This ain’t my first trip around the sun and we’re passing through a very familiar stretch of orbit right now. Shrouded in snow, littered with snapped utility poles and downed trees, it is winter and we cope with the cold, brace against the wind and prepare for the occasional shredding of the network of power and communication lines that serve this neck of the woods. No one needs to be told to go home and hunker down until the storm is over, allowing plows, emergency workers and utility crews to do their jobs, and no one emerges from their shelter pissed off that they took cover from something short of Doomsday itself.
It is winter. Embrace it, endure it, or leave.
The traditional attempted cremation of the year just past was held on New Year’s Day, using as proxy the western third of a large cedar tree, recently split apart by heavy snow. A modest, aromatic affair, it behaved better than the fire burned this summer to make up for last year’s fizzle, but even that might be saying too much.
Every so often, someone asks about the status of the appropriately named Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter, usually resulting in that someone being appointed editor and publisher by the Board. A true periodical, the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter has returned and will be published again until enthusiasm wanes or, as usually happens, someone prints something that upsets someone else or starts an argument over which way tippet goes through a hook eye and all the fun goes away.
In spite of past failures and future challenges, the new editing team at the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter asked if I would be willing to contribute something to their inaugural edition of its latest incarnation. Admonished to consider short attention spans and the fact that very few members are aware of this blog, I kept what I wrote under 1100 words, figuring four minutes was not too much to ask of the average adult.
It was easy to provide a distillation of what winter is like at Fish in a Barrel Pond because of the repetitive nature of things each year, but it was missing the details that make winter such a fascinating season. Because that distillation was inspired by what has already been chronicled in these pages it seems appropriate to poach it for use here, filling in the missing details via links to previous posts.
It’ll be déjà vu all over again!
Just like winter.
I hesitated when the editors of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society Newsletter asked if I’d like to contribute but when they said I could write about anything I wanted I rubbed my hands with glee and got right to work. Then something happened that I hadn’t seen happen before and my article, “Removing Grease From Septic Filters,” would have to wait.
It got so cold so fast the other night that the line from the well pump froze where it comes into the cellar, four feet below grade. That was a new one on me, and others, too, as for the last couple of days the talk around town has been all about frozen pipes and ways to thaw them, even though it’s not like none of us have thawed frozen pipes before. Warming the block wall around the pipe with a 700-degree blast from a paint stripping gun did the trick in this case and we were back in business in no time at all (unless you count the time spent finding the problem spot in the first place and then the time put into plans A and B before trying C).
According to legend, the Caretaker’s residence once sat where the lake is now and was moved to where it sits before the original dam was built. The Parmacheene Belle and Mickey Finn camps both date to the 1920s, the Cahill and the Lodge are older than that, and a lot of time goes into just the basic functions of this place, no matter the season. Of course, the water has been drained from the camps for a couple of months and the lines blown out with compressed air, the drains have been pulled or filled with anti-freeze, and it has been weeks since a mouse was caught in a trap or raided a bait station.
We’ll see how it goes with the water (last April the Cahill was fed via a last-minute by-pass, backwards through the hose bib, due to ice in the main line) and, no matter how many traps are set, the surviving mice will find a way to be fruitful and multiply. The trick while waiting is to be sure the joint still stands on Opening Day. Not only does the temperature dip to thirty-darn-something below zero once in a while, we also see anywhere between ten and twelve feet of snow every winter and we’ve had more than four feet of snow on the ground at a time, as measured by how deeply the hay rake in front of the house was buried.
The neighbors are used to seeing me on the road with my snowshoes hanging from a shovel slung over my shoulder. They know I’ve been back to the Queen of the Waters, clearing snow. This year’s snow has been heavy and mixed with rain so it comes off the roof in great icy slabs that land with tremendous thuds. The roof on the Gray Ghost recently shed its load without any help, evidently all at once, and I’m surprised it didn’t register on the Richter Scale somewhere. At least the footing is solid (but very slippery) and it doesn’t take long to get to the camps on foot; in knee-deep powder it can take as long as forty-five minutes to get to Queen of the Waters on snowshoes. Snowshoes only make the impossible difficult but that’s how it is around here sometimes.
When water flows in the house and the roofs of the camps are not making ominous noises, it is a treat to tromp on the trail around the lake. The tracks of deer, moose, and even bear, are easy to follow. Snowshoe hare, turkey, grouse and squirrel tracks can be seen during the coldest times and even the porcupines get out and about once in a while.
I once came across tracks on the ice showing that a pair of coyotes had ambushed an otter where a feeder stream comes in. The otter had been under the ice, hunting crayfish, and they got it when it crawled out to enjoy a tasty snack. The otter put up a good fight but ultimately lost and the tracks showed where a third coyote came in and tried to rob the first two, resulting in quite a scrap. Tracks and blood and fur in the snow — it’s a cold, hard world out there in the woods.
The springs north of the lake flow the same temperature year-round and never freeze. Even in the middle of January a few native brook trout can be seen feeding on midges hatching from the silt. Tucked into thick forest, out of the wind, it’s a fine place to sit in the sun on even the nippiest of days.
Just as sure as we’ll see bone-chilling, pipe-freezing, mind-numbing cold every January, we can also count on a good warm-up. The January Thaw brings run-off and rain and flooding, and a few years ago the material around one end of our spillway washed out. Because the cold always returns, sand-bagging operations were conducted in twelve-degree weather, floating full bags into place on slabs of lake ice. I was able to take advantage of the situation, though, as it provided an excellent opportunity to check my waders for leaks.
Our road is at its very best this time of year, just as smooth as can be. No pot holes or door-rattling washboards, just ten inches of packed ice, topped with a sprinkling of sand (and an occasional coffee cup). It’s better than it sounds, although the road does narrow considerably as the town plow builds up the banks. In a wet year like this the banks set up like concrete so when you spin you don’t get stuck in them; you just bounce off and continue on your merry way.
Winter can be a challenge in this neck of the woods, with snow and cold and floods, but it is not without its rewards. The lake ice booms like cannon-fire in the night while frost on the snow sparkles like diamonds in the pale light of the full Wolf Moon. Trees pop in the cold, icicles hang from the eaves, and the silhouettes of owls loom in the trees below the barn. The days are gradually getting longer and we’ll be taking reservations again in four short weeks, but for now it’s still cold and snowy January at Fish in a Barrel Pond, a month as significant as any other in these parts, even when nobody else is around.
As a special treat for those with the attention span and fortitude to make it this far, The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond is pleased to share the following poem by Red Green (a true role-model for people like me) reminding us that when men reach a certain age they experience certain feelings and that there is nothing wrong with pausing to savor those special moments that can only be experienced in winter: