Thursday, March 27, 2014

Out like a...

Relentless winter?

Slush season or new ice age?

March is a blustery month full of chilly gusto and empty bravado; all huffing and puffing and generally making a mess of things. It is a shifting thing born between the sharp winds of winter and the bursting sun of spring. Cumulous clouds sometimes peak out upon the horizon now where all winter was seen only banks of dull, shapeless grey or sinewy wisps of clouded atmosphere.

Suddenly roadways and sidewalks make appearances again, and though they're surrounded by high heaps of snow on all sides and at all times, can sometimes still channel enough sunlight to melt the frosty world for a few inches around them.

Some years it even gets warm enough that we can call it slush season. Water running in the streets and flooding the storm sewers creates estuaries and muddy deposits in low places; the landscape is changing right before our eyes.

This year it’s not so much so, not yet anyway. We’re still locked up in ice and snow pretty well in these parts. March came in like a yeti, I think, and is leaving…like…a yeti. It’s cold outside! The wind howls night and day like a hungry wolf sitting outside on the doorstep. Random snow flurries fling fistfuls of fluffy stuff at our windows like a troop of psyched baboons. Forget roaring like a lion, March this year is a stampede of half-frozen wooly mammoths, brought crusading out of the depths of ancient glacier locks lost and forgotten under leagues worth of earthen graves...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Man and machine

Sawdust and steam

The wood splitter sputtered and rattled and shook like some burly hog stuck with an arrow. It choked out dark grey puffs of smoke trying to clear its mechanical lungs, prompting a few drops of engine oil to fall from its greasy green carcass.

The green machine was an old steel husk from a bygone era but it made no difference. It was still being asked to perform at its best on a cold winter day. Man’s houses had gone cold without enough firewood for the winter, and so the splitter would obey the command to work, forcing the remnants of tree trunks into bite-size slivers for fires to consume.

Together, two men used tongs with talons to heft tree stumps upon Splitter's beam. There they would roll each stump into a strategic position to produce the best angle at which to split wood fibers and create smaller pieces. Splitter's hydraulic push arm did the work from there, forcing the dead tree meat onto its blade at the other end of the beam.

Splitter showed her age on this particular day, however. As the men tried to split tree trunks, the old green machine would shudder when forcing the gnarly wood at its blade, stalling the engine. This caused the men grief. One man would have to work to free each stuck stump with a sledge hammer. The other man would attend Splitter’s old, greasy motor systems with a puzzled look, inspecting oil levels and checking her spark plug.

On this day, it seemed to be a carburetor issue that was stalling the old gal. The man taking care used a pinch of gasoline to clear the lines and get her running smoothly again. The trick worked for a bit, but what it really took was the men being a bit gentler with the old gal and sensing the limitations of her strength.

Back to work they went...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Weather or not

Spring, are you out there?

It’s happening, can you feel it? Here and there are beginning to be signs of winter giving way to spring. I almost hesitate to say anything, as if daring to hope the cold and snow are lifting will bring old man winter roaring back to life.

The sun was up and there was fog rising in the woods on Monday, I even heard some birds that were not chickadees. The temperature was above freezing all day long and I didn’t even need to wear long johns. I’m pretty sure I’ve been wearing long johns since December 3 last year…

Could this be the end of the relentless winter? I guess only time will tell. Who knows, by the time you read this it may well be -20 again with 14 inches of snow expected overnight. Hopefully not.

This is a touchy time of year. Most everyone is anxious for change, expecting the sun to pop out, the air to warm up, and for the water to unfreeze. We begin to imagine what the land once looked like before the ice and the snowbanks and the constant stream of plow trucks up and down every road. Dare we picture days at the beach in the sun?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poor guides

Lead by example, not policy

My uncle and I got stuck in an unpleasant situation during a weekend of fishing in Minnesota recently, and I was reminded what a bad leader looks like. We had to hire a leader, a guide, for the trip and boy did that backfire.

We had arrived in northern Minnesota Friday afternoon to meet the guide at a small bait shop and fishing outfitter along the highway, just out of town. My uncle lives 40 miles south in Brainerd, and though he knew some of the area, he was unclear yet on how to fish it, thus we hired the guide.

The area is lowland, mostly swampy areas and shallow lakes all around. Our plan was simple: hire a guide in the  area who would know the lakes because he lived there, go out for the day to fish, and head back to my uncle’s house that night. We hadn’t been able to get out much all winter due to all the snow and cold, so in a sense, we put all our eggs in this one basket.

On the phone we had made plans to meet the guide early in the morning and do some trout fishing. Ever fished through the ice for browns or brookies before? Well, it’s a blast. That is, unless your guide is incompetent.

We put out on the ice early, sleds in tow behind us as the sky was just lighting up over the lake, and that’s when it began. My uncle asked our guide, Ben, where we were headed, and right away you got the sense Ben had no idea what he was doing.

“Well I always try to go where the fish are,” he said with a smirk and tramped onto the lake in snowshoes...