements: firewaterearthair.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Looking forward

From Flickr

A kick in the pants


Sometimes I fall behind in my work. Other times I fall behind in my life. I mean to say that progress on one or another projects, personal or professional, has lagged, and I've become aware of it. Sometimes this happens when attempting to juggle too much, other times it's just a matter of distraction. I know you've experienced this - we all have experienced this to some degree.

It's frustrating, isn't it? When the realization rises to the front of your skull that you're slipping. You are not meeting certain requirements you've set for yourself; not hitting the goals you had your mind's eye turned to.


Maybe that's just it though - you're looking away when you could be looking ahead...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August afternoons

Fresh picked ‘Yooper’ blueberries!
Photo by Diane Hutte

Bounty in the northland


In addressing the apparently common conception that summer is nearly over - no it is not. We are in the midst of festival season, people! Shape up.

Now is a great time to run the rivers in a canoe. The rapids are raw with the water being low, and the water being low is the best time to scout out areas that are normally hidden from plain view. This is a good way to find potential fishing spots, and also track different sub-aquatic species that use the river like otters, mink, and muskrats.

August is also traditionally a prime time of year to go for a dip into Lake Superior. It may be a little cooler in the greatest of lakes right now due to an unseasonably cool past couple weeks and cool rain, but it's not going to get much warmer, either. I love swimming in this lake and recommend it to everyone who visits - it's incredibly refreshing. I always try to jump in Superior when visiting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, no matter the time of year.

Camping is also an excellent choice. With the cooler temperatures, a lot of the most irritating insects have waned greatly in their local populations. Mosquitos are seemingly hard to find, biting flies have not been an issue, and ticks have slowed to a crawl (haha).

Plus the cool nights are great for campfires, and if you're like me, make for wonderful sleeping comfort. Late afternoon still warms up nicely, especially if the sun comes out, setting a great stage for late summer fishing. Oh and just to clarify, there's plenty of daylight left. The sun rose at six o' clock sharp this morning, and looks to set at about 10 after eight tonight - don't waste those daylight hours!

Soon enough folks 'round here will be trudging to work in the dark, arriving home in the dark, and spending a lot of the day indoors. Life is passing us right by and if we don't reach out and grab it we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

It's not too late…

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Big Rama

Reflecting on the 61st Annual Flambeau Rama


The sugary scent of corn dogs, fried onions, and kettle corn. The salty fragrance of nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, and gyros. Burgers, brats, beer, and a grody condiment table nearby. The setting sun glaring through thick waves of heat over a fleet of open grills spattering grease into the atmosphere.
Music and laughter, singing and clapping. Old friends reunited, new couples testing the waters. Children running wild everywhere, herds of 30-somethings wearing matching t-shirts.
Welcome to Park Falls' annual Flambeau Rama festival - the weekend each year that the city pays tribute to it's unbreakable bond with the Flambeau River. As a reflection on the wealth of life the river brings to the area, a large portion of the downtown is closed to traffic so that family and friends can celebrate non-stop Thursday through Sunday.
The scene unfolds under a central tent housing two stages for different bands to perform each afternoon and evening. Inside, dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs are strewn about the dancing area. People mill around and dine in the daytime, but at night the place turns into a rip-roaring dance party. Probably due to the beer taps - that's why they call it the beer tent.
Outside that main tent (the beer tent), organized mostly to the south of it, is a collection of smaller tents lining the central walkway. This area is also known as "main street," "food ally," "food-tent causeway," "heart attack hall," or "maybe that's where my shoes are?" Butting up against the main tent and food tents is the carnival to the west. This is where you'll find the highest concentration of insanely-jacked-up-on-sugar kids. Proceed with caution...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Grit

It was supposed to be a sunny day of fishing,
this is what we got.

Trying on the bad days


Last weekend was a bad time to wear shorts. I first realized this from the bow of a 14-foot fishing boat being tossed around by whitecaps on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. The high temperature that Saturday afternoon was around 55 degrees, but the wind was from the northeast and it was FREEZING.

As if that wasn't enough, it started to rain. Cold, slanted drops rocketing out of the dark gray clouds pierced the little protection I'd brought with me - a hoodie and baseball cap. For once, my two friends were better prepared than I was and all I could do was shiver and shake.

Oh, we fished, but it wasn't very comfortable. We tried to get out of the wind where possible, but the incoming storm still found ways to twist the boat around on us, which made it very difficult to cast and more difficult to feel your fingertips. 

Between the three of us, I think we were fishing for muskie, walleye, perch, and everything in between. We had some live bait, but mostly it was dead. When we first got in the boat, we forgot to check if there was any gas for the motor. We spent 20 minutes trolling through a narrow canal of lily pads to fish an adjacent lake, only to turn around and go back when we got there because it was just too darn cold. We were the example of well prepared.

Did we catch any fish? No. Karl hooked a northern for a bit, but lost it at the boat. When we finally gave up and headed back, it took a few swings at the dock before getting the correct approach to land the boat in the blowing rain, and by the time we finally got out, we were fairly soaked and very discouraged.

I've never been so excited to blast the car heater in the middle of July...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pastime

Fishing with friends on Intigram

Best to spend time wasting time


Back in May I was going to write about how a single sunny day is so significant to the Northwoods' spring. At the intersection of shoveling sidewalks and mowing lawns, the sun popped out for a few glorious days to make the transition complete once again this year.

People came out of their houses in droves. Like wild herds freely roaming the city parks and sidewalks. Folks actually stopped to talk to each other outside the gas stations and on the street. The baseball, softball, soccer, and track teams could all finally practice on the fields, and in one fell swoop, spontaneous life was returned to our northern society.

I was able to spend one of those afternoons outside with two great friends of mine. As has become a sort of miniature tradition of ours, we grabbed a baseball and a few mitts and walked down to the little league field in town. We also brought a pocket-sized portable radio and a big bag of sunflower seeds. The radio was used to listen to the Brewers' game (there was hope back then), and the seeds were for spitting - you know, because we're tough guys.

Baseball caps, sunglasses, tennis shoes, and shorts - just a few red-blooded American boys...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Growing pains

   The sky in all its innumerable possibilities,
endless transitions,
and boundless freedoms,
The next logical stepis the limit. 

The next logical step


I am not cut out for a lot of things. I am not good at following orders without question, I do not like cramped spaces, and I loathe entirely the thought of wearing khakis. I would make a terrible soldier, a worse miner, and an awful accountant.

That's quite the spectrum of professions at which I'd be poor.

I am not good at being a cog in a machine that I do not understand, and I have this nasty habit of questioning authority, old regimes, and the status quo. I want to know why something must be - why are we not doing things another way? How long do we beat a dead horse? I want to wrap my brain around answering why something is happening, and the best way for me to do that is to literally engage in what it is I want to change or learn about.

This line of thinking (and acting) has led me to my fair share of dead ends, scuffles, and ended relationships. When I hit those dead ends, it's usually quite painful, to say the least. The end of something you thought you wanted feels an awful lot like failing - in the moment at least. The end feels like failing, that is, until you've gotten the chance to move onto something else, and find what you're looking for there.

Let's get concrete here...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer sun

Billowing cumulonimbus clouds stack
up in the heat of the summer atmosphere.

Absolute, incandescent joy


The heavy summer air tugs and twines cumulonimbus like some airy substance between toffy and cotton candy at a carnival. The shapes of foamy condensation billow and swell, while wisps of atmosphere push them across a field of blue. All the while, the piercing rays of a hot summer sun poke through weak spots in the sky caravans, filtering yellow into white into orange into pink.

