Mole misery


Photo from The National Wildlfie Federation –

Pitching forward and falling prostrate while carrying two full buckets of water to the dogs’ kennel runs is a miserable way to start a snowy day. Even before the soaking nosedive I was in a grumpy mood, brought on by a two-inch overnight snowfall in the middle of October, the earliest measurable snow in more than 125 years of weather records in our part of the North Country.

No one was ready for this early onset of winter. The trees, with the exception of the walnuts, have not yet shed their leaves or even taken on the red and gold colors of fall. Snow-draped greenery is a weird landscape lighted by an October sunrise after an unseasonal snow storm. And layered on top of soil supersaturated by endless summer rains, the heavy and slippery snow was a problem for creatures large and small – except the moles.

Eastern moles (Scalopus aquaticus) apparently love this type of weather, slushy snow atop muddy ground, because these malicious little mammals, nasty beasts that burrow up from the dark halls of Hades to destroy our yards, were busy, busy, busy all through the two days of faux winter. They gleefully expanded their network of tunnels across hundreds of feet of our lawn, through the gardens and raspberry patch, and capped their sappers’ feats of excavation by digging the pit trap that sent me sprawling.

Continue reading

Posted in Conservation, Moles, Wildlife, Wildlife Habitat | Tagged | 4 Comments

Squirrel hunt


photo from the website Island Ecology 2012

Squirrel hunt

The text message from my surrogate niece Heather was a flash of light from the heavens, the swell of the Hallelujah Chorus, the burst of a pheasant taking wing. Her son wants to come to the farm for a day of squirrel hunting. His first hunt.

I’m looking forward to serving as stand-in grandfather for the day. There are few pleasures in life that rival the days when a grandfather can share some learning experiences with a grandson, and first hunts are among the best of those experiences.

First hunts promise magical moments for grandchildren and grandparents, the generations that straddle parents. Kids and old coots, we both know about parents – those people who can take the magical flavor out of any feast by doling out too large a serving of practicality. Telling us what to wear, insisting that we apply sunblock and bug repellent before going out in the woods, that sort of thing. Fortunately, this excessive parental oversight works in the favor of the “grands” because it establishes for both of us the truth that we have a common enemy that we must work cooperatively to thwart.

By going on a squirrel hunt together.

A squirrel hunt is an escape from all that parental utilitarian folderol. Sitting in the woods at first light of an autumn morning, far from clocks and calendars and vitamin pills and toothbrushes and cell phones, shivering a bit as frost on bare branches turns to dewdrops that shower down on us, the natural world waking up while we watch it. The simple glory of being in the wild. An escape from the invisible but steel-rigid strictures of civilization for a few hours. Heck, sometimes a squirrel or two gets involved in the adventure.

Admittedly, there is a 180-degree twist between the grandfather’s and the grandson’s objectives for the day. For the elder, the taking of game is way down the priority list of goals. For the younger, it is number one. And two, and three, and four. No predator is more bloodthirsty than a 13-year-old in his first year of hunting.

Coots know this because we went through that phase ourselves. It takes a while to come to the realization that the joy of sport hunting is in the “being there,” savoring the experience. It is not a competitive game that requires scorekeeping and numbers. Sadly, some hunters never learn this truth. I suppose their hunting education was neglected early on, probably because they lacked a teacher, a grandparent, to guide them toward the best rewards of the blood sports.

Mentoring a grandkid’s search for the hunter’s ethic is the most valuable thing we grandparents can provide in the course of a day afield. What we get back, in equal measure, is the satisfaction of opening this outdoor world to a succeeding generation of hunters.

Evermore cantankerous and grumpy, we coots of the Over the Hill Gang lament the decline of the blood sports over the course of our lifetimes. Much of this decrease in participation in hunting is simply demographic: urbanization continues apace, and fewer and fewer children have opportunity to experience outdoor recreation in the rural countryside, the wild. Technology also plays a part, not only because of all the “screens” that provide children with constant color, sound, movement, flash, interaction, and instant gratification, but also because outdoor recreation itself has been invaded by technology (The Hunting Marketplace).

If only we could slow this rush to replace real experiences with virtual experiences, or at least divert the blood sports from the insidious influence of technology. And for a few hours, a morning’s squirrel hunt, we can do that.

“Let me show you something, boy. Make a tight fist, like this. Press your thumb against your lower lip. Now kiss the side of your knuckle. Hear how that sounds like a squirrel’s ‘challenge’ bark? When a squirrel sees you and ducks behind a branch, you make that bark. He can’t resist. He’s got to look over the top to see what that other squirrel is barking at. Then you’re going to shoot him.

“A couple of important lessons there: how to call a squirrel, and how it’s wise, whether you’re a squirrel or a boy, to mind your own damned business when someone starts squalling their lungs out about some fool thing.

