It’s been awhile since our last post here, 2014 to be exact. Seasons have come and gone a few times with nothing on this page. My good friend Mark reminded me of this a year ago last fall at our annual rendezvous. The two of us were setting up tents and canopies for the event and were taking a sit down break. I was trying to figure out how many trips I still had to make to get everything to the site so we could get it set up. I knew my brother would be out the next day to set up so I wasn’t worried, just aware of the task to come. And hoping I wouldn’t forget anything. Out of the blue Mark said “You haven’t written anything on the Blackpowder Beagle(BPB) site for awhile.” An observation. More of a question. A bit startled, I looked at him, looked away to the ground and said “Yeeahhh I know. I just haven’t been able to put anything together”.
They say creative people aren’t the same as other people. They can’t necessarily put out a product on a regular basis. Yes I’m calling myself creative. They/we often appear to be slacking off(and sometimes they/we are), seemingly not working on the task or project, being too relaxed about the whole thing. I’ve read that at Microsoft the people in charge of developing new products have one of those Nerf basketball setups in their work-space, and that they spend a lot of time shooting hoops, appearing to get paid good money to play Nerf B-ball. Actually they are coming up with ideas and working things out in their minds while “goofing around”. Their brains work better with a slight distraction. I think we all do that from time to time. It’s interesting how much you can get done while on a run, a bike ride, or while paddling or fishing. The Microsoft guys are the masters of this. It reminds me of a scene from the original Star Trek series. Now I mean the original cast with Kirk, McCoy, Spock, etc. Fictional I know but it gave us a look into the power of the Vulcan mind. If you don’t remember, Spock and McCoy were often at odds over logic and human emotions and the pros and cons of each. More than once you heard McCoy utter something about that ‘damn Vulcan logic,’ and Spock would respond “Really Dr. McCoy, you must learn to control your emotions.” Over the course of the series and the movies some of the Spock/McCoy interactions were quite amusing, although at times a somewhat amused Kirk would have to step in with one of his “Gentlemen, gentlemen I think we