In the green-grass field below stands a maple in paradise. In its golden years, the big tree has grown tall and wide, with thick, strong limbs for children to climb on, and deep green leaves to shade lovers' picnics and farmers' perspiring brows. Its roots run as deep as its branches reach high, and are as hardy and stoic as their trunk is round.

The stream nearby feeds maple full of cold, clean water. In spring it overflows its banks to make room for bright green grass, but in the heat of summer it has returned to a steady level, leaving rocks half exposed and washing wood into nothing. Cool and steaming in the waking morning, fishermen test their fly rods at the bounty below. Glistening and glinting in the afternoon sun, families take solace in the calm, cool current.

Downstream, the water disperses some of its gift into a vast, muddy bog. A haven for insects and invertebrates, it also fosters the life of amphibians and birds. Red-winged Blackbirds have built their nests on cattails, and raised their young on the superabundance of bugs. In the mornings and evenings they call to each other in trilling cries to form a chorus with bullfrogs. At dusk they sleep, and let the bats descend upon the feeding grounds.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ol' Murray

My mobile memory machine


I have a secret thinking spot - atop my Murray 12 horsepower, 38" lawnmower. The creaky old gal from Ohio still starts up without a fuss (most days, kinda). She has a tendency to shudder when you engage the blade, and shifting is anything but smooth, but for whatever reason, she helps to clear my head.

I tell people all the time how I enjoy spending time doing simple manual labor. I sit too much and think critically too hard all day and it gets exhausting. At the end of the workday I like to have something to sweat in the sun too. It's nice to have a task that doesn't require me to do much thinking, just plain old doing; let my mind wonder.

At home there's about an acre of lawn to mow, and in the heat of summer it needs to be done almost twice a week. In fact my brothers and I will actually have fights over whose turn it is to mow the lawn (redneck much?). Bo will insist that he's always getting to it, that he's saving it for later when he's bored and needs something to fill his time with. Jed, on the other hand, will try to get the jump by doing something ridiculous. Like running out there to cut the lawn in the morning before the grass is even dry - crazy right?! And me, well I just play the big brother card and ban them from using my stuff if they don't let me do it.

Oh, and don't even get me started on my sister operating a bladed vehicle…the poor little maple in the front yard has died more than it's fair share of deaths, Chelsea...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Way back in the woods

Let the road narrow and become dust,
let the trees tower tall and green,
let me at those wild lakes,
and let my cares give way,
when the vessel of time begins to careen.

Annual camping collective on the Keweenaw Peninsula


The treetop busted free from the tree trunk and I went running. Instinctively, I put my arm over my head as I ducked and high stepped over the underbrush in my way. I had only made it a few steps though, before I realized there was no crashing sound, no avalanche of debris, and when I turned to look back I saw the top of the dead spruce suspended by a network of branches; I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed how ridiculous I must have looked after having been so keen on kicking the rotted bottom.

The camp was only a couple dozen yards away, but I was screened by a dense swath of ferns, undergrowth, and small firs - embarrassment avoided.

"Not too suave on that one, Seth." I muttered to my boots. Then I realized, it doesn't matter how dumb the incident might have looked, we were deep in the woods. Who was I trying to impress after all, these were my friends, they knew just how graceful I could be (sarcasm).

And yet, there was some work that needed to be done. We needed dry wood to get a dinner fire going for 11 people, and I was downright hungry. Since making camp on the wooded cliff overlooking Lake Superior two days prior, we had made it a point to not travel into town for anything save ice, so our firewood had to be foraged daily from the Keweenaw timber surrounding us.

Treetop crisis abated and firewood resolve reinstated, I turned back to the tasty morsel of tree hanging overhead. Its fine, bare, crispy branches were all the size of my pinky finger, and I knew they would make excellent kindling. I backed up against a small hill to get a running start, then ran and launched myself at the bottom of the dangling trunk, leading with my right hand outstretched. At the apex of my jump, I felt bare fingers close around dry bark, and I let my bodyweight do the rest of the work.

I like to believe I appeared as a flannelled spider man soaring through the air...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Northwoods May 2013

May 31 - Storm Brewing Over Round Lake

One photo from each day of May 2013


It's been a weird spring. Especially when we compare it to last year's insta-winter-bust into summer. Nope, this year we paid that loan back in full. Rather than simply write about it though, like so many have before me, I wanted to do something different to chronicle the transition. I went with a more visual approach.

Each day, from May 1 - 31, I took one photograph somewhere in the surrounding area, processed it, and uploaded it online at northwoodsmay2013.tumblr.com I wanted to capture the radical changes the Wisconsin Northwoods goes through in this season of fluctuation, so most of the shots are wide or medium range landscapes - it’s hard to shoot from a mountain top in the middle of the woods.

Over the course of the project, I drove 184 miles over 14 hours. That averages out to be about six miles per day, even though there are several days I did not write down mileage or time. Those were the instances where a photo was on my way to somewhere else - typically work or fishing related. I also did not keep track of time spent processing photos, but by the end of the project, I had that part down to 30 minutes or less each day.
May 22 - Live tree in foamy Sailor Creek

After a set of photos was taken, and I felt confident I had at least one I liked, I set into the behind the scenes work with tools like iPhoto, Photoshop, and an online set of editing tools called Aviary. I utilized social media platforms such as Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus to distribute the work, garner attention, and collect feedback on what sort of pictures were best received by family, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers.

As the first week or so unfolded, I started to refine my process. I began to try different methods for the distribution of these photographs, and by this experimentation, harnessed different tools. Flickr (a powerful social media platform for photography) was the mainframe tool I used. Flickr worked well for several reasons: I could display full resolution photos, I could map out where each and every one was taken, and I could organize, archive, and distribute the whole project with ease. I also started to use the mobile app for the site, which included a host of great filter effects, and helped me stay on target to adventure, photograph, and upload each and every day.
May 3 - Butternut Creek


I found that color became one of my primary expressions of the changing atmosphere I wanted to capture. Color could tell parts of the story that proximity, shape, size, texture, and line could not do on their own. I wanted to effect an emotional reaction out of these photos, and color helped me get there. I was leery in the beginning to overdo it with heavy hues, but as my process began to define itself, it became more and more vital.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

52 weeks later

If patience is the key, pace is the trick


Dear Reader, it's been a year.

This week marks the 12-month anniversary of Woodsman Enough. When I started it in the June 14, 2012, edition of THE-BEE and Park Falls Herald, I had no idea what it was or where it was going. I knew I wanted to write about adventures and experiences in the outdoors, but I had no idea if anyone would find value in it, no idea if anyone would enjoy what I was writing.

That's where you stepped in, reader. Thanks to you, I've had the guts to keep going. You who have called, e-mailed, or spoke to me in person, with Facebook likes and shares, with favorites and RTs on Twitter, through smoke signals and bird calls in the woods - you gave me purpose to keep chugging along, and I truly do appreciate that. Without your support and your voice and your feedback, I would have burned out a long time ago. What an accomplishment this has been for you, as a supporter, a companion on this adventure, as a cast member in this play, as a reader of this column - I give it all to you. Thank you.

See, the thing is, I can write until my fingers go numb, until my mind is mush, until the sun blinks out, and none of it matters if you don't connect to it. Someone must connect with the story, else it's no story at all. I can send these ideas off to print or into space or wherever, but if nothing ever comes back out of that void, why continue? Feedback is critical. Action is critical.

Sometimes I have this notion that I should be writing these entries from the side of a pine-sheathed mountain that just recently became an active volcano, and I'm recording the final hours before a mass extinction. Sometimes I like to think I'm writing from sitting atop the back of a charging bison, in a flannel and cowboy boots, while shooting clay pigeons with an over-under combo, one-handed. Other times, I picture myself fighting off a bear attack or a pack of wolves, bare handed, from a canoe, all the while shirtless and scribbling notations down in a blood-splattered notebook - a notebook of glory.

Alas, few of the above stories are true (only a few), and more often than not I'm generating from a keyboard at a desk, simply wishing there was a window to look out of. The truth is, having an adventure is easy if you know where to look, but recording it in an interesting way is a whole heap of work and sometimes the inspiration to slog through it is hard to come by.

In these times, there is only one rule - keep going. "You must write," I tell myself, "you must be a writer or you are nothing at all."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fresh air beckons

And why we must listen


I've been putting a lot of thought into fresh air lately. I think some of it has to do with being outdoors more now that the weather is warm and the lilacs are fragrant. It all reminds me how much I missed feeling free to breathe when I lived in the cities - where everything was crowded, and people forced their way into your space with their smoke and their fumes and their general decay. It's not like that here, and we're all lucky devils for it.

It makes me wonder how people can stand to live in places like Houston or Los Angeles - two of the most polluted American cities. Isn't clean air a basic human right? Who would want to go their whole life without ever tasting this sweet freedom? Worse yet, who could leave one of those cities to taste it, and then return and choose to forget real air? That disturbs me.

I am obsessed with breathing. I suppose we all are, in a sense, but I'm taking it to the next level here because the action is so much more than a physical necessity. So much more than a confirmation of life.

Learning to breathe deep can take you out of trouble areas. It can help you stifle anxiety, and put you in control of something very basic and vital in times that may otherwise seem out of control. Times that are emergencies, or times that you recognize a reaction you're having that you deem undesirable.

For instance, sometimes I get bunched up with anxiety over a decision, or frustrated at the feeling of being backed into a corner or being held down - unable to do what I want (yes, I'm fiercely stubborn of my personal freedom). In these instances, I try to let go. I try to release my ownership over said decision or condition, and circumvent the issue with a deep breath that pulls me back into the bigger picture. Nothing pulls you back into the big picture like pure, clean air in your lungs.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sweat equity

How cutting firewood can put food on your table


In our modern culture, we accept money as the standard of payment in exchange for goods purchased or services hired. It exists as paper bills, digital bits, and metal coins, but it is all symbolic of value, and with the ability to exchange these symbols between world cultures, it is almost universally accepted.

Money is a powerful concept, especially now that it is no longer backed by gold. Really, the entire system is based on every single person buying into the belief that the crumpled up bill in his or her pockets is worth anything more than a wad of kindling.

We work for our money, most of us, and if we don't have it, we borrow it. We borrow it against our time, and often times our livelihoods. We spend our lives slaving away for this monster we call currency, complaining with every laborious breath we take, and this is a beast that we created.

It wasn't always this way, though, and there are (blessedly) still ways around it. I am, in fact, obsessed with finding ways around it, because most days it seems as though the money tree has dried up on me, and I'm left scratching in the dirt for pennies. This work-around is not obvious, or easy, and it still demands you to exchange your precious time for goods and services rendered, but there are other benefits.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spring growth

Like wildflowers in the wood


This spring is a fresh start. Right now the woods are full of warblers, sparrows, and thrushes singing songs and raising young families. Tiny fawns are just appearing, hidden deep in wooded coves with their mothers. The rivers are running high and full of fish spawning, and the marshes now come alive at sundown with legions of spring peepers.

We have finally entered into the growing season. The sun rises early and sets late. The cold chill in the air has finally been replaced by a humid warmth. The smell of wet grass and pollen is pervasive, and the forest floor is dotted with white wildflowers.

Frost warnings have subsided, bizarre blizzards from nowhere have stopped popping up, and the world has exploded into green glory. We made it through the winter, and now we're surrounded again by hundreds of species that make their home in our neck of the woods.

Here in the Northwoods, we appreciate spring better than many other places. We recognize this as a new opportunity for growth after a long winter that ate up our stores. Now we are replenished by long daylight hours, warm weather, and an abundance of new life.

