What change a year can bring. Last year, in midst of deep snow and below-zero cold, I took a breath and wrote that April was my favorite month of the year. Unfortunately, April-as measured by spring-like weather-didn't arrive until May. On daily walks I trudged over frozen snow that refused to melt, which meant the river barely flowed, and the steelhead didn't run. Since I couldn't walk in the woods to look for antlers or go fishing, April 2009 wasn't very fun at all.
This year, April's spring weather arrived weeks ago. A string of sunny days brought temperatures that stayed well above freezing even at night. Snowmelt rushed off the frozen land and flowed over the ice of frozen creeks. Winter activities like snowmobiling, skiing and even ice fishing came to an abrupt end.
"It's done," said a friend of winter fishing when a recent fishing trip to Lac la Croix was cut short by early break up on the Loon River.
Maybe so, but I'd rather walk in the woods than stare at a hole in the ice, so the early melt means more time to roam. With the arrival of daylight savings, I take the dogs for after-work rambles. Since the object of these walks is to find deer or moose antlers, we go to a different place every day.
If Abby, the old dog comes along, we take it easy. Abby's body doesn't work as well as it used to, so she prefers to stay on a path. While this cramps my antler-searching style, she's been my walking partner for 13 years. If she wants to come along on a walk, she's always welcome.
Sometimes, she chooses the route. One evening she refused to follow when I started from the truck on a moose path, preferring to cross the road and head into the woods on a logging access with easy walking for her old legs. Or so I thought. When she reached the end of the access road she continued through a dense spruce plantation to a clearing where we once found a pair of moose antlers. Then she led us to the crest of an open maple ridge before looping back to the truck. In all it was quite the hike.
The next evening she came along again and I insisted we follow the moose path. Although she hadn't been there for a year or two, Abby unerringly followed the faint path across a cedar swamp where a small overflowing creek was a wet and slushy mess. I suspect she remembered the cold water from previous hikes, hence her reluctance to follow me the previous day. Once across the creek, she was just fine. We looped through a big meadow where I'd found some moose sign back in January. On the far side of the meadow I lost track of Abby while investigating the far corners of the clearing, but she was sitting waiting for me when I started back along the other side.
We found the remains of a forkhorn whitetail in some alders. The antlered skull didn't readily detach from the spine, so I hung it in a tree to pick up at a later time. Reaching the cedar swamp, I had trouble finding the moose trail. Hearing a snort, I turned to see Abby sitting about 40 yards behind me. When I walked back to her, she stood and began walking away at a 90-degree angle following our moose path. The old girl really knows her way in the woods.
Although clearly stiff and sore, Abby came along on the third evening. This time we walked a path I use for deer hunting. Again, upon reaching the end of the path, Abby continued into the brush.
This time it was different. Horrendous blowdown from storms last fall made it difficult for me to get around, not to mention an old dog with aches and pains. I decided the easiest return route was to follow a semi-frozen creek to a beaver pond and hopefully walk along the ice until we reached a point where we could follow deer trails back to the truck.
You know what they say about the best-laid plans. By the time we reached the beaver pond, Abby was so tired that she would sit down anytime there seemed to be an obstacle to going forward. However, she wasn't about to let me carry her. Light was fading and we were a half-mile from the truck. I had no choice but to urge her forward, making frequent rest stops.
The beaver pond ice was rotten, so we skirted around the edge, running into nearly impassable windfalls. Just as we were about to go away from
the pond, the younger dog ran out on the ice and broke through. He is not a Michael Phelps of the Labrador world and was frantically struggling in the water. I had to backtrack to reach him while also preventing Abby from going out on the ice as well. The yellow Lab made it to shore, but we had to traverse the blowdowns again. Now Abby was very tired and it was nearly dark.
Eventually we reached the truck-all three of us worse for wear. The Lab lost his collar, Abby was beat and I was tired, too. This was a little too much adventure for what was supposed to be a relaxing walk after work. I resolved to stay away from lakes and ponds until the ice is out and to be more careful when taking Abby for walks.
But we will be out there again, because, after all, spring is almost here. I say "almost" because the robins and other spring migrants have yet to arrive and I haven't caught a first steelhead. That's Ok. After missing out on April last year, I'm ready to make for lost time in 2010.
Airdate: Friday, April 2