Blow ye winds westerly

Broken elm 2018

Weather can be as capricious as a grizzly bear in a foul mood.

Blow ye winds westerly

An oily boil of a thunderstorm tumbled black and grey from the northwest on a tropical jungle afternoon that had somehow migrated from South America to the North Country. For most of the week record heat and humidity seemed just another footnote in the margins of a summer-long treatise on the adversities of climate change, but now the overheated and super-soaked land and sky were throwing a weather temper tantrum, presaged by bolts of lightning and black-based cumulonimbus clouds that rolled in from low on the horizon and quickly blotted out the sky.

Continue reading

Posted in Climate change, Thunderstorms., Woodlands | Tagged | Leave a comment

Slow burn

Smoking elmSlow burn

At the most recent Coot-Together, the twice-a-month gathering of The Over the Hill Gang at a local bar and grill, five of us were telling our best tree-felling stories. You know how those yarns work: we try to claim bragging rights in the honorable (to guys) achievement of “I’ve come closer to killing myself than you have” status while engaged in the North Country chore of cutting firewood.

The stories were as varied as they were revealing. We Coots will resort to all sorts of ingenious schemes to invite several tons of oak or elm to come crashing down upon us in a woodland tangle where this no escape path and slim chance of survival if we are struck. It’s not that we get an adrenaline rush from these near-death experiences (well, okay, maybe there is an element of that), but the main driver is our stubborn determination to carry out our well-conceived but ultimately flawed plan for outwitting a tree and it’s malevolent ally, the force of gravity. Every now and then things go wrong, and a mundane chore transmutes into an adventure tale.

Many of these tales end with dismissive anticlimaxes: “I had to replace the bar and chain, but otherwise the saw was fine, and my shoulder healed up in a month or two.”

Continue reading

Posted in Conservation, Country Life, Land Ethic, Tree Felling, Woodlands | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Second gear

2nd gearSecond gear

There are worse things than mowing in second gear.

Our North Country farm incudes about four acres of yard (I won’t call it lawn because it’s closer to cow pasture than greensward) that has to be mowed each week. Plus two-tenths of a mile of driveway from the farmyard to the hayfields, the perimeter of the hilltop garden, and the hiking paths around the woods, all of which require twice-monthly mowing.

There are also patches of Canada thistle, burdock, and nettle in the hayfields that need spot mowing two or three times each summer. Brushy woodland edges and paths become choked with thickets of wild raspberry, gooseberry, prickly ash, and buckthorn that must be cut down in the spring with a bush hog attachment.

The little Toro lawnmower can handle what we call the “house yards,” but most of this mowing is done with a DR Mower, a walk-behind tractor unit that is a lawnmower on steroids apparently designed by an engineer whose military service time was spent driving an M-60 tank. The DR is a powerful self-propelled 13-hp mowing machine that drags me along while it pulverizes everything in its path. I have considered buying a small farm tractor with a belly mower, but my beautiful blonde wife tells me that I would sooner or later roll it onto myself while chugging along one of our steep hillsides, and she is undoubtedly right.

Continue reading

Posted in Conservation, Country Life, Land Ethic, Wildlife, Wildlife Habitat | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Starry Messenger


Image from “The future of the Orion constellation”:

The Starry Messenger

Blessed with the good fortune to live in the North Country where celestial skies are not dimmed and diminished by city lights, I spend many a night hour sitting or lying at the peak of our hilltop hay field star gazing. On a clear night, the astronomical show playing across the curve of the sky swells my heart when I observe the wonders of this world and shrivels my mind when I contemplate the immense depth of this ocean of a Universe. Especially compared to the shallow pond of my mental ability to understand it.

North Country night skies are far surpassed by the magnificence of the starry dome over the Nebraska Sandhills, one of the least light-polluted expanses of sky in the world. Most years I am able to travel there and devote a few nights to staring in awe at the pitch-dark void of heavens that appear more “three dimensional,” each star and planet coursing bright and purposefully through its own strata of the fathomless deep. There, the glory of the Milky Way assures you, with certainty, the joy of witnessing the natural world makes your journey through this veil of tears worth all hardships, woes, and sadness.

It also makes me aware that I comprehend so little. I see the compositions written by “The Starry Messenger” in the heavens, but I cannot truly read them. Because I do not know the language of the stars that would help me interpret the message.

Continue reading

Posted in Nebraska Sandhills Star Gazing, Star Gazing, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 13 Comments

April snowshoe hike


Morning after the storm. A 10-inch snowfall in late April creates beautiful landscapes, but after five months of winter we are ready for some green springtime beauty. 

April snowshoe hike

This has been a loooong winter in the North Country, capped by an April 18 storm that dropped 10 inches of wet snow. But the day after the storm dawned sunny and clear, a perfect blue-sky morning for the winter’s final (we hope) snowshoe hike on the farm.

April snowshoe 2A couple miles of shoeing up and down the hillsides was more than enough exercise, with clots of snow clinging to the webbing and making the shoes weigh 10 pounds each. No, it can’t be that my legs have lost any muscle tone. I’ve been resting them since the bird seasons ended in January, so they should be in great shape.

It was worth the leg cramps to see the snowy landscapes and hear a rooster pheasant crow out his claim to his mating grounds (Standing in 10 inches of snow? What is he thinking?)

But a springtime hike through greening grasslands would be nice, too. After five months of winter, we are ready for May’s warm sun and morning walks in shirtsleeves rather jackets.





Posted in Snoeshowing, Winter | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Hunting camp maxims

vest with tp

The inside pocket of your hunting vest is for a small roll of toilet paper, unless it is large enough to hold a large roll of toilet paper,

Hunting camp maxims

Over the course of five decades in hunting camps, the Over the Hill Gang has discovered several universal truths that we should share with those who are newcomers to the blood sports. Each of these truths merits an essay of its own, or at the least a parable, that describes the trauma that accompanied its discovery and illuminates the life-changing lesson learned by the charter members of the OTHG.

In the interest of brevity and readability, however (and to protect the reputations of certain OTHG members), we have distilled these stories down to a collection of cautionary maxims that can guide those who set out into the wilds of the North Country. We hope that we can pass on to you our experience and wisdom without the attendant distress and suffering.

Ponder these maxims and learn from them if you will.

The first evening in camp should be observed with good beer, good whiskey, and good cigars. All succeeding evenings should be observed with cheap beer, cheap whiskey, and cheap cigars.

On remote trails, shift into four-wheel-drive to plow through the first muddy stretch and you will get really, seriously stuck in the second or third muddy stretch.

Green is nature’s “Danger Warning” color on meat and cheese.

Continue reading

Posted in Bird hunting, Deer Camp, Deer Hunting, Hunting, Hunting Humor | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Getting ready for winter – in April?

April firewood

Getting ready for winter – in April?

Old timers say there are only two seasons in the North Country:


Getting Ready for Winter

But that’s hyperbole. Each of the four seasons grace the North Country’s landscape with a different kind of character and beauty, and we enjoy them all.

Continue reading

Posted in Country Life, Firewood, Wood Stoves, Woodlands | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment