What the heck? I did put my snowshoes away. I got my bike out. In fact, I got it out five times already. On my last ride, it was 83 degrees. I was so hot my face didn’t cool down until the next morning. I couldn’t get enough to drink. That was three days ago. Today, I think I just want to sit on the couch in a “Snuggie” with a cup of hot chocolate and watch old movies on Turner Classic Movie Channel. This is a most confusing spring. Should I get the snowshoes back out?
My bike did ride great, anyway. Just a few little issues to deal with: check the tires for wear and cracks, put some air in them, tighten up the seat post, wipe down the chain and give it fresh lube. This year I’ll have to replace my handlebar wraps. I’ve been lusting after a new bike: a Terry Symmetry, but honestly, my old Cannondale is still in excellent condition. It would be sheer indulgence to replace it…
I can really notice how the lack of snowshoeing has affected my fitness level. The hills look just a little more daunting and my average speed is pretty pathetic. Still, it felt good to be on the bike. (Well, it does take awhile to condition the ole seat bones to where it actually feels “good” to sit on the saddle for any length of time.) I add on a little distance each time I go and try to maintain my pedaling cadence for longer stretches (less coasting and time spent standing up just to get off the saddle!). It’ll come. After all, I did get an early start – unless the biking season turns out to be like the snowshoeing season: the beginning and the end.
I just got back from my second (!!?) snowshoe hike of the winter. It’s over 60 degrees out. I never got my snowshoes down from their summer home upstairs in the barn until this week. This time of year is usually the beginning of the end of snowshoeing. This year it’s the beginning and the end. It’s been a weird year for winter activities. Snow, rain, then freezing resulted in lots of ice instead of snow, but not the best ice conditions on the lakes. My assignment at LL Bean lasted until the end of February. Excuses? I got a hundred of ‘em.
I walked on my road this winter. It just doesn’t have the same charm of snowshoeing through the woods. It’s not a heavily traveled road, but the the peaceful solitude factor is conspicuously missing. The dog has to be on a leash. It’s pretty much a straight shot going and the same straight shot coming back. I didn’t realize how much I missed snowshoeing until I went and did it. And really, it’s still the beginning of March; there might be a few more chances to tromp through the woods in the snow. I guess I’ll hold off getting my bike out for a little while longer.
PS. Man! I messed up that last post. Yeah, I think it would’ve been more entertaining with actual pictures instead of question marks. I think it has something to do with the size of the picture files I posted, but danged if I know. You all probably just used your imaginations anyway…right?
Last Tuesday, we packed up the the dog, the sled, and the auger and went to Messalonskee Pond to check the ice. For February, there isn’t much: just over 12”.
We drilled several test holes. (Well, the Other Guide drilled, I took pictures.)
In the picture above, you can see that the bottom portion of ice is reflective. This is the solid part. The top 3 or 4 inches is porous: snow and frozen slush. This makes me think it would be quite foolhardy to take a truck or car onto the ice this year. But that’s just me: I’m all for erring on the side of extreme caution. I know there are those who love to tempt fate. I’ve seen snowmobile tracks on the river that skim right over open patches of water. I’ve been told that they can do this by going really fast. I guess the drivers are trusting that they will not have to let off the throttle for any reason before they are back on solid ice. Let me say this about those drivers (and I mean this in the kindest way): they are morons. Sorry for the digression.
The ice on the Pond is plenty solid for putting out ice shacks and running snow machines, and fishing. I like to see the variety of shacks that people have. They’re all shapes and sizes and colors. I think my favorite has to be the blue one flying the Jolly Roger.
This one’s pretty cool, too. You could get quite comfy in there, I imagine.
This one is understated in its architecture, but makes a bold statement with color.
Enjoy the fishing. Use your common sense. Don’t err on the side of recklessness and end up a moron under ice.
In my last episode, I wrote about bears sitting the woods. This time, I’m going to tell about just sitting in the woods. The Other Guide spends most of the fall hunting. This apparently involves mostly finding a good vantage point and Sitting. Over the years, he’s told many stories about watching the animals and them watching him, squirrels sitting on his head, birds perched on his feet, a fisher climbing up behind him while he was in his tree stand. This sounded pretty interesting to me. Since this winter is so weirdly mild and snow-free (so far), I’ve been somewhat at a loss for Things To Do. So the other day, we went out in the woods. We took camp chairs and sleeping bags – and the camera. We set up our “observation point” on a small knoll and settled in to watch the show…
I had been warned that this wasn’t an ideal time for seeing critters: we’d recently had freezing rain and the forest was dripping. I mean, the sun was out, but it was raining under the trees. It was also mid-morning in January and even if it did seem like fall, the Other Guide explained that the animals had done their winter preparations already and weren’t likely to be out and around. I still wanted to try. Soon after we settled in, I heard a blue jay. Then we heard some scurrying and saw a red squirrel checking us out from a distance. I figured I’d be covered in critters in no time. After what seemed like hours, I whispered to the O.G. that I guessed he was right and I was ready to pack it up. Feeling quite proud of my patience, I asked him how long had we Sat and Waited. Forty-five minutes. Seriously?
Despite my short attention span and the lack of head-sitting animals, I would do it again.
If we went in the fall or in the spring at daybreak or dusk, we would likely see much more activity. Then again, even without the animal show, it’s very nice Sitting and Waiting in the woods.
Thanks for checking out this blog. I will be taking some time off from posting while I help LLBean’s distribution department get through their upcoming “peak”. (Known by most civilians as The Holiday Season). They tell me they can’t do it without me…hmm, seems like hyperbole to me. If not, I’m asking for a raise.
This week’s lesson is about bears: what to do, what not to do, and who cares if a bear sits in the woods – what? Oh, OK. The Other Guide says it’s not “sits”. Anyway, in Maine, we have black bears (which may or may not be black in color). There are no brown bears, unless it’s a brown black bear. Brown bears are otherwise known as grizzlies. Are you confused yet? Black bears come in cub size, adult size, and oh my god size. Oh my god size would be any bear over 500 pounds. Bears are heaviest in the fall, because they have gorged themselves all summer to get ready for hibernation. Your 500 pound monster bear was just a cute 300 pound teddy bear in early spring.
So what do you do if you meet a bear while you’re in the woods? First, it’s pretty rare to see a bear. They’re there, but they are extremely elusive. Bear paws have really soft pads and the hair that grows on the paws muffles the sound of a bear walking. Black bears have been called “black ghosts of the woods” because they move so silently. I can attest to this trait. One morning as a I started to head to the barn for chores, I saw an oh my god size bear standing about 75 feet from the house. We watched each other a bit (me from back inside the house, thank you very much). He stood up trying to figure out what the deal was with me. Then he dropped to all fours and loped back into the woods. He did not make a sound. Spooky, but beautiful.
If you do see a bear, you’ll be incredibly lucky (or incredibly un-lucky if you run screaming). Running is not recommended especially if you have a close encounter. Running triggers the chase instinct. If you’re close, say within 100 feet, you need to quickly check for cubs and carefully back away so Mama doesn’t see you as a threat to her kids. A bear who is making barking sounds, huffing, and popping its jaws is gettin’ agitated. Back away.
You must respect the bears, but don’t let fear of bears keep you from enjoying the woods. As I said, it’s rare to see a black bear in Maine. I’ve lived in this house in the woods for over 30 years and the one bear I saw was the only bear I’ve seen here. I know they populate these woods, but they do everything they can to avoid encounters with us. Just let sitting bears sit.
Disclaimer: I am not a bear expert: take my advice at your own risk.
Fish names. They used to be way more interesting and mysterious to me when I was a kid. For instance, when I was about 4, my father took me fishing on the Sebasticook River behind my uncle’s place. This was my first memory of fishing and I think it stuck with me because I caught a really big pickle. It was long and skinny, greenish in color, and had a lot of teeth. My father said it was one of the biggest pickles he’d ever seen. It was the only pickle I’d ever seen with teeth, but in other ways it was sort of pickle-like.
So I was somewhat disappointed when I learned that it was actually called a pickerel.
On another fishing trip to the famous Upcountry, we were trolling on First Roach Pond, when my brother hooked a toad. Well, it didn’t look anything like a toad, so I asked what kind of a toad is that? Apparently, it was a lake toad. I just didn’t see why this trout-like creature was a toad instead of a fish. It seemed like a pretty good joke to me. I still refer to togue as lake toads because I just like it better and for some reason it conjures up an amusing image in my mind. On that same trip, my father caught a cuss. It was a kind of eel-ish fish, dark brown in color. If I’d known any cuss words then, I might have cussed, but as it turned out, it was a cusk. This fish has some humorous monikers for real: in the Great Lakes, they’re known as lawyer fish. And their scientific name is lota lota. I guess that’s actually a better name than cuss.
Surgeons. Swimming up-river from the sea. Breaking the surface of the water in long sinuous arcs. People told me that they could grow to a Really Large Size. They were very mysterious and sea monster scary to me. I never really saw a whole surgeon; just the arc, so I couldn’t get good image of them in my head, but my imagination filled in the details: 10 feet long, with scalpel sharp teeth (the reason they were called surgeons), and probably ravenously hungry all the time. So disappointing to find out they weren’t surgeons at all, but sturgeons.
I guess there are plenty of fish with names that you don’t even have to misunderstand to make them weird: Chubs, hornpout, muskies, charr, splake, crappies – just have fun with them. They probably have some weird names for us, too.
Here’s a good way to spend a fall day (if you live in Maine or New Hampshire. If not, it could be a way to spend any number of days just to get here.) Give the trees just a week, week and a half. Then drive towards Rangeley on Rt. 4. A few miles before Rangeley, you’ll see a sign for Smalls Falls picnic area. Pull in there. There is minimal walking to get to see some beautiful falls and pools. If you care to walk a little more, venture south from the main trail and very shortly you’ll see another set of falls in a small canyon. The way the water has sculpted the rocks there is picture worthy.
You could picnic at Smalls Falls or you could travel into Rangeley and have a bite at one of the local eateries. Then, take South Shore Drive (south of town) to Rt. 17. Driving south on Rt. 17, you’ll be treated to the finest kind of scenery. At Height of Land check out the view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. (Seriously, I did not make up the name.) Take lots of pictures.
Tear yourself away from the natural eye-candy and keep going south on 17. About 9 miles further, there’s a turn on the right. Cross the bridge, and follow the Bemis Track (a dirt road passable by car) about 4 miles. There’s little turn out where you can park. The trail leaves the south side of the road. It’s marked with dark red blazes and it leads to Angel Falls, ninety feet of waterfall with a rock formation in the middle that resembles an angel’s wing. It’s a 15 to 20 minute walk one way. There are several stream crossings which can be tricky if the water is high, but that’s when the falls are most impressive.
You’ll be glad they invented digital cameras, so you’re not limited by the length of your film.
Many times, after a fisherman has succeeded in landing The Big One, it is the right thing to do to let it go. This is because you have already caught your limit, or the fish you caught is not of a legal-to-keep size, or because you’re a good sport and weren’t planning on having fish for supper.
Catch and release is about putting the fish back in the water to carry on with its fishy life. If you handle it like a big ole slimy bean-bag, it might just go belly-up and you will have accomplished nothing with your good intentions.
Here’re are some ways to catch and successfully release a fish:
1.Remember the biggest thing: Time is of the Most Importance. This fish has just participated in the fish equivalent of a marathon trying to avoid being landed. When you take him out of the water, it’s like you putting your head under water: no breathing going on. If you want to take a picture, have your camera or picture taker ready to snap away. There’s no time for setting up for a full fledged photo-shoot. Measure and weigh the fish, take his portrait and send him back to WaterWorld.
2.Use “circle” hooks. These hooks are not likely to be swallowed by a fish and will hook him in the mouth only, so you can easily and kindly remove it. It’s gonna do some damage if he’s swallowed it and you yank it out. Owie. If the hook won’t come out of the fish’s mouth, cut off the leader material and leave the hook. It will eventually disintegrate. Meanwhile, the fish has a cool lip piercing he can show off to his buddies.
3.While you’re getting all the proof and bragging information, it’s a good idea to wear cotton gloves. Cotton gloves protect fish slime. I know, it doesn’t seem like something worth protecting, but to the fish it is.
4.Playing a fish to the point of exhaustion (his) is not a good idea. Remember, the fish is Not Playing, he’s in a life or death struggle as far as he knows. You need to play him just to the point that he’s tired enough not to thrash all over the boat and hurt himself.
5.Netting the fish is the best way to land him. It’s much easier on him. If you use a rubber net*, it will support him and won’t scratch his scales off.
6.When you return the fish to the water, don’t just fling him over the side. Hold him upright in the water and move him back and forth to get the water flowing through his gills. He’ll swim away when he’s ready.
Be the fish, Grasshopper. It’ll help you catch ‘em, and it’ll help you let ‘em go free. Free! Free, I tell you!!…oh…sorry.
*Check out stevensnets.com for beautiful handmade rubber fish nets