Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For January 30th, 2009 Edition.
A Royal blue sky sprinkled with wispy cirrus clouds highlighted by Old Sol, who was just sticking his head over the ancient white pines that line the banks of Lost Creek, greeted Belle and I as we eased out into a picture perfect winter morning. As I walked towards where my snowshoes rested on a snow covered wooden lawn chair the squeaky sound of my footsteps in the snow-covered ground strongly indicated the minus four-degree reading on my thermometer was correct.
The January cold snap that was holding the north woods hostage for nearly a week was reminiscent of what was a normal winter condition decades earlier. As I slipped my Thinsulate-insulated boots into the harnesses on my snowshoes my mind couldn't help leaping back five or six decades to similar winter mornings when Old Pat, our Cocker Spaniel, and I might be heading out with snowshoe hares on our agenda.
But my agenda on this morning was much simpler, Belle and I were simply heading out for exercise and whatever entertainment Ma Nature might have scheduled for us. Also, my garb was much improved from what I would have been dressed in during a winter outing during my formative years.
Now I use a jacket, gloves and hat insulated with the same material as my boots. When Old Pat and I roamed the winter woods together my boots were uninsulated rubber packs, which the interiors of would often be lined with frost when I returned from my wanderings. Several layers of grandma Jorgensen's hand knitted wool socks would save my feet from frostbite! Likewise my wool mittens stuffed inside thick leather "choppers" protected my hands. Full- length wool underwear, wool shirt and wool Malone pants rounded out my wardrobe, expect for my head which would be protected by a wool stocking cap. The only non-modern item I presently wear on my winter outings are my well-worn wool Malone pants (but not the same ones from the dark ages) pulled over a heavy pair of sweat pants.
Before heading out on my well-packed trail I filled the bird feeders with sunflower seeds, and filled our heated bird bath with fresh water. A light dusting of snow from the previous evening bore evidence that our lone cottontail rabbit had ventured out from its home beneath a huge brush pile near the edge of the swamp. The little bunny arrived at our residence shortly before deer season, and is the first of his species that ever decided to spend the winter in our neighborhood. Belle checked its well-used runway for fresh tracks and then returned to my side with a look on her face that told me she was ready to rumble!
Before us lay thirty acres of pure north woods beauty, peace and quiet. There was not a whisper of wind and the only foreign sound was the rhythmic "swish-swish-crunch-crunch" of my snowshoes. My system of trails zigzag through thirty-acres of wetlands, commonly referred to as "a swamp." But this is no ordinary swamp, this is "The Minnow Pond Swamp", which has been one of my favorite hangouts since I was old enough to walk. And it goes without saying it's interior holds many cherished memories and continues to add more to my memory banks!
The first leg of our morning hike took us through a dense stand of fairly young balsam trees along the swamp's northern border. The balsams sprang up after I had a logger harvest all the popple, birch and jackpine some twenty-five years ago. It's a haven for snowshoe hares and our resident deer often bed down there during the winter months. Fresh hoof prints in the hard packed trail indicated our friends had probably done just that the previous night.
Belle disappeared for several minutes, then came racing back towards me down the trail, her tongue hanging out and a grin on her face a mile wide. Yep, she had jumped a hare and chased it for a bit, knowing full well she'd never catch it, -- but hey she's a Lab and Labs like to chase most anything that will run from them.
Next we entered what I call the "White Spruce Cathedral." Here within the bowels of the swamp are dozens of hundred year old plus white spruce trees. Straight as a ship's mast and seventy to eighty feet tall they are the majestic skyscrapers of the swamp. Two of their major uses include log cabin material and back when anglers actually rowed a boat, high quality oars were produced from the wood of the straight-grained white spruce.
Next we encountered the gin clear waters of the tiny spring creek that originates in the swamp's interior. Never more than five or six feet wide and only inches deep, the sluggish stream rarely freezes over. Here my trail forks. I can turn right and cross over to the south bank on a ten-inch wide plank, (which is tricky on snowshoes) or take a left and parallel the stream until I reach the intersection where the right-hand fork rejoins the main trail. I opted to not cross, although Belle did to investigate what might be left of the "gut-pile" from Lisa Clemens' deer she bagged here on opening day. Even though both Belle and I know the coyotes, fox and fishers have long since eliminated the leftovers, - well, dogs will be dogs.
Half way through a thick stand of speckled alders Belle catches up with me and passes doing about sixty. My scout is never satisfied to lag very far behind. The alder thicket is crisscrossed with snowshoe hare runways, which would cause the uninformed to imagine hundreds of those white rabbits must inhabit the swamp! But no, one hopper can make an awful lots of tracks and my hunch is only four or five bunnies now call the swamp home.
During my youth that was not the case. Back then there were dozens of hares hanging out in the swamp during the winter months. But with the introduction of the killer fishers sometime in the 1960s, all that became a historical footnote. Those constantly roaming predators are killing machines and take a terrible toll on small rodents and birds.
Suddenly a loud "rat-tat-tat" echoed through the frigid morning air. A pilated woodpecker was hammering away on a dead white pine not far ahead! Reaching a slight break in the canopy of cedar, balsam and black spruce above me I saw it! The huge bird was chipping away large chunks of decayed wood, probably feeding on carpenter ants or grubs. That bird and its relatives are regular visitors to our suet bag.
My trail eventually intersects with an old logging railroad grade, that leads Belle and I back to our starting point. More fresh deer tracks told me the locals vacated the swamp using this path once they realized man and dog were intruding into their domain.
All too soon our morning trek was over. We once again completed the familiar circuit and as always were better for having done so. My snowshoes were returned to their winter storage location, the old wooden snow covered lawn chair and next a warm, friendly home awaited our return.
It was time for breakfast for both man and dog, along with a cold drink of water for both and then a mug of hot coffee for the man. Later that afternoon a nap was on my schedule for both of us.
Ah yes, life is good!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: email@example.com or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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