It’s was just raw cold, soundless boots in a fresh light snow and me trying to burn off more dinner than I should have stuffed in. I eat lots more in the winter, I know I do and kinda in my head I was going over that last slice of roast beef when, then it became harsh.
Seconds ago it was just bitterly cold and in one exhaled breath a rabbits shrill scream comes from the ridge behind me as the reapers scythe has claimed one from the night.
The rabbit shrieks again, again in a wail, and now all is quiet. How long I held my breath I’m not sure, but what a cloud of exhausted air just came from my lungs.
Walking the skidder trail, I think to myself, instead of finishing heading towards home, I have to go find the carnage. What I want to see im not sure will I find the tracks if any or find some fur.
With very little snow I don’t have any snowshoes on so walking around won’t be that difficult, my headlamp is beaming a wide swath as I move in an quick turn and head for the area I think the sounds came from.
Did an owl get the rabbit? Coyotes? Wolf I wonder? Funny how seconds ago I was thinking enough cold, enough dark hiking, hey time to head this red nosed noggin for warm.
Now I’m all reenergized for a fresh hike. I move quickly along my logging trail and just at the base of the ridge I can hear coyotes yipping up along the pipeline.
So do I go try and see them or stay the course to try and find the kill site and it makes me wonder did the yotes feast and flee as I may have my two questions answered in a single space place and time.
I hit the woods line and there is the rabbits last stand. Maybe three drops of red and a half a tuft of hair. Coyote tracks leave no doubt about what was had and who was had for dinner.
The trout whisperer
If you are lucky you have a friend that says things like atcha. So I say, hey Tud, thanks for going fishing again. Tud says, back atcha.
Tud has the most unusual way of speaking. He has his own way of making us understand without using common phrases.
Tud, give me a minnow, tuds response, git yer own. Or one of our all-time Tud line favorites is, Hey Tud what did you do yesterday. Tud says, don’t ask, it was a moaner.
A moaner, means his wife or one of his kids needed him to fix something around his house, even worse, is when he has to fix something at one of his kid’s homes. Tud and I, in that regard are quite abit alike. I like the outdoors and fixing anything someone else created just makes us mad.
Lawn mowers should never break, nothing ever, should ever break, fall apart, loosen up or anything else. Stuff should always work like it’s supposed to. Tud says why do we have to buy crap that breaks, if I wanted that I’d make.
Tud just left us again; he lives most of the year in Arizona. Tud came to visit and in Tuds words, remind himself why he will never, suck your cold air all year in Minnesota or anywhere north of a line that, in his words, fruity drinks can’t grow. No oranges, no thanks, no pineapple, no way. He has his own version of the mason Dickson line, but the line he drew has sand, and he won’t cross it, forever. Short trips fine, but in the end Tud says, he’s a sandman, not a snowfanman.
Tud says he’s going to invent the liquor bottle delivery man. No more milk carton man, no more pizza boy, Ought to make a million the first week. He says when he’s filthy rich he’s gonna sponsor golf tournaments and race car events just to make all the other companies mad.
Tud is not going to, retire. Tuds starting in on, Tuds time, in two years. Tuds time is when he really starts doing Tuds tax evasion for good. And Tud says he never gets headaches, he gives em.
Tud doesn’t have in his words, grand kids, or grandchildren. Tud says his wife has, short orbiting offspring. They orbit grandma, the kitchen, they orbit the couch, and they orbit his dog. He says at times they git to close to him, then he wants to send em in a different orbit. Tud will back in his in a few days.
The trout whisperer
One of the most famous things I ever did was in first grade. Two third grade boys were standing in front of me, telling anybody who would listen how dumb I was for believing in Santa Claus. They were saying how my dad and mom lied to me because there aint no Santa and what a baby I was. I beat those two older kids into the dust.
When I got home my mom gave me the “wait until your father gets home” line. And for the first time in my life I didn’t care if I was going to get an ass whipping for fighting in school, but I did care about the truth. I asked her flat out. Is he real, or not. Mom, set things straight for me at my young age, she said some folks don’t believe in Santa and that was fine with her, but she truly believed in the spirit of Christmas. And I also was told to learn to control my temper and that I needn’t wait until my father got home this time, but there better not be a next time.
Jessup is a very young boy, he sits between what I consider one of the last remaining true gentleman, his grandfather, and me. We’re in a rather palatial portable ice house. Insulated walls with carpet over the ice, aqua view looking over our three baits as were perched on ten inches of ice in nine feet of gin clear water in a labyrinth of fish and floating flora. Its sunnies and small crappies, some whopper perch that we keep and Jessup has landed every fish including a four inch northern he wants to take home for his aquarium.
I think if it was legal his grandpa would somehow make that happen. But gramps tell the kid the way it has to be, and down the hole, goes the baby pike. But me and gramps are in essence lying to the kid. Every fish that wiggles a spring bobber we have Jessup reel up. The kid is grinning and giggling, haven the time of his life and were brain washing him into thinking this is fun, this is how it is, and maybe Jessup being so young will think this is how it always is, and that’s starts to bother me.
But today and every day for a few years me and his grandpa, whenever were together, are going to do everything we can to make sure Jessup grows up thinking fishing is nothing short of fantastic. Something wonderful, no matter where he goes or what he does, its going to be something that nobody can take away from him. We’re making Jessup a believer.
I ask Jessup if he likes this ice fishing, and he says, yes. I ask if thinks this is what he thought ice fishin would be like, he says, yes. I ask Jessup, you think it will always be like this, he says, yes.
And me, sitting there with Jessup, well I didn’t I tell him the truths that may happen in his fishing life.
The trout whisperer
I think the wood smoke from this last winter camping trip had the best nasal flavor of the entire year. Quite by accident, At first we gathered the easiest, the highest, the driest kind of wood and it was a stumbled upon recipe by us that Betty Crocker herself would smell and come running for. It was a mixture of exposed shoreline, high and sun dried cedar.
Waves all last summer had washed off the bark scrubbing against shoreline rocks. Most of the logs somehow last fall during freeze up eased up and were sticking out for easy pickings. Our kinda firewood, the lazy kind. Little did we know. We sawed it off above the snowline, filled the sled and logged it up back at the tent. Cedar sawdust laying brown on the snow looked like woodland gravy and oh lord it smelled so fragrant.
Then in the woodstove it was a merlin’s magic potion so perfect with morning coffee steaming back at the stove. I’d be hiking back from the lone lake trout hole that tossed us a few trout and the scent of that drifting smoke led me home by the nose full.
Day after day, night after night, all that cedar went full flame setting it on some peeled poplar off an exposed but abandoned beaver lodge. Grayed, barked and cured at least one full year made it snap and pop in the stove. It gets ridiculous thinking about the amount of time you spend hand sawing, axing and hauling firewood to cook and keep you warm.
The thing was once we touched off the first fire, no other wood was gonna work for us, for the trips duration. It’s not so silly when it smells so good. We could a burned wind topped red pine or hacked into down’d birch which has its own brand of air borne aroma I enjoy but this cedar atop toppled poplar if ever turned into pipe tobacco would be a million dollar idea sure to go up in wood smoke and make somebody truly rich.
So the last few days we worked for our wood. We worked farther each day but was it ever worth it. I can still smell it in my red wool shirt now, many electrically home warmed days later.
The trout whisperer
The guy hikes across the same lake I occasionally panfish. I have my portable, he has a permanent. He always asks how I’m doing with all those gills and sunnies. We been waving back and forth for better than eight years now. On good days I do a bit of showing off. I asked why he never has any fish; he says one is plenty for him.
Say next week, why don’t you come with me he asked, I said okay. He’s after northern’s, and not just any northern’s, he wants the big ones. To be a big one, it has to weigh over fifteen pounds. He’s not a competitive sports kinda guy, he not going home with three seven pounder’s so he has something to brag about. He’s an instinctive sports guy, he thinks about what they eat, and when, where they dine and what the suns doing or the high or low pressure of any given weather day is up too. He hunts them, studies the lakes that produce big pike, and when he’s ready, then he hunkers down and connects. We go way back me and that guy.
He had a lot of patience with me, he even joked it made him a better fisherman, having me in some of his classes. Last week he made me watch many, many, many northern pike go under the ice at a dizzying rate. I saw thin ones and little ones we call hammer handles, fat chubby ones and one came through several times with a red gash just ahead of it dorsal fin. We nicknamed him scar face. After awhile, to me, it felt like friends of mine who pass up doe after doe during deer season, for a chance to take one big buck.
It was five hours per day, for three days. I watched all kinds of forced, closed the door daily darkness I can tell you. We were submarine attacked by a muskrat twice, not sure if it was the same piece of fur both times but I dang near speared it on the second visit it spent so much time scooting around the inside of the spear shack. I may never get the smell of cedar wood smoke out of my nose, I’m pretty sure every little ringing sound in my ears above a woodstove hiss I completely toned out after the first day and just like back in high school when he was teaching me things, I was supposed to be quiet, he wasn’t one for me talking then, and things hadn’t changed.
We sat side by side, he’d bump my arm with every, any, and each, bubble, shadow or fish that moved or cruised under us, I think I have a bruise from the constant nudging. I used to close my eyes after a day of bobber fishing in the summer to go asleep, and I could still see the bobber bobbing long after I was off the water for the day. That piece of lake bed eight feet below the ice, I have memorized. I stared at it silently for way to many hours.
The fourth day early in the morning, with his homemade decoy just darting and dancing about two and half feet below the ice something long and black backed, slide to his side of the hole. Without so much as a whisper he raised that big old iron frog fork and thrust it into what turned out to be sixteen plus pounds of one very large northern pike. One fish, for one winter, he had his season.
The trout whisperer