This week in outdoors – Adventures in a Snowless December
Outdoor Adventures: Seasons
Whether it’s four or more, this time of year is transitional
By Mitch Mode
The Sami, the indigenous people of the northern Scandinavian countries, have eight seasons. I never knew that; learned it this week in a passing comment in a book I was reading. Eight seasons; not four.
The Sami are, among other things, the reindeer herders of the far north, rugged people who live close to the land and as with all indigenous people, are at risk as their culture tries to coexist with the modern world. The outcome of that skirmish is hardly in doubt.
But: eight seasons. Eight seasons in the same manner that the Inuit on our far northern continent have words for snow; 40 or 50 or so, depending on what source one consults. When one lives in harmony with nature in every moment of life it is no surprise that the language is more nuanced than in our isolated lives.
We, as best I can gather, are in “autumn-winter” or Early Winter in Sami. There is no winter today, yet no real autumn either. This week a murky blend of the two; coffee brown and cream white mixed to tan; frozen ground and blue sky merged to fog. A dreary time in which the season seems indistinct and in uncomfortable balance.
A week ago we had snow cover but the forecast held warming; snow would not last. Our prints at the start of the hunt were in granular snow and indistinct but by the time we finished the moisture in the snow held detail; lugged sole, the print of boot manufacturer imprinted. The mid morning snow was dampening and held boot prints of two of us, hunters, and one dog, also hunting.
There was snow on the trees and low brush and it looked like things should look in early December; fresh snow, bare trees, no grass showing. It was beautiful in the way clean snow over Wisconsin landscape can be and we were very glad to be out even if we had diminished hope for seeing grouse.
Still, a late season hunt is always worth the effort and the dog, Scout, a leggy pup not much more than a year old, took to the woods with the enthusiasm of any young hunter but, for a young one, far more skill than one could expect. We walked old logging roads, shotguns held casually, chatting. We would take what we would get on this day and if all we got was two hours of fresh air it would be worthwhile.
But, Surprise! We found grouse! One and then another; two more and then another. On this day the birds were active, perhaps having hunkered down in the overnight snow and now hungry.
An hour or so into it Matt posits, “I’m not counting but I think we put up over ten birds”, and I, having done the same mental count as he did, agree. We put up, by the end of the hunt, in a shade over two hours, fifteen grouse. Or, at least we agree to that; neither of us is counting but neither of us tend to exaggerate on such matters.
One might think that with that many birds in the air it would not be too much to expect a few in the game bag. One might think that and I’d not disagree. As it was, we were skunked.
That same snow that filled the woods that day helped give the birds more cover. They often flushed and we could not see them in the thickness; the snow on the branches gave cover in the same manner leaf gives cover in early season, the season the Sami call, as do we, autumn.
Add to that the snow muffled the sound of wings in air. On a crisp autumn day one hears the thunder of grouse and that kicks in the practiced response that brings shotgun to shoulder and eye to sight line. On that day we missed that, or at least I, with ears older and failing, did. By the time I realized there was grouse in flight it was often too late.
There was never, in short, a bird that flushed that I felt I should have killed, should have in the sense of a reasonable shot at an open bird.
So it goes. Central to the hunt is the uncertainty of it all. If one wants certainty in things as this, best to go to the market to buy a chicken from the freezer. In the real world of the hunt nothing is predetermined and nothing is certain.
And I thought to myself as we unloaded the shotguns at the truck and wiped the snow melt from metal and wood; if this is the way the hunt season ends it has been a good one. I’ve hunted with my aging dogs in the warmth of September, autumn in both our world and the 8-season world of the Sami; the dogs ran with spirit and youthfulness and every day I was proud of them. I hunted ducks in November and grouse as autumn faded to early winter in the Sami; hunted deer and now, December, hunted grouse on a day of early winter. And that, I thought, is that. Another season in the books, maybe one more time with my dogs but if not, done and no regrets. Now time for winter and snow and skiing. Now, hunting behind me.
Two days later word of Chronic Wasting Disease in Oneida County and that ugliness come to roost. And time for the hunt season of the past to merge with the hunt season of the future and what it will bring. Which, of course, cannot be known.
What can be known is this: winter rises now, in Sami world and our world both, eight seasons or four. Rises as certain as the wan December sun will rise and bring light if not warmth. Rises, and in rising of the seasons we grow closer to the heart of things. In a week, the shortest days, longest nights. The heart of winter.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.
Outdoor Report: Snowless December
Winter stalls, stymied by weather too warm and too dry. Last year, a foot of snow on the ground; this year nothing. The ground lies barren; lakes ripple, wind on water when we should have ice. The promise of a few weeks ago when snow fell, however thin, and ice formed hard on small lakes, that promise now gone.
We’ve been here before, the mild, snowless early December. We’ll be here again. But every time the weather goes south, when mid-December is brown and warm, every time leads to frustration in the outdoor crowd. “It’s December,” is the lament, “let it snow. Let the lakes freeze up. Let winter come.”
No such luck to date an options for the outdoor enthusiast are thin. There is late season grouse hunting; not a bad activity by any stretch, but in reality not a huge draw. There is late archery; deer will move better in the mild weather even as days shorten. But again, not a huge number of people do that.
One can still fish; open water rules the day and fish feed no matter what. But too many boats are in storage, docks removed for the winter. December fishing is about ice, not open water.
Skiers and snowmobilers, seemingly at opposite ends of a spectrum, stand united now; they need snow, and snow, as of Thursday, is not showing up. [All eyes now on early next week when forecasts hold a chance for enough snow to get things going.]
So this week in December, very often the week when one can expect winter sports to start up, this week is built on promises but, as of now, not reality. The best we can say, on this weekend only two weeks out from Christmas, is that the upcoming week shows a few days of light snow and a trend toward cooler weather, temperatures that can start to build ice.
In short, the outdoor scene is stalled now and the best we can hope for is snow and cold in the week ahead.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander.