Along The Trail 1-22-15

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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The top layer of soil has thawed, leaving a greasy slop.

I slide along the edge of the woods and make my way to last season’s tree stand. All things must come to an end and the old red oak stand has served me well, but it’s time to take it down, make a few repairs and stow it away until September.

Like a lineman, I hang from the tree’s trunk, undue the stand’s straps and lower it to the ground. I bring each section of ladder down with me as I descend. I’m always amazed at how much easier it is to remove a tree stand than it is to hang it up.

I rub my shoulder as a twinge of pain shoots through my rotator cuff reminding me I’m getting too old to be hanging from trees.

The mid afternoon sun dapples through the bare tree tops and bathes the floor of the woods. I sit down across a fallen log to catch my breath and to rest, but mainly because I don’t want to leave the woods yet. Deer season has long since been over for me, but my longing to be outdoors keeps me coming back to the “farm”.

The sunlight feels good on my back and I’m glad for its unexpected warmth in the middle of January.

I sit and listen and melt into the woods.

In no time at all, a fox squirrel makes himself known. His claws scraping down the side of a tree, he hits the leaf covered floor and scurries to one of his nut caches and races back to his nest at the top of an old shagbark hickory.

He makes three more trips, each time filling his mouth with nuts, flying back up the tree trunk, then tip toeing out onto the thinnest of limbs like a tight rope walker, followed by a death defying leap to his hiding spot.

The little rodent’s acrobatics gives me pause to think and grin.

“Much better entertainment than sitting on the couch watching a ball game”, I think to myself.

Robins and cardinals surround my resting spot. The robins apparently thinking spring is near with the warmer weather, but I know weeks of winter still lie ahead. The crimson feathers of the male cardinals almost seem to glow against the drab backstop of the dormant, winter woods.

Crows fly above us, calling to each other and sounding their location for anyone willing to listen and bunches of Canada geese criss cross the sky jumping from cut cornfield to cornfield honking and yapping to each other.

I’ve killed enough time and decide to head home. I gather the stand and the pieces of ladder and hike out over the hill towards the field. The mud squishes out from under boots and clumps onto my heel, adding pounds to my boots. I kick it loose only to be bogged down a few steps later as the lugs fill again and again.

The barren soybean field looks lifeless while I slip and slide along its edge. Halfway to the truck, I drop my gear to get a better grip. I pause for a moment and look back at the bare tree line, a quick flash of hunting memories course through my brain and I can’t help but think about all the times I’ve walked these tracks during every season of the year.

I think forward to the green of spring and the anticipation of turkey’s gobbling and feel that beat in my veins that only a hunter knows.

A deep sigh, I stretch my shoulder, take another grab at my load and finish my walk to the truck knowing that God willing:

I’ll be back soon with a bow in my hand.

– David Hewitt