“Now let’s talk about how to get a squirrel centered in your rifle scope…”


More stories about life in the North Country are published in collections of essays and novels, all available through at  Jerry Johnson Author Page

Posted in Grandchildren, Grandfathers, Grandfathers and Grandsons, Hunting, Hunting Memories, Squirrel hunting, Squirrel woods | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Author readings for ‘The Executioner’s Face’


41NM+3EYnfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_THREE INDEPENDENT book stores will host author reading events for my latest novel, The Executioner’s Face. I invite my readers to attend one of these events. Copies of the book will be on sale at each venue, but there is no obligation to buy, just come and enjoy hearing me read selected chapters of the novel.

Sunday, Sept. 16, 1-4 p.m., Pearl Street Books, 323 Pearl Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Monday, Sept. 24, 7 p.m., Dragonfly Books, 112 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa

Saturday, Oct. 27, Luther College Book Shop, Decorah, Iowa

The Executioner’s Face is a crime noir story, set in a dystopian Chicago in 2045, and its premise is especially dark: the government has outsourced the justice system to a for-profit corporation: The Bureau of Justice and Corrections Services. Trials, public defenders, incarcerations, appeals, sentencing reviews – all of these functions of a public, government-operated justice system are expensive. To maximize profit, the BJCS corporate justice system must quickly and efficiently handle investigations, adjudications, judgement, sentencing, and punishment – all in secrecy with no oversight.

A perpetrator judged guilty of a felony offense receives a death sentence. Executions, known as ‘Arrangements’ in official Bureau communications, are performed ad hoc, guided by BJCS protocols but conducted by any means necessary by the Bureau’s Termination Operatives.

Sean Callahan is a 12-year veteran TO, the Bureau’s best and its most troublesome. A lone wolf, he is unwillingly paired with a young but street-hardened rookie TO, Abril Desanya, to teach her the skills of the executioner’s trade. They grow to respect one another in the course of their antagonistic professional partnership, and their relationship develops into a guarded love affair.

Callahan violates BJCS protocol to investigate a troubling termination and discovers evidence of pervasive corruption within the Bureau. He plans to expose the Bureau’s degenerate operations, but he knows that will put his life, and Desanya’s, in peril.

If you are unable to attend one of the author reading events, you can order a copy of The Executioner’s Face at any independent book store or through

The Executioner’s Face



Posted in The Executioner's Face, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Rest In Peace, Createspace


Rest In Peace, Createspace

TURN ON THE CLUBHOUSE reading lamp. Adjust it just-so and light up the dozens of books in the old rough-cut oaken bookcase. On the third shelf, far right, you may see my eight books: three novels, and five collections of essays, short stories, and poems. All are self-published though Createspace, the online publishing house that welcomed my work after major publishing companies and literary agencies declined to put in print the genres in which I write: stories about the blood sports, and novels that are character-driven, male-market adventure tales.

Createspace is going out of business, subsumed by (or consumed by) Kindle Direct Publishing. Reading the announcement of the demise of Createspace was, for me, a melancholy moment, a time of sadness and loss similar to the day I learned of the death of a baseball coach of my youth, a man who had given me opportunity to play when others told me, “you’re too small.” If it were not for Little League Coach Mel Waples, I might never have played on four league championship teams and two all-star teams. If it were not for online publishing house Createspace, I might never have seen in print Hunting Birds, Ivory and Gold, The Executioner’s Face, Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, Coot Stews, A Limit of Coot, and North Country Tales.

The literary world would not have suffered grievously had those books never been published, but I like to think that a few thousand readers of that niche enjoy these stories that speak to their enchantment with and affection for a way of life, and an era of America’s history and culture, that is fast disappearing. The telling of those tales was reaffirming and cathartic for me, too.

Although I will continue writing as long as I can hold a pen point steady on a sheet of lined paper, and I will find a self-publishing house that will agree to print my words in hard copy, I regret the passing of Createspace, a firm which was true to its slogan “Publish your words, your way.” For my first book, Hunting Birds, I struggled mightily to achieve that goal because my learning curve for online applications is ragged, interrupted by frequent peaks and valleys. Mostly valleys. But the Createspace staff coached me through that initial adventure, and the seven subsequent books were uploaded, formatted, edited, proofed, and printed with a minimum of fuss and angst.

Curmudgeon that I am, I question whether my publishing experiences with the next firm will proceed as smoothly and with as much cheerful cooperation. The capitalist world is Darwinian; I admit that, but I don’t have to like it. I never wanted those beautiful Louisville Slugger wooden baseball bats replaced by ugly aluminum cudgels, the exciting “crack!” of horsehide against ash replaced by an annoying metallic “ping.” And I don’t want my Createspace team replaced by a robot. I’ve already dealt with Kindle Direct Publishing’s form of customer service which consists of a robot’s response: “From the list below, choose the topic which describes your problem.”

Nostalgia is not on the robot’s drop-down list, and that’s my problem.

There’s no going back. But going forward does not necessarily mean going upward. I’ll hope for good publishing experiences ahead, but I regret my days with Createspace have ended.

Rest In Peace, Createspace. You were there to offer support and reassurance when my writer’s neurosis most needed help. I will miss you. I will never forget you.


More stories about life in the North Country are published in collections of essays and novels, all available through at  Jerry Johnson Author Page

Posted in Createspace, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The whirr of homeward bound wings

Quail Callback Cage

Bobwhite quail are the most obliging of training birds… after being set free and scattered across the hayfield, they call one another back to the cage in the evening, climb in, settle for the night, and are ready to go afield again in a couple days.

The whirr of homeward bound wings

THE OLD CALL-BACK CAGE should go to the landfill. Battered by many years of hard use and weathered by more years of neglect, it has been waiting patiently under the porch deck of the garage for the appearance of the next puppy, the next covey of quail. But there will be no more birddog puppies, no more pen-raised quail to teach them the rudiments of their vocation, no need for the call-back cage

Its time has passed, but the quail cage was a rugged and dependable contraption during its long service. This rusting-metal and rotting-wood box helped me introduce eight puppies to birds in the field: Molly, Peg, Pete, Herco, Annie, Jessie, Sasha, and Abbey. Although it has not sheltered a covey of quail for many a year, it is packed full of memories. Yes, it’s useless junk, but some junk is hard to throw away.

Continue reading

Posted in Bird Dogs, Bird hunting, Dog Training, Hunting, Shooting Sports, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sow’s ear

Case Hardeneed Receiver

Case hardening of the 85-year-old shotgun’s receiver turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Like all grandfathers, I felt a bittersweet happiness and satisfaction that afternoon spent with my grandson, caught up in remembrances of times past and surges of nostalgia unexpectedly triggered by a sharing between generations of men, an old man and a young man…

Sow’s ear

MY GRANDSON ANDER pulled the trigger, the 85-year-old shotgun, went “bang,” the clay target exploded into a thousand pieces, and the fourth generation of my family entered the world of wing shooting — with the help of a family heirloom single-shot, break-action, exposed hammer shotgun.

Ander broke three more targets, four-for-four on his first day at our hillside pasture clays range, and I congratulated him on his innate skill at wing shooting (obviously inherited from his grandfather).

“That’s the best I’ve ever seen a first-timer shoot,” I said. “What’s your secret?”

“When I pull the trigger, I close my eyes,” he said.

“Hmmm,” I said. “We’ll work on that.”

Ander shooting clays

My grandson, Ander, breaks his fourth straight clay target on his first day of wing shooting.

Like all grandfathers, I felt a bittersweet happiness and satisfaction that afternoon spent with my grandson, caught up in remembrances of times past and surges of nostalgia unexpectedly triggered by a sharing between generations of men, an old man and a young man without much in common outside of family bonding and allegiance. Across the great divide of age and the ever-widening gap between rural and urban cultures, we found connection doing something real, something of value to us both on one of the few summer days that distance and time allow us to be together. There were moments I found it hard to speak past the lump in my throat brought on by alternating melancholy and joy, emotions all out of proportion to a simple hour of instruction in shotgun handling and clay target shooting.

Continue reading

Posted in Grandchildren, Grandfathers, Grandfathers and Grandsons, Shooting, Shooting Sports, Shotguns | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The rush to betrayal

Wyoming History - Steam Enigine

The explosion in the construction of railroads in the 1880s and 90s can be compared to the explosion of digital communication technology in the 1980 and 90s, (photo from

It can be argued that this cycle of pageantry is inevitable; if some clever inventor declines to bring his new creation to the attention of the world, someone else will. But I think this concept of “progress” shows a lack of imagination…

The rush to betrayal

THE RECURRENT, CYCLICAL PAGEANT of the Industrial and Technological Revolutions has been the unrestrained, euphoric whirl of Hubris followed by the somehow unforeseen, devastating flail of Nemesis. For more than 150years, the pageant has mesmerized and mobilized individuals, societies, cultures, nations, civilizations, and eventually all of mankind, to march along at a mad pace, has promised us we are on the one sure path to paradise, and has betrayed us at the end with a push over the brink into perdition.

Gloomy prognosticator that I am, I see the brink opening before us in the current rush to betrayal. Human arrogance about dominion over the natural world has never ended well. Our belief that we can produce miracles of technology that will bend the environment to our collective will has been the marching tune for many a pageant over the past two centuries, and that march has always ended with a plunge into ruin.

Continue reading

Posted in 19th Century History, Computer Technology, Industrial Revolution, Land Ethic, Technological Revolution | Tagged , , | 5 Comments