Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To Lem

The Horizon
Blog: noun 1. a website containing a writer's or group of writers' own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.

I started this blog quite a few years ago-at first to share photographs, then as things progresssed it seemed more and more words found their way onto “paper.” Experiences, thoughts, feelings.

I never really know who reads these little posts, but from time to time, someone will mention that they like what they've read or seen, or they share some of the same thoughts on my random entries. Who reads them and how many people I reach really isn't the point-these are more for me.

Today, I really only care if one person reads this.

A couple days ago I received an email from one of my Twangfest (and family) friends Kyle. It was just a short note telling the Twangfest group that one of our guys had lost his close friend. It was a shock and unexpected. My good friend and “Twang-brother” Mike Lemoine, “Lem,”as we all call him, had returned from a great opening day of hunting on his property when learning that he'd lost one of his dear friends.

I didn't know Mike McCormick well-I'd met him at Lems home a few years ago at a summer get together and remember him as very funny, personable and someone who loved music. I can't imagine what Lem is going through losing someone like that-when I called, he just stated it was surreal-something one can't understand. At 55 years old (about the same age as all of us) Mike's passing was much too young, and a reality check. The obligatory statement (but so true) “Life is short” was shared between us during our short conversation and I just said I was sorry. Lem, as he does, sincerely thanked me for my humble phone call. I felt bad for him.

I've never lost a close friend like this. Thinking about it the past few days I know it would be very difficult. It's said “ Close friends are family you choose” -a very accurate statement I believe. I feel that way about my good friends, especially the Twang guys who I only see once or twice a year if I'm lucky. I'd hate to lose one of them....most of us have known each other for over 30 years.

Lem and I hit it off from the beginning-he had married into the group and since neither of us were boyhood friends like the rest from Onalaska, we had a mutual connection as outsiders in a way. 20 years have now passed and we have remained close cohorts-like we'd seen each other yesterday (a year later) good friends. I don't know why that happens but I'm glad it does with some you meet.

I do know that when you become friends with Lem, you consider yourself very lucky, as I do. I'm sure Mike McCormick and Lem felt the same way about each other, making this loss so much harder. When something like this happens we can't understand it, but we want to do something. We share someone's loss when they are a good friend. I could have bought a sympathy card and mailed it, but after my call, I knew I just had to write a few words-Just to Lem.

I'm sorry for your loss... very sorry and want you to know I don't take for granted your friendship. It's inevitable in life, these things will happen, but that doesn't make them any less painful. In time, we can look back and appreciate those who come into our lives, no matter how long they are with us. For that we can be thankful. Be well my friend.

Life is eternal and love is immortal; And death is only a horizon, And a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. ~Rossiter Raymond

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2014-The Box Stand

Yearly Count

Five pieces of thin plywood. Wood screwed together and attached to long legs chained to a red pine sixteen feet in the air. This has been my home, my refuge, during the gun season for over 15 years. Before that, some old Wausau Paper mill felt lined the shooting rails to help block the wind. Even earlier, it was a couple planks nailed to a crotch of an oak or birch, where I'd shiver in the exposed air yet try not to twitch a muscle for fear of being pegged by an unseen whitetail.

So maybe from a purest standpoint, my boxstand is sacrilegious to true hunting-too comfortable some would say? But deer hunting has changed-I've changed. Scant numbers of hunters cruise snow covered hills and dales seeking out a track to peruse.  Fragmented small land parcels prevent that technique and more-so, few nimrods* are willing to put the effort nowadays. Still hunters, taking step after painstaking slow step, scanning the forest for game are scarce as well. I wonder how many of us have the patience to use these techniques in our “modern” times? For a change of pace, I have reverted to those ancestral skills from time to time but not often enough it seems.

This year again, I, like the majority of hunters, sit and wait. Fred Bear championed this hunting style and indeed, maybe taking a stand, letting game come to you and staying put can be the most successful. This little box on stilts affords me at least a little comfort, letting me dwell longer. It's the second day of the season as I write this and what was a near perfect opener, (sans deer sightings) with mild temps and snow cover, turned to a damp windy grey scape. I'm happy to have these four walls blocking some of the mist and breeze.

It's not a luxury box like the new plastic or fiberglass ones for sale outside Gander Mountain or the local sporting goods store. Nope-mine is just homemade-I like the openness in order to hear a twig snap or leaf shuffle. I'm not sure how guys can hunt just visually from those windowed central heated stands. Not a criticism- for I enjoy my little crib in a tree, I just need a bit more exposure to keep all senses involved.

This stand is also my escape. I can duck down and pour and sip what usually is the best coffee ever (deer hunting helps “flavor” it) or stay almost hidden munching a sandwich. It's a quiet place as well, so needed when removed from my elementary school classroom (and appreciated). It's my humble abode where notes can be jotted down, my hunting journal updated and maybe pages of a book read. (this year's selection was Richard Thiel's “the Timber Wolf in Wisconsin”

The property where my stand resides has been our family near Mosinee for over 40 years. I wandered and hunted this and the surrounding land since a teen ager. The tree it leans against is not a random choice. My stand locations gradually migrated over the years further and further from our shack, now to this remotest corner of the property. County and managed forest land adjoin ours and although I've never had mass migrations of deer pass by, the spot has been productive. The stands' lifetime average is .75 deer per hour hunting. Maybe low by central farmland standards, but enough to put venison in the freezer from time to time. Least I forget, I've etched every whitetail seen from this box on the wood walls. Yearlings, does and bucks with little lines indicating the number of points. Occasionally, a mark will be circled, indicating a successful shot. Some are noted with “Ten” or “Nik” next to it-the kids joining me here for their first successful hunt with dad.

It can be a long hike in here-a mile now, and although I pass through good habitat, I seem to just want to get to the stand and settle in. Stashed warm boots, bibs and orange coat are changed into by the glow of a headlamp, daylight still an hour off. The backpack is unloaded of shells, binoculars, extra hats and a camera. The notebook sits next to a thermos, ziplock bag of moms cookies and a bologna pickle sandwich. Only when all that is set can I relax and start taking in the sounds of the still pitch black woods. Its amazing what one can hear and detect in those agonizingly quiet pre-dawn minutes. As soon as the sun is up and maybe a breeze begins, I can ease off the intensity of the senses.

Hiking in this year (on day 2) I thought the weatherman should have issued a dense fog advisory for hunters seeking their stands. My light barely pierced the blanket of suspended cloud I waded through traversing the old logging road. Luckily for me, my opening day tracks remained in the mashed potato snow and I could blindly follow them to the ladder. Not surprising, there were few shots in this murkiness, even after several hours of daylight. Opening day, it seemed everyone was shooting....except me. As it turned out, there were lucky hunters around us, but unfortunately, none in the Meurett group.

Having a little comfort like this box keeps me out in the woods longer. I usually stay all day. In the back of my mind I think I can't get a deer if I'm sitting back in the warm shack. Part stubbornness, part optimism I guess. I know if I'm out there at least I have a chance-even on dead slow long fog days. After several unproductive days and later in the season, even that tenacity starts to wear off. Hours and hours staring at the same bare trees and listening to the same red squirrel scurrying around gathering pine cones gets old. The stand fends off the urge leave a little longer-I have some coffee yet in the thermos and a few more pages of notes to pen and the .308 leaning against the wall still has a chance if it's here not in a case.
Day 2:Fog

Although I have a few days left in this season, the chances of getting a deer tend to dip dramatically. I know this. Fewer hunters out moving whitetails, the animals staying nocturnal and frankly, some of the deer are just now gone. I'll still take my place and put in more time-one never knows what will happen. It'll be bittersweet on the last hunt there this year, tucking away my gear one last time. You become attached and accustomed to this little place away from it all. I'll know that the season is over and it'll be another year to wait until I climb this ladder....with a new book, my trusty Winchester and a thermos full of coffee.
Hour 17
1. (Bible) Old Testament a hunter, who was famous for his prowess (Genesis 10:8-9). Douay spelling: Nemrod
2. a person who is dedicated to or skilled in hunting

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A World away- Twangfest

I feel like one of God's chosen people, having had the opportunity to share, with many fine companions, these varied and lovely realms of our natural world. -Fred Bear

A world away-the natural world as Bear speaks to. That thought kept passing through my head during the three days of Twangfest this fall. Each time I looked out over the surrounding countryside- every time I caught amazing sunsets from high above the encompassing forest. It was reflected in the deafening silence of the predawn morning, waiting for the landscape and trees around me to solidify from the darkness. This place is a world away from everything outside of where we were, if just for a few days. I relished it-every second.

I'm not sure why these thoughts were so vivid this year. We'd all been gathering for “Twangfest” for over 30 years, a group of old college friends who spent a weekend together bow hunting, camping and enjoying our friendship afield. I'd seen those sunsets before, framed by the tops of a massive oak trees and the tall ridges in the distance. In the dark, I'd watch tracers of car lights roam the roads and hiway below, all busy going somewhere. The blackness beneath our high perch base camp was dotted with farmyard lights and in the distance small towns glowed and twinkled. I'd seen that all before and liked it. I was here and “they” were all out there occupied doing other important things I'm sure.

I guess I “pondered” why it felt so disconnected from the outside world this year, but that term seems so old fashioned. Contemplate, reflect? I'll go with those words for they sound more profound, but mean the same thing. Maybe it's an age thing-the older I get, the more I appreciate just being out there. It takes effort and preparation and it's never easy, but there are small moments outdoors that sink into ones primal soul and make it all worthwhile. The snap of a twig or shuffle of leaves in the excruciatingly quiet dawn requires every ounce of attention to identify. Eyes strain to re-connect with a movement, careful to not twitch a muscle least the prey locks onto me instead. Every shift of wind is detected, noted and fretted over-something I don't give a second thought when removed of this place and this time.

Twangfest does detach the group, usually numbering between 6 to 9 guys, from almost everything for this short period of time each year. Smart phones intrude some, but the guys are pretty good about leaving business behind and escaping. It's like we are sequestered here in the woods, with bows and arrows, camo and gear among friends that seem we'd seen yesterday. Not a bad place to be, and one we don't leave once we are unloaded and settled. Any news from the outside world is unwelcome-I kind of take delight (or maybe respite) in not knowing what's going on, in being removed from it all. It allows us to focus on our camaraderie and concentrate on hunting, which yes, we do take seriously, though it's just one part of this yearly gathering.

When bowhunting, you find you get closer to the woodland critters. The flora and the forest floor becomes clearer. You look at things more closely. You're more aware. You know the limited range of the bow is only 40 yards or so. You must try to outwait that approaching deer. Careful not to make the slightest movement or sound hoping that your scent won't suddenly waft his way. That's when you'll know for sure and appreciate deeply what bowhunting is all about." - Fred Bear

Having the bow in hand does alter us-we're no longer an observer, but a participant, something hard to define, but I've found true none the less. As Bear reflects-you do look closer, one does become more aware and everything is clearer-something that maybe is missing from daily life. The Twangfesters in the early years had different priorities, we were all in our early twenties, still in college and a weekend in the woods centered around a lot of crazy fun, some hunting and maybe an impromptu touch football game-in camo. Wait...I guess much of that does remain, plus a lot of music playing and story telling built of many years of returning to this place. But perhaps it's now just the escape, the esprit de corps, that keeps us returning each year. The locations have changed a few times over the years, each spot with a different flavor, each place providing different memories and tales.

Fewer deer are taken these days-the hunters much more picky about the quality of our quarry. “Brown is down” (meaning does are fair game-for we all love venison) is whispered around camp, but in reality, long drives back home after the weekend, then dealing with deer processing probably hampers releasing an arrow from time to time. Chancy attempts are passed on, instead waiting on a opportunity to make a good shot. Filling tags has much less importance now than in early versions of Twangfest. It was said that just preparing, gathering gear (or buying new junk), washing camo and planning on stand placement is half the fun-maybe more. We can always dream of taking that big buck and imagining it happening is something that helps pass countless hours in the blind. Those aspirations also become great fodder for the boys back at camp-who doesn't love chatting up the pre-and post hunt each day?

My companions arriving at Twang after 32 years leave behind for a few days diverse careers-a couple battery executives, a pair of teachers, a musician and a VP of new talent in Nashville, a sales exec and a couple others who manage to drop in from time to time. We've gone from college bachelors donning camo each weekend to starting jobs, changing jobs, raising families, saying good bye to some and even welcoming grandchildren. Perhaps a new generation at some point will join us in the woods, also thankful to be worlds away. share, with many fine companions, these varied and lovely realms of our natural world.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Winds of Change

“The Winds of Change”

That line begins it's life from a speech by British Prime Minister Harold macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in February of 1960. The seeds of independence were beginning to take root in Capetown at that time. Thirty years later, the pop group Scorpions borrowed the phase again- “The future's in the air-I can feel it everywhere-Blowing with the wind of change” My revival of that line here is a long way from South Africa or a German rock band formed in 1965.

The words rushed back to me as I listened to the wind howl through the trees outside one morning, clanging chimes loudly and catapulting anything not tied down into the woods near the house. It seemed a cyclone had blown in overnight, kind of unusual for Wisconsin, not known for such gales. Out west, sure-I was used to non-stop wind whenever my buddies and I head to North Dakota. It's a constant, even in the dead of night we'd discovered. Usually those winds drive ducks and all manner of waterfowl along for the ride. Cold and wind seem perpetual in “nodak” during October.

Molly Morning
We usually make the trek west just before Halloween, which signals the imminent changeover to winter and our last chance for puddlers and divers before winter slams the potholes shut and frozen. Some years arctic air arrives early and breaking ice for dogs and birds becomes the modus operandi, a challenge (not pleasurable) for anyone and everything.

The winds of change arrived this year to be sure. A record high temp preceded us (86 in Bismarck) and it stayed in the upper 60's and 70's during our stay with little to no breeze. All that is fine and dandy, but not exactly favorable to waterfowl hunting. Apparently, the ducks didn't get the memo that late October is when they should be streaming through the pothole region where we hunt. They too must have just stayed put, enjoying the bluebird days wherever they do such things. Needless to say, we walked far and wide for the few birds we did take-scarcity, the order of the day (s). I shudder to think just how much each duck cost per pound on this trip, but again, that's not the reason for doing such things-besides, we re-cooped some of the cost in unused ammo.

Not only the weather was altered, but also the make up of our hunting party. My buds and I are all in our middle 50's, but the average age dropped considerably this year when 3 young sons of a couple of the guys joined us. I was all in favor. It kind of takes the pressure off the four elders to constantly torment and tease each other for now we had new blood. No missed shot would go unnoticed. There was also the advantage to have young backs to carry overflowing bags of decoys to far flung ponds or fit legs to circumnavigate the biggest of potholes.

The newbies were fun and changed the dynamic of our group. Devising a strategy for 8 guys is different from half that. It was almost like making a war plan, involving synchronizing watches, dividing the troops and being sure the correct retrievers tagged along with their owners. Things move slower but broader, from rolling out of bed in the morning to spreading out among all available wetlands in the search for game. There may have been fewer ducks aloft, but steel still flew-the youngins still working on their distance judging. If one shot were fired, then three, then down the line until guns reached the limit of their plugs. I think the ducks had little to fear at some of the volleys .

Molly and Mallard
As usual, filling gamebags was not the priority, but rather enjoying time outdoors together in a beautiful place. We made a point everyday to find the highest point around, park the trucks, let the dogs out to stretch and watch the sun go down. I think the “kids” appreciated it, not realizing in the early days, we'd still be collecting evening decoys at that time of day and slugging them back to the pickup. Now, we just take the time and savor it and the company. Perhaps the highlight of those evenings was the decision to tailgate on one of those hill tops. Why not? Grills were trucked in, coolers and lawn chairs set up and Wisconsin brats sizzled over flame. Times like these are made perfect, not only by the food, friends and scenery, but by stories told-many of which had us in stitches. That crowns a great day hunting out west.

Selfie with 1187 & Molly Mae
All to quickly the trip is over, and the task of packing, cleaning and driving is before us-8 or 9 hours for most back to central Wisconsin. Within 40 miles, the pothole region, with ever present water and rolling hills, is behind us-replaced by a dead flat plain, corn and soybeans. On the horizon, plumes of black smoke-here and there, accompanied us for almost 200 miles. Puzzled at first, I soon realized the source-farmers burning wetlands of cattails and marshgrass, then following with the plow and disk. Change was bowing in on the marshes as well. CRP land, so vital to not just waterfowl, but wildlife in general, was disappearing in every direction we looked. Sky high commodity prices last year had driven CRP acreage into virtual extinction everywhere in North Dakota. The change just in the past year was dramatic-far less habitat meant fewer birds and animals. I understand farmers need to make a living, but a few more acres of corn, fueling the questionable ethanol industry, comes at a high cost for the environment and wildlife.

Change is inevitable. Some, like sharing the outdoor life with new family and friends is the very best kind. Others, like the transformation of the landscape, would be better left untouched, the way the wind and weather formed it and what drew us to it's beauty many years ago. Let's hope the breeze shifts in a positive direction to sustain what we have come to love and keep future generations coming back and living life out of doors.
"USA Pond"
Story Time
Andrew-New Generation
Buck Pond Hike
"Twin Lakes"-Posted
End of Day Storytime
Sunset at Allens
Boot Pond Morning Decoys