Sunday, November 18, 2012
We live in Bluff Country. An unglaciated disected portion of southeastern Minnesota filled with valleys, hills, farms, small towns and most importantly beautiful spring fed trout streams. Only a short distance to our west, the prarie begins sweeping across southcentral and southwestern Minnesota, all the way to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mostly cornfields now, here and therelie a few vestages of the original prairie.....
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Long ago and not so far away I was an upland game and waterfowl hunter. Before, that is, my knee went bad and I switched to hunting birds with a camera and a notebook, it was a sport I thoroughly enjoyed. I owned a series of highly trained hunting dogs long before Baron, my GSD, arrived on the scene. Chessie was the name of our second dog. She was a full-blooded Chesapeake Bay retriever. Stockier and more broad-chested than Labs and Goldens, she had short, curly and somewhat oily hair. Chessie absolutely love being in the water. Cold didn't faze her at all. In other words, Chessapeakes are the perfect waterfowl retrieving machines.
This morning, as Baron lay beside me and I looked out the window on a cold and dreary day my thoughts drifted back to the times when wonderful hunting dog companions led me through the fields, sloughs and around farm ponds. Come on along with me….
Picture of Chessie as a puppy.
On one particular day though, I was pheasant hunting. Chess was about eighteen months old and in her first year of hunting. She had already proven herself ready, willing, and able to retrieve ducks. Pheasants though would, perhaps, be another matter. That game bird required steely nerves and a good nose. I left school as quickly as I could getting out the back door that late afternoon. It was less than 2 miles to one of my favorite sloughs.There was a little creek running through about 30 acres of grassland and cover. Chessie started sniffing the ground right away. We had walked in for about 5 minutes when the first rooster flushed. It was a tough crossing shot. BANG!
Hey... sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The bird dropped into the grass about forty yards away. Chessie was right after it. I followed on the run. I watched her circle a bit and then head off to the creek. She went right in the water. "Well what can you expect from a water dog," I thought. At that point, I decided it was up to me to find the bird. I searched for ten minutes. Then I called the dog. She came reluctantly. I got down on all fours and putting my nose to the ground showed her the proper technique. No interest on her part whatsoever. Maybe a little amused smile though. Then she raced back to the creek The stream was about two feet wide there. It had a bank of about the same height, where it had cut through the meadow. Still in the water, Chess seemed particularly interested in this one spot. I thought, "do you suppose" and bent over to look down into the water. Nothing. Then, I lay on my stomach for a closer look. Reaching down, I parted the grass hanging over the bank and there it was..... a large hole in the bank. Mmmmm. The dog, now emboldened, began a low growl and put her head closer for a look. It was obviously some kind of den. Maybe a beaver? Or what?
Now, at this point, one must consider common sense. Reaching into a den without knowing what one might encounter there raises some serious questions. To put into perspective what happened next, one must also take in account several factors. The age of the hunter for one thing. How young, foolish and determined is he? How much faith does he have in a puppy who has never tracked a bird before? Well, as my uncle Walt often said, "Ve gets too soon alt unt too late schmart." The answer, dear reader, is that I reached into the dark, hoping to find feathers and not sharp teeth! My lucky day, it was feathers. Live and kicking feathers on a very smart pheasant. After doing what you have to do, I gave the bird to Chess to carry a bit . Then we began hunting again till dark sent us back home For the next ten years Chessie proved to be a wonderful hunter-companion. She was the best! I had learned on that first day in the field to trust her judgement implicitly. Here she is with a late season pheasant in the snow.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Monday, November 5, 2012
So what do teachers do upon retirement? Here, our friend Jewel, a former middle school colleague of mine, has uplifting moments on the bucket of a front end loader. She is on her way up to some eaves on one of her and Steves farm buildings that need painting. Mrs. T, also a retired teacher, took these photos. Her focus these days seems to be more along the lines of keeping Troutbirders “Honey Do List” up to date….
Friday, November 2, 2012
In 1972 we were staying at a lake cabin near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. A local nursery had Showy Pink Ladyslippers for sale. They are Minnesota's State Flower. I bought two. Fortunately that summer the DNR's "Conservation Volunteer" magazine had an article on how to build a small artifical bog. The plan basically showed digging a pit, lining it with plastic, filling it in with equal parts of soil and peat. Then planting your orchids. The picture above shows what it looked like when completed. The orchids took hold, were carefully nurtured and slowly, very slowly gradually increased in number and size.
These gems were the pride of my rapidly growing flower gardens. They stood along the fence in the backyard shaded by our mighty oak trees. By 2003, the year we built our new house in the woods, they had increased to several dozen beautiful specimens. As part of our contract in selling our old house, the new owners agreed that I could take any plants with me, as they were not interested in gardening. Limited time and physical stamina (I was helping build the house that summer) meant only a few could be moved next door. Naturally, the native orchids were the first priority. A new bog was built in the North Woods and the transplantation was accomplished with much trepidation.
That winter I began to evolve the plans for both the North and South shady gardens. I worried about my lady slippers. The Showy Pinks were hopefully safe in their new bog and the Large Yellows had been placed bareroot in the South Woods.
Only time would tell.... native orchids are notoriously difficult to transplant. What a relief when spring revealed that all the native orchids had survived their abrupt move without a hitch. Things were going well when we left in late spring for a camping trip to the Blue Ridge in Virginia. We had a great time touring Gettysburg battlefield, Washington DC, Williamsburg and the Great Smoky Mountains. Upon our return to Minnesota though, we found that disaster had struck. I had failed to poke enough hole's in the bottom of the bog's liner. Heavy rains had filled the bog during our absence turning it into a lake. Half the Showy Pinks were drowned. The survivors looked pretty sick but I hoped for the best. Slowly they began to revive. There were about ten survivors.
Previously that spring my visiting grandson, who was just a toddler then, had spotted "the Easter Bunny" hopping about the yard. The bunny was a visitor from the neighbors rabbit hutch. It was July and I was checking things out in the North Woods.
Several white rabbits were scampering off across Oak Hill Drive returning to their home. I found all the Showy Pinks nipped off at ground level. Each and every one never to return. The Easter Bunnies are no longer on my list of favorite animals. Since then I have looked in various catalogues for replacements. At one hundred dollars a plant I can't justify replacing them . Since they are now being replicated by laboratory means and as the price is slowly declining, the day will come. In the meantime, I admire my large yellow ladyslippers which continue to do well….