Dean's Blog

Low Winter Sun

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It’s that time of year known as “stick season” in Vermont because all of the trees have shed their leaves but the snow has not yet arrived. Another Vermont tradition is now taking place – the fall deer hunting season. I have participated in this most years since about the mid-1990s with little luck bringing home the venison, but lots of great time in the woods. In fact, I started writing this note on my iPhone from my tree stand some 16 feet above the forest floor with a good 180-degree view of the woods around me. I would have never thought the smartphone would be so pervasive ten years ago, but here I am in the woods with mine!

I have no deep thoughts to offer about harmony with nature or the mysteries of the universe, but did think about what I learned in the one year that I have owned the land. I’ve spent many days there over four full seasons and now have a better appreciation for the ebb and flow of life in that particular location. Being off the power grid helps and was by design since I intentionally sought out a refuge away from modern conveniences around lots of trees. I’ve learned a little bit more about what that means; here are a few more of my observations from the year of exploration.

  • Bobcats make a range of horrific and hair-raising sounds in the middle of the night. I didn’t hear them often but on a couple of occasions was awakened from a sound sleep by the screams of a large cat piercing the cool fall woods. Coyotes and owls are heard and seen more frequently and make interesting bed-time listening.
     
  • You can survive a 70 mph downdraft during a violent thunderstorm in a tent, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Our base camp this first year consisted of a deck upon which a portable storage tent (steel framed) was bolted. What initially presented as a late spring thunderstorm turned horribly violent as my wife, daughter and I rode it out in the tent. We didn’t realize how many trees came down in the storm, including the one that landed five feet behind us.  
     
  • The lesson from our storm experience was that I should always have my chain saw with me at camp, particularly since the road is a dead end – only one way up or down. Chain saws have always engendered a deep respect from me since they can be quite dangerous. Clearing downed trees, cutting a few more, and splitting several cords of firewood from the ordeal helped me conquer that fear and become proficient with the saw. I need another bigger one and am working to convince my wife that more power tools are better.
     
  • There are more critters prowling around you at night than you think, particularly bears. I have outdoors experience and was careful with our food supply because I found significant bear scat on the property in the spring. I didn’t realize the level of activity until I placed game cameras out in mid-August to see what the deer were doing. There were deer but I also learned that the local black bears visiting included a sow with two cubs and a very large boar. Often captured by the camera less than 100 yards where we were sleeping.  We never had any direct encounters but during one of the few nights my wife braved sleeping in the tent (the bear pictures didn’t facilitate many overnight trips for her), the large male passed nearby about 4 AM on the route I suspected he was taking. I have enough experience to recognize the sound of a very large animal in the woods and smell of a large bear. My cameras recorded hundreds of wildlife pictures and several that I plan to print and frame.
     
  • Speaking of cameras, moose will be around but artfully dodge your game cameras as if by design. I managed to get a couple of less than ideal nighttime infrared pictures of a moose passing through and was hopeful I would capture the cow and newborn that were in the area but had no luck before they moved to different food sources for the summer. Several times I found fresh tracks not 25 yards from the tent that resulted from a moose passing through during the night while I was there, quietly down the road it seems.
     
  • It gets cold at night so don’t forget your wool cap, even in August. Most of my excursions in recent years have been to a friend’s cabin complete with woodstove. I found that at 1,800-ft elevation the cool weather stays a little longer and comes a little earlier as the seasons change. I now have a special cap and neck gaiter for nights without heat and needed them, particularly last weekend when the temperatures dropped into the low 20s. I recently removed the tent and added a steel cargo container as the temporary camp and eventual storage building until a cabin is built. I intend to spend some nights there snow shoeing this winter and will see how the cap works out then. Needless to say, my wife has not volunteered for that duty!

My final lesson learned this year is that solar power is a good friend, particularly when you are off the grid. We used the sun to heat water from the brook for summer showers but now it is time to get serious and expand to power generation for lights, to recharge my phone, and battery storage. My winter homework is to study more about solar power and design a system for use at camp next summer, and I have stocked up on a couple of books on solar power systems. It’s time to get reading and planning for next year; stay tuned for more discussions about green energy generation. I have my eye on wind too!

Well, I guess it is time to get back to work!