As the woods and waters are renewing themselves in this part of their natural cycle, so too, should we consider how we're renewed. How far have you come from last year? Are you in a better place now than you were last spring? Are you happier, more content, at peace, more alive than you were last May? If you are, then congratulations. What changed to make you this way; how have you grown since then?

If not, then why not?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fishing lessons

At the lake with Tully and Khaki Man


The wind assailed my frozen body relentlessly. My legs stood stiff in my knee-high rubber boots, my arms felt like rigid, poorly engineered plastic, and my face and hands were numb and only getting more numb with each cast. Yet there I was, stubborn as a mule, soaked to the bone and standing in a lake a few feet off shore, just trying my best to catch some dinner.

Again I reeled in the line, bent my creaky arms to wind up the cast, and then whip the rod to send out the lure. I watched the small, barbed gadget careen over the angry water surface about 30 yards before landing with a seductive plop. This time, this is the cast that brings home the lake beef. I reeled in at a slow speed with a few jigs to see if that would prove a more alluring presentation. It did not.

Thoughts of the previous day started to annoy me. I recalled sunny skies, highs in the 70s, a calm lake with soft south winds and no bugs. Well, there are no bugs out here in the gusting rainstorm either, Seth. Look on the bright side - at least you're outside and fishing on the lake… better this than being stuck at a desk, staring blankly into a computer screen for hours. Just then the wind gusted and slapped me hard on the side of my face.

A chill, already set deep in my bones, released itself in a shudder up my hunched spine, and 'extremely uncomfortable' suddenly became 'what-the-hell-am-I-doing-out-here' mania...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dear Ma,

Thank you, thank you, thank you


A woodsman is no man at all without giving credit where credit is due. This week, in recognition of Mother’s Day, I'd like to thank my mother, and express my gratitude for raising me to have an appreciation for nature as well as my neighboring woodsmen and women. Ma has been behind the scenes in many of my stories and nearly all of the words I've printed here - a true unsung hero. Today is the day I sing her song.

Dear Ma,

Thanks to you, I have so much to be thankful for. I have courage, free will, and the ability to chase my dreams. I have a big family, full of strong individuals who are filled with heart and empathy for one another. And lastly, thanks to you, I will always have a compassionate, understanding, and safe place in this world to call home.

I know sometimes I let you down. Like when I'm not on time for dinner because I'm out fishing or when I don't call you back right away... because I'm out fishing. Or sometimes in a more somber way; like when I make decisions you do not understand or speak unkindly when my blood is up. You envelope all these things regardless of whether I apologize or not (though I try to, rest assured). It is a lesson in compassion - thank you.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The great spotted feline

Lynx rufus is not to be messed with.

And the eye my brother nearly lost


The morning was dark, like they tend to be deep in December. I don't recall why I was up so early, but my brother Jed had risen before the sun to greet the cold air and crunchy snow to check his traps. He had been awarded a bobcat tag that year, and it just so happened we knew where a few of the wild felines were roaming the woods.

As he put on several shirt layers I was sitting at the dining room table sipping coffee. Then came his boots, laced high up his ankles for support in the deep snow. Next was a beaver hat and a pair of big leather mittens, wooly on the inside. Soon he was dressed for moderate walking in the woods - not so bundled he'd be sweating in an instant, but not so lightly he'd be shivering by the time he got to the little red truck. I sipped my coffee.

He offered, "Do you want to come?" I stared at him mildly, unblinking, analyzing the cost/benefit.

"Not particularly," I replied slowly, still unsure of my answer. Unsure because I had a good feeling about the spot he had set only two days past. It was a prime location - a game trail crossroads, mixed forest with clear cuts on two sides, an old, narrow logging road for access, and plenty of cat sign when he set it. Combine that with favorable weather conditions the night before, and you just knew in your gut conditions were primed for a catch. My only response was another sip of coffee.

