December day’s deer hunt

The “trophy display” in the Clubhouse is a homemade knick-knack shelf that holds brass centerfire rifle cases, arrow broadheads, cloth patches and round balls for a traditional muzzle-loading rifle, and gas-check-skirted conical bullets for an in-line muzzle-loader – each representing a deer I have taken.

Yesterday’s howling wind has subsided to a crisp breeze, and the storm that blasted the North Country with threats of five-six-seven inches of snow has huffed itself out, leaving only two, maybe three inches of accumulation and a few foot-deep drifts. The dawn sky is crystal clear on this second-to-last day of the firearm season for deer, and the part of my brain that believes I am still thirty years old is insisting that I bundle up in layers of polypropylene and wool and go afield.

But the thermometer on the deck reads minus-two degrees Fahrenheit at sunrise this December morning and my body, still stiff from yesterday’s three-mile still-hunt through the woodlands, will have none of it. “Take three ibuprofen, drink a couple cups of coffee, put your cold feet up by the woodstove, and in an hour we can discuss this,” my aching shoulders, back, and hips advise me. I don’t argue.

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First day of winter

Winter barged into the North Country last night, riding the 20 mile-per-hour winds of a sleet and snow storm that knocked down the frail tent of a clement autumn I hoped would stand another month. It was only a two-inch accumulation of snow and ice, and not the first snowy day of the season. And, yes, I know the official first day of winter will be December 21.

But I suspect this storm heralds the continuous snow cover of the 2019-20 winter, and I have reluctantly begun my transition to the world of cold. I will enjoy winter once my mind and body accept that it is here to stay, but these few days of adjustment will be a struggle. Aging bones and tendons and joints are slow to adapt to the change

The psychological shift was faster and easier. With a sigh of capitulation I stacked firewood on the deck, took all the layers of winter clothes out of storage, hung coats and scarves and hats and mittens on the rack by the door, and attached ice grippers to the insulated boots standing in a row on the porch. We’re ready for the next storm.

Looking out across the snow-covered landscape at last light we took the most comforting, if largely symbolic, step in the day’s winter preparations: we built a roaring fire in the woodstove.


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


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Opening day

Bell CollarAbbey shifts into overdrive when I take her bell out of the box. It’s impossible to buckle the collar while she is doing her happy-dog spin-and-twirl dance, so I give her a couple minutes to calm down and then order her to sit while I fasten it securely. We’ve lost two of these bell collars over the years, I do not have a spare, and on this opening day of pheasant season I really, really need the bell to keep track of her. She works close, but we are about to enter a quarter-section of restored native grass prairie in northwest Iowa.

Within minutes, we’ve lost contact anyway. Indiangrass grows three to five feet in height, according to my copy of the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Whoever wrote that encyclopedia entry has never hunted pheasants on this ground. One of a dozen prairie plant species seeded here, the four-year-old clumps of Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) were six feet high, maybe more. The intermixed big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) were higher yet.

From my five-foot, six-inch vantage point I could see nothing but the swaying stems and tossing heads of grasses. Acres and acres of thick stands, some of the best habitat for pheasants I have ever seen. Well, “heard” might be a better descriptor than “seen,” because I could clearly hear the constant song of the west wind through the towering grass and also occasionally hear the thrashing flurry of a pheasant taking wing somewhere nearby, but I could see nothing but grass, not even my boots.

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A place in the Sun

Sandhills 1

‘The Maker, whose heart is bigger than all the Earth and the Sea and the Sky, created a thousand different lands for his creatures to live upon and cherish and love. But a man’s heart is small, so he is fated to choose only one of the thousand lands to cherish and love above the others. He deems this place the fairest, and it is here he is most content in his life and most at peace when his soul and spirit pass on.’

Although I would like to claim that quote as an original thought and intellectual property all my own, it is my poetic prose blend of wisdoms that came from the hearts and minds of men and women with much deeper experience and appreciation of the Earth and mankind’s relationship with it: Black Elk, Rudyard Kipling, Rachel Carson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold among them. Reading their words awakens my too often dormant fascination with the natural world and inspires my writing about its essential role in my life, the foundation block that supports my teetering climb toward an understanding of the world and all that is upon it.

In truth, my understanding of the Earth is limited to a few small portions of it. A man’s heart is indeed small when measured against the myriad land and sky and seascapes that The Maker created and gave to mankind. Try as I might to cherish and love many – the Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming and Montana, the High Plains of the Dakotas, the aspen forests of Northern Minnesota, and so many others — I am able to embrace only a few. Really only two: The North Country of the Upper Midwest that has been my home more than 35 years, and the Nebraska Sandhills, which for more than 45 years has been my spiritual center, my land of serenity and reverence, my place in the sun. I have immersed myself in both realms, but my knowledge of them is still limited, and my comprehension of the seasonal, changeable characteristics of these lands, unlike my passion for them, is more apparent than real.

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A View from the North Country published

“A View from the North Country,” a collection of my most recent essays, stories, and poems, is now published in paperback and eBook editions.

The paperback edition will be available Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Dragonfly Books and Luther College Book Shop in Decorah, Iowa. The paperback edition and eBook edition are both available now at  at this link —

A View from the North Country

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Strange old man captured on trailcam

I insert the memory card of my trailcam into the laptop and click “Extra Large Icons” on the View selection. The first few photos that appear on the monitor always set me back for a moment. Who is this strange old man stalking through our woodlands? My brain comes into focus and I realize the curious old coot is me. Old? Stodgy? Plodding? When did this happen? Maybe it would be best, psychologically, to put the trailcam away and go into this bow season with the picture of a younger man in my imagination.


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The Summer of Our Disconnect

Restoring the exposed log wall of our 135-year-old farm house was the most challenging home maintenance project we have ever attempted.

With the final stroke of the paintbrush the project was done. The exposed log wall of our 135-year-old farmhouse was restored, renovated, rejuvenated. A rugged rustic artwork that graphically depicts a long-past era of the farm’s history, this wall on the east side of the house now looks much as it did in the 19th century we believe.

The new siding on house was an easy project: we hired it done.

The log wall re-chinking was the most challenging and difficult home maintenance project of several that we undertook from June through August, the months I call “The Summer of Our Disconnect.”

Some of those projects were the routine labors of every summer in the North Country: cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking cords of firewood, cleaning the woodstove chimney, gardening, brush cutting and grass mowing. Others were forced upon us: driveway and culvert clean-up and reconstruction after two flash floods, and re-shingling the garage roof.

The garage, home to my Workshop and Clubhouse, re-roofed and re-sided.

There were a few major projects that we have discussed the past several years and finally acted upon: selectively logging 70 hardwood trees from our woodlands, arranging for the haying of our grasslands by an organic beef and dairy farmer, re-siding the house and garage, constructing a television antenna tower, taking down a set of dog kennel runs that will never be used again, replacing a half dozen double-pane windows that have become fogged.

Some updates of electrical wiring and installation of a ceiling fan awaiting completion, but that is not in my province. I do not mess with electricity or diamondback rattlesnakes.

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