Snow remained at the den site up behind the house. For as long as I remembered, there have been several holes, or entranceways, to the den site on the sandy knoll beneath the poplar trees. For as long as I remembered, there were woodchucks or red foxes living at the den, though in likelihood the two species never dwelled there simultaneously.
Tracks in the snow before the entranceways suggested that a red fox was currently at home in the den. Several years ago I saw that fox pups were being raised in the sand, and I puzzled over the types of groceries being brought to the doorways– fur from a rabbit, bones of a woodchuck, feathers of a grouse… As for woodchucks living at the den in years when the foxes had found other quarters, they were far enough from my own house to ignore them comfortably.
As a storm blowing in from the west brought snow and rain and mud to the doorway of my residence, I spent most of an afternoon just denning, other than to go outside and split some wood for the stove. I made tracks between the house and the woodpile. It was a good day to dig down into the security and support provided by a house. I fed the fire, ate fresh bread and drank a beer, and read old sporting magazines for their entertainment value, for their sense of history, and for their suggestions on where the world of outdoor recreation is headed today.
These magazines were so damned old that even I felt younger by reading them. There were issues of Fur, Fish & Game from the 60s and 70s with Chuck Ripper-era covers that gave me an image of a woodchuck and a red fox as I thought of my four-legged neighbors in the poplar grove. There was National Sportsman from Feb. 1919 when an issue cost 15 cents. There was Hunting Annual from 1934 (10 cents) and Hunting and Fishing magazines from 1935 and 1938 (again 5 cents a piece). I could sit back with this stuff, turning the brittle pages carefully, either shaking my head in disbelief or chuckling from the safety of my retrospective view. I could ease down into the flow of time with these ancient tales and advertisements, an act that could lower my blood pressure and make me feel like a hibernator cozy in the face of a storm.
Denning is a fine way to relieve stress comfortably in the winter. For a brief while you are free from the noises of the world, from the din of those Republican primaries, from the news of dead pop stars, from the havoc raised in the Middle East or in the middle of America… Even when you shut off all the media noise, however, there’s enough of an echo from the social caterwauling and enough of the “blabber and smoke” to leave a maddening residue on the human spirit. Sometimes you have to puff yourself along. With that in mind, I help myself get quiet by feeding wood to the fire, by munching on frozen blueberries picked locally in the summer, and by listening to something like a Bach concerto or to vintage Fairport Convention from the 1960s.
So, here’s to it, Mr. and Mrs. Groundhog, Red Fox, Skunk, Raccoon, Opossum… Take your time at the den, I’m with you. As the season warms, we’ll all journey forth together. I’ll be out there, if not for food or love, then certainly for adventure.
And if March arrives, can steelhead fishing be far behind?