Photo by Rob Hanson – Hershey – Chocolate Lab, CC BY 2.0,



Climb into the boat dripping wet and shake off,
hand him a mangled duck covered in marsh mud,
and he gives you half his braunschweiger sandwich,
treats you like a gift from the Celtic god Nodens.

But come into the kitchen, coat bone dry and feet clean,
and offer him a perfectly good frozen cow pie,
chunks of ground corn and clover hay still fresh,
he kicks you out the door, hollers “Bad, bad dog!”

What the hell? It’s all retrieving, sharing the bounty.
A fishy, bottom-feeder duck better than a corned cow pie
that you can eat half and roll in the rest when it thaws?
What’s the standard here? Let me in on the secret.

Next year I’m going to say, “Lousy shot! Bad, bad man!”
A broken-winged cripple in the cattails. Scaup. A diver.
“Cocoa – fetch!” Ice floes in the river. Five-knot current.
Remember the cow pie? Fetch your own damned duck!

(In memory of Cocoa, a long-departed chocolate Labrador retriever who had his own ideas about retrieving and sharing the bounty.)



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In the grip of the Vortex

Snow shoe tracks

At times on a snowshoe walk you look back and wonder, “Wow, did I really come that far?” Your legs answer, “Yes!”

Bright sunshine promised a warm morning for snowshoeing. But the thermometer said the Sun was a deceiver: the temperature was 7 degrees below zero.

Sub-zero days have been commonplace this winter. The coldest day in our part of the North Country was -37, with gusts of 20-mile-per-hour winds that made the windchill temperature something like 60 below zero. By comparison, winter temperatures at ground level at the North Pole range from -30 to -45, so it is no exaggeration to claim we are experiencing some winter days that are literally as cold as the Arctic regions.

We are in the grip of the Polar Vortex. The Vortex, a 600-700 mile diameter area of cold, low pressure air that surrounds the North Pole, is a whirling mass that normally flows clockwise around the Pole as a contained atmospheric cap at the very top of the Earth. But occasionally the Vortex becomes unstable and expands, sending its frigid air southward across the Northern Hemisphere, carried by the winds of the jet stream.

The word Vortex is defined as a whirlpool of fluid (air is in fact a fluid), but to me the name calls to mind some cruel Dr. Seuss creature that brings misery and suffering to peaceful communities. And so the Polar Vortex does to our North Country homes. (There is a similar Vortex at the South Pole, but obviously it affects the Southern Hemisphere and does not extend its malevolence to our part of the Earth.)

The bitter winter cold caused by an “escaped” Polar Vortex is not a recent phenomenon. It has happened for millennia and has been known to humankind for hundreds of years. The term “Polar Vortex” was first coined by scientists in the 1850s. It certainly is not a symptom of, nor has it necessarily been exacerbated by, the Earth’s current climate change. Continue reading

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Sport hunting

IMG_0192 (2)“Hunting,” the Old Man said, “is the noblest sport yet devised by the hand of man. There were mighty hunters in the Bible, and all the caves where the cave men lived are full of carvings of assorted game the head of the house drug home. If you hunt to eat, or hunt for sport for something fine, something that will make you proud, and make you remember every single detail of the day you found him and shot him, that is good too. But if there’s one thing I despise is a killer, some blood crazed idiot that just goes around bam-bamming at everything he sees. A man that takes pleasure in death just for death’s sake is rotten somewhere inside…”

 From The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark

SPORT HUNTING has been taking an awful beating from the politically correct denizens of the social media universe of late. The bashing of hunters elicits much empathy from urban dwellers who are among the ever-increasing part of the population that is divorced from the land and the harsh realities of nature in the wild, and those of us who pursue the blood sports would do well to take heed of some of the reasons for their ire.

If we take a moment to smooth our feathers and step back from the knee-jerk response we have to anti-hunter rants, we should concede one point of the argument: not all of us are “sportsmen.” Somewhere in the development of the creed of sport hunting a noble concept was introduced: hunters are caretakers and guardians of game animals they pursue. That is a virtuous goal for the hunting fraternity and an admirable image, but 50-plus years observing hunters has revealed to me that it just ain’t so.

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Clean slate

snowscape feb 8

A overnight dusting of snow and 15-mile-per-hour winds made a clean slate of the landscape in the North Country. Abbey and Sasha and I were the only creatures stirring at sunrise. Winter beauty is breathtaking in this country on a morning walk, but with temperatures holding at 7 below zero and the wind still scouring the fields, a half hour hike was our limit. Abbey was willing to go on, but Sasha tumbled into a ridge of snow and said, “That’s enough for me!” Back in the warmth of the Clubhouse, we are all considering a late morning nap.

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On the road to recovery

load bench shelf

Reorganizing the shelves and cupboards of the loading bench was an important step in recovery from my compulsive need to tinker with another “project gun.” My new mantra is “be content with what you already have.” It remains to be seen if this is possible.

The road to recovery from obsessive compulsive disorder is a long march over rocky ground, and support from caring friends speeds the journey. Sometimes this support arrives in a package marked “tough love,” but the gift is no less valuable for being wrapped in burlap and baling cord.

Counselors say the first step is admitting you have a problem. Okay, I admit it: I have an uncontrollable compulsion to tinker with my hunting firearms. No shotgun or rifle can long be in my possession before I feel the devil of desire take hold of my psyche: “Improve it,” the demon whispers in my ear. “Customize it. Make it better. Make it your own.”

Try as I might to ignore the siren song, I eventually turn the tiller and steer toward the music’s luring call. “Trust me,” the enticing voice chants. “Follow me, and we will create something beautiful, something perfect.” Enchanted, I sail into the booming surf.

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Magnetic North

True NorthTracked and pointed by my French spaniel Abbey, the rooster pheasant hunkering in the last patch of weedy cover at the field’s edge had only one more option for escape. He launched himself skyward squawking insults at Abbey, flipped his long tail, and hammered his wings to bank across a gusting 15-mile-per-hour wind. He flew due south.

The gun came to my shoulder and the muzzles chased the rooster’s flight path. I tripped the first trigger and the shot went about three feet behind the bird. I remounted the gun, speeded my swing, tripped the second trigger, and the shot again passed harmlessly behind.

“Shucks and stuff!” I said. “Golly gee fudge!” Or words to that effect. How could I have possibly missed that left-to-right, north-to-south, wide open crossing shot? “Monkey knuckles!”

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On another planet

thermometer 30 belowAn early morning walk with birddogs in last week’s -5 degree weather made me painfully aware that we had moved into winter. This morning’s pre-sunrise walk with the grim hand of the thermometer on the deck  pointing to the -30 degree mark? That made me think we had moved to a different planet.

The Winter Planet resembled the Earth in most ways. The constellations fading into the brightening cerulean sky were the same stars we see from Earth. Except for the trunk of one elm tree that had cracked in the cold of the Winter Planet night and now hung dangling over the driveway, the woodlands appeared unchanged. Yes, the landscape was covered with almost two feet of powdery snow that had accumulated from three recent storms, but that is not abnormal in the North Country. The windswept limestone bluff bordering the west side of the county road was the same formidable wall of rock and ice. My neighbor’s barn was a familiar black silhouette against the eastern sky.

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