"Well, wish me luck," he said, and was out the door. I watched from behind the window. When his truck headlights came on they lit fluffy falling snow. The sky was just barely beginning to show life in the east - a dull pink glow washing out the grey clouds. I sat still and hoped he would hurry up before I changed my mind about not going.

Soon though, he was gone. Barreling out of the driveway over the frozen humps in the ground. I could almost hear the keys clacking on the steering column with every jostle the little red truck took. He turned the corner and soon his taillights were gone into the great white darkness, and I was left at the table reading and, you guessed it, sipping coffee.

Neither Jed nor I had ever trapped a cat before. We had both been out with dad when he had caught them, but that was different. This season was different, because it was the first bobcat tag Jed had received in all his years applying for one, so he was the trapper in charge of the set now. Dad could go with for scouting and advice, but Jed had to make all the final decisions and was bound by law to check the set every day - my little brother was growing up, as I was about to find out...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pinewood derby

Life doesn't come in a kit


If I remember correctly, they came in kits, and you had to register long before the race so that your materials would come in the mail on time. In the delivery box were four wheels, four hubcaps, two axels, and a block of wood, and as a boy scout, your duty was to engineer a derby car using only those materials. I'll be the first to admit I was never the best boy scout, but the annual pinewood derby races were the one area I really shined.

We had the perfect design, my dad and I. Most of the time we would even get two kits. The first one would be a trial model that we could try out crazy new ideas on: spoiler, forked wedge, extremely narrow wheelbase, extremely wide wheelbase, inverted wedge, etc. Then we would dispose of the terrible ideas (usually his), and take what worked well (typically mine), and incorporate the best format into the final design. *Note: the spoiler thing never works.

We were allowed to use basic tools like drills, saws, wood chisels, and knives to shape the simple wood block, but it was the paint job that really made our cars into objects both feared and revered by other scouts and scout dads alike. Often we would devise a name for the car - something like "The Flame" or "Blazing Rocket," you know, something really terrifying that I could paint on the side in red letters.

As a kid who grew up loving the names of exploding fireworks, I'm beginning to think naming them was my favorite part. I would even go through the trouble of pulling out a bunch of blank printer paper to doodle on so I could get the letter style I wanted. My hang-up in designs, now that I think about it, was that we never had the colors of paints like I had the colors of crayons... parents take note...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Indigenous produce

The current of acer saccharum


Rain fell upon snow - the drops descending from a heavy, grey sky. And when they struck the trees they stuck and collected to build limbs of ice. In the woods the maples, basswoods, birch, and oaks stood in transparent tombs of wet crystal. By night they seized and froze in winter's dying grip, by day they dripped silver; in vertical streams the ice trees thawed under a strong southern sun. The bark beneath weathered both extremes, peering out from below its weeping cast to watch as the men came and went.

They came in pairs, the men. They trudged through the old crusted snow of woodlands with armloads of hard metal tools. They took turns choosing trees; each played judge and jury both. From tree to tree they worked, breaking the rotted ice away from those trunks deemed large enough, leaving those who were yet too young. They skipped oak and aspen, ignored basswood and firs. These men had one prize in mind. Their quest was for only the sweetest drink among the hardwoods - the current of Acer saccharum - sugar maple's sap.

With their iron tools they bore into sugar maple's trunks. Into these wounds they placed their concave beaks, their metal straws to sap on maple's stores. Man's beaks were unlike other creatures though. Once pounded into maple's pulp, man's beaks stayed put day and night, for as long as it took maple's lifeblood to run bitter, and disinterest the sugar-craving tongue of mankind.

Once each year sugar maple made this tribute to man. Before the new year of spring, maple offered her sweetest gift, the store of her winter roots. Her sap ran as sugar water when the birds returned to seek nesting, when bears crawled from their dens, when geese came back to the river water, and when squirrels began to emerge on the oak ridges. These signs the men had read, and so their thirst returned each year.