Thursday morning arrived as early as Thursday mornings in March should arrive. Which is to say not very early. Far crueler than anything April has wrought, March is an in-between month in which all major personal decisions should be avoided. A friend of mine some years ago divorced his wife in March only to be startled months later, on the fishing opener, when his mood had much improved, that his wife was nowhere to be found. “What just happened here?” he said. “And where’s the furniture?”

Big John, my syruping partner, and I had intended to gather sap Thursday morning. The maples had dripped at a reasonable pace this week and we had thought we would be cooking by the weekend. But the overnight low where I live was 16 degrees, freezing solid the bags of sap that bulged from trees in the sugar bush, and pushing back our cooking plans to the first of the week. Thus the term, going with the flow.

In March, distractions can be lifesavers. The other day while the sun shone high in a cobalt February sky and the temperature ballooned to 60 I shot my bow, preparing for turkey season. Also I’ve stared long and hard at my boat in the garage and rearranged to no good end the lures in my tackle box. Steelhead should run early and I’ve inventoried my yarn flies, noting vacancies in purple, chartreuse and white. All the while my dogs have gathered in half-circles nearby, curious about the goings-on, while overhead, Canada geese arrowed north. Confirming winter’s end, last week I flushed a lone woodcock.

Yet even in March it pays to keep on your toes, alert especially for executive orders that may gore your ox, or mine. Both took a licking Tuesday when the new president sent the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers scrambling to rescind a rule that protects many of the nation’s headwaters and wetlands. Whatever benefit in the near term this goofball idea might be to developers and farmers, it will bite us all in the not too distant future, costing us dearly in clean water and the abundance of critters, visible and less so, that it supports, people included.

The news out of Washington improved on Thursday, when new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed his staff to find areas on federal lands where recreation access can be expanded and habitat for fish and wildlife improved. A who’s-who of outdoor-group kingpins looked on as Zinke, a Montanan, signed the directive.

“Outdoor recreation is about both our heritage and our economy. Between hunting, fishing, motorized recreation, camping and more, the industry generates thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity,” Zinke said. “Over the past eight years, however, hunting and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board. It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the landowning elite.”

Hard as it is these days to determine what is a shell game and what is not, Zinke’s action nonetheless deserves praise. Better access to, and management of, public lands are admirable goals, so long as they are tempered by an overarching conservation ethic. Public lands open to hunting, fishing and hiking lose their luster, after all, when they are littered with oil rigs, mines, roads and dirty water.

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land,” Teddy Roosevelt said long ago, presciently. “But I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

After I exercised the dogs Thursday morning, and with no sap to gather, I hiked to a precipice overlooking the St. Croix, tall pines flanking my view.

Upstream, the river flowed generally open, while downstream a checkerboard of honeycombed ice blanketed the currents beneath. A veritable murder of crows yakked nearby, while over the river a bald eagle carved broad circles in the chilled morning air, eyes wide open for breakfast. I thought: You want really to pay attention to these things, because time passes, and with it, opportunities.

Ambling then back to the farm through the sugar bush, I wove among the frozen bags of sap that swung from bare-limbed maples.

Appearing dormant, the trees were in fact quite alive and soon would produce their most important work.

This was in March, an in-between month. Thankfully, I had no major personal decisions to make, and would have avoided them anyway.

 

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com