Winter 2014 is here, and it is a good one for fun outdoors. We had good skiing on our trails to start January, and in spite of a thaw it has continued. So many years skiing wasn’t really good until February, but 2014 is an exception. Not only have we had adequate snow, but arctic air has made it more like the winters we remember from our early years.
Roger and Jillian Herrigal were our first guests of the new year with their growing family. They are more often here in March when the tapping season begins. This trip might be the first time they have had really good snow for skiing.
The following weekend was Chuck and Natalie Twitchell and their family. The January thaw came just in time for their weekend, and they spent it mostly indoors while it rained outside. Chuck has a great time no matter what the conditions are.
When it got cold again, the crust on the surface of the snow was strengthened enough to hold deer up. Later the snowmobile trail was groomed for the first time, and our little group of deer disappeared to the south. I think it was a big relief for a number of small family groups of deer to be able to move into better cover. I noticed several individual tracks coming down from Howard Hill while I was grooming my ski trails. Mature bucks are often alone in a remote place and move to wintering areas last. The tracks I saw were mostly those, and they all came down at the same time from different places. The rest of the herd was hunkered down along Long Falls Dam Road in softwood covers where they are fed each winter. Now those deer are ranging further out with secure footing.
In mid January we had a long awaited return visit from John Andrews. When Claybrook Lodge was just beginning, John was one of our first winter guests. He was a trip leader for AMC looking for a remote place to cross country ski. We were lucky that he chose to stay with us. Some of the people who came with John have been returning ever since. Those first winters were so cold with little insulation in the lodge. I sometimes wonder what brought them back. John was full of energy (and still is). He has led his group on some long and strenuous treks on trails that were hardly more than a track through the woods. One cold moonlit night, I went out to the lodge at midnight to load the stove. I was trying to be quiet so as not to wake anyone when I heard voices coming from the woods in the direction of Howard Hill. It was so still and cold that the only other sound was the occasional sharp crack that a tree makes when the temperature drops quickly. At first I thought I was imagining the voices, but then I realized it was John and his group coming back from a ski in the moonlight. John woke everyone because the moonlight in the hardwoods on Howard Hill was too much to resist. I can still picture them all in a line in that beautiful glow of full moon on snow—a group of shadows full of life and warmth and excited at being alone on the winter landscape. Thank you John!
Davida Skye came twice to snowshoe and ski, and study tracks and signs. Each time she brought a different group of friends. The trails were still a little crusty on the first trip but much better on the second. With new powder on the trails, the tracking was excellent.
The Ness family arrived on the last day of January, and conditions were still great. They were able to spend the entire weekend snowmobiling, skiing and snowshoeing. I missed quite a bit of their stay since I had to work Resq on Friday night and Sunday during the day. I was sorry to miss them on Sunday, but at least we got a little time to visit.
The coyote population has grown with the rise in the deer population, and a large family group is using the ski trails to get around. We hear them howling occasionally, and their tracks lead all the way from here to Butler Pond and beyond. So far I haven’t found any deer kills but some of the people who feed deer down on the flat have reported a few. I put out a road kill in the maples one morning and by afternoon two eagles were already feeding on it. We had a few days of that with the trail camera recording. I got some great pictures until the coyotes came, then the batteries died in the extreme cold, and by the time I realized it and replaced the batteries, the bait was dragged away and devoured. I got zero coyote pictures. Rumor has it that there is a Golden Eagle coming to a bait in Lexington Township, but I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe there will be more about it in February.
Greg and Pat