January 29, 2014
No… there’s no snow at Hillside Manor this week. It got cold, sure enough, but what little precipitation there was stayed to the east of my little piece of paradise.
On the other hand, the folks back home around Wilmington, NC sure got a nice taste. I spoke to my brother, Scott, earlier in the week and they were already making big plans. His seven year-old grandson, Damien, was practically bouncing off the walls with anticipation as the weather report kept promising the white stuff, “any time now.” I can’t blame him, of course. The boy got a new dirt bike for Christmas, and everybody knows that riding in the snow is the ultimate thrill… or so it is in the mind of a youngster living in southeastern NC.
It puts me in mind of my own younger days, hanging on every word as the TV weather guy hinted at a fall of the white stuff. Back in that part of North Carolina, snow is a rare enough thing. Any threat of accumulation is enough to shut down the schools, as well as many businesses. For the young’uns, when the weatherman announces a chance of snow, the only thing left to do is wait and hope. Will it really happen? Will it stick? How long will we be out of school?
Snow during the hunting season was always extremely unusual. I fantasized for years about deer hunting over a blanket of fresh snow. In my mind, I could see the possibilities… tracking a big buck through the pines, and the final, brilliant red of blood on snow. It never occurred to me that, since snow in that area was so unusual and so short-lived, the deer tended to bed down until things started to thaw. Even if I’d known, it wouldn’t have stopped me. I was out there… numb toes and soaking wet boots be damned.
For waterfowl, on the other hand, snow was a true blessing. It was even better if it came on the heels of an arctic front that had pushed down across Maryland and Virginia, freezing the waters around the Chesapeake and driving the birds south. I didn’t have many opportunities to hunt under those conditions, but when I did it was, without exception, epic.
Growing up, the salt marsh always provided a reasonable number of teal and buffleheads (as well as both common and hooded mergansers), and even the prized black duck. Late season might show us a few rafts of canvasbacks and bluebill that had somehow pushed south of Mattamuskeet and Pamlico. A couple of geese might even get our hearts racing (the resident flocks of Canada geese hadn’t become established yet). But boy, let that Chesapeake area start to ice up, and suddenly it was like something from a old-timer’s stories! Our decoys would suddenly be drawing in birds we’d never even seen before… widgeon, northern shovelers, oldsquaw, and even some eiders out in the inlets. The ponds where we jumped wood ducks would be covered in mallards and gadwalls, and even the occasional pintail.
If I close my eyes and think about it, I can still feel the thrill.