After a long season of racing, athletes take a month or so off to relax and recharge the enthusiasm for racing in addition to getting some rest. Maintaining ski trails is not too much different. Take a break and make a plan for the upcoming summer to be sure the trails are ready to go at the first skiable snow.
Back in September, I purchased a used, left handed compound bow manufactured sometime in the early 2000s. I had forgotten how much enjoyment there is in shooting a bow and arrow. Just as ski poles have evolved from wood to aluminum tubes to carbon fiber so have arrows. Just like ski poles, carbon arrows are so much tougher than aluminum which is a good thing since my archery skills were pretty rusty.
The ski trails near the house were fantastic archery lanes and I set up a 110 meter archery range along a section of ski trail we refer to as “The Drag Strip.” The trail is wide with very few overhead branches to catch snow or arrows as they travel from the bow and hopefully find the grain bag target.
I was always curious about life in New England a few hundred years back. Six winters ago my curiosity focused on how much work it might take to heat the house exclusively with wood. How much effort does it take using modern internal combustion engines to cut and move wood while heating an insulated 1,550 square foot house? To explore the heating question was pretty simple. Just use the woodstove. Too much effort or complaints and with the flip of a switch the furnace can be brought back to life. At first the experiment lasted until Christmas and the last two winters we haven’t run the heater except when we have been away for more than a week.
In late April while walking the trails after a spring thunderstorm I spooked a flock of turkeys. Just about every other time I went for a ski this past winter there would be evidence of a relatively large turkey population roaming the properties where the trails are located. The idea of hunting turkeys with a bow and arrow has always held intrigue with me. Just as with the heater, I wondered how much effort went into catching one’s food?
Before May I knew very little about hunting turkeys besides hearing it is very difficult. How hard can it be when almost every time I’m in the woods I run across the things? Should be like picking apples. After buying a license and doing some research, opening day was just over the horizon.
I used to own a clothing company and have several sewing machines and patterns for pants and jackets. In just a few hours of sewing and making modifications to the gear I was all decked out in camo. My daughter Olivia helped me thin a piece of slate roofing and by combining some extra carbon fiber biathlon rifle parts with a broken arrow shaft I had a slate call. An old palette yielded wood for a box call and my son Nathan went wild with spray cans and a length of burlap to make up a basic blind to be hung between a couple of trees. May 1, opening day and I was awake at 3:30 AM to head off down the ski trails for my first try at turkey hunting. Admittedly, I felt a bit ridiculous making such efforts to conceal myself from a bird and try to seduce it close enough to take a shot. Good thing just about everything in Vermont was asleep as I made my way along the ski trails in the dark. Having spent many hours on the trails my familiarity with every tree shape helped as I moved through the woods, without a light for fear of getting busted by roosted birds, in the darkness of the pre-dawn.
Spring Toms and Jakes (immature males) are basically horny and anything resembling a willing female is investigated even if the “willing female” is a dude dressed in camo hiding behind a fallen hemlock rubbing a stick across an old piece of roofing. I had two opportunities to break a shot.
I was courting two woodstove sized Toms just out of range. They were in full strut with iridescent feathers and bright blue heads while gobbling up a racket. The focus on those birds was intense and I was excited to have actually called in a bird. My singular focus masked a third set of birds sneaking up from behind and a loud gobble scared the hell out of me. I turned around to see four turkeys just ten yards away. Two hens and two Jakes. My startled leap spooked them pretty good (I don’t know who was more surprised me or them) and they strutted off. I pulled to full draw and my brain went to mush. I couldn’t recall how to tell a hen from a Jake as they walked away. Wanting to play by the rules (only males are legal in the spring) I let down and watched them all disappear into the ferns.
The next opportunity came one morning while sitting beneath an oak tree large enough around three people holding hands would be unable to hug it. The oak sat at the top of a field located on top of a ridge. Morning thunderstorms and rain moved up the valley and I figured it best to head home. Cutting across a section of woods to gain access to the ski trails I decided to sound off a few clucks to bid the quiet turkeys good-bye. Something gobbled nearby and twenty yards away across a stream and behind a rock wall I watched the fan of a large Tom rise above the piled stone.
The flash of lightening followed closely by thunder proved the storm was close. The Tom moved from behind the rock to a gap in the wall but branches obscured a good shot and despite my better judgment I moved into the field trying to end-run the quarry. My mouth became so dry the diaphragm mouth call just stuck to my tongue rendering it little more than a choking hazard. Popping into the field a streak of electricity arched to the ridge and concurrently the crack of thunder crashed my ears. I pressed on towards the Tom. Another flash and crack followed by a gobble just over the slight hump of the field. What to do? The odds of getting struck down from above were the same for me and my chances of filling my tag so I let down again and hustled back home. Looking back, I was pretty sure the Tom held out a wing to flip me his middle feather as I skulked back into the woods. For centuries, pharmacists, chemists and experimenters have, with no success, tried to put the kind of rush and excitement I had just experienced into a pill or powder.
Good thing for grocery stores as the great hunting experiment yielded no food. What getting up at 3:30 and hanging out in the woods for 28 of 31 mornings did give me was a fantastic appreciation for the early morning and the wildlife in our area. In addition to finding turkeys I saw a Black Bear meander past me at thirty yards, many deer, a buzzard of some sort picking meat off a carcass, and seeing a barred owl sitting in a tree.
The ski trails provided me quiet and freedom from getting whacked in the face while walking in the dark. I was privileged to see the trails transform from the first green sprouts of early spring to the full-blown cover of ferns and seedlings trying to find a place to grow. Wandering about in the woods also disclosed a few beautiful areas it be fun to send a trail through with minimal cutting. The early morning meanders and constant peering through the trees has generated a list of things to be accomplished, a.k.a. work, before the snow begins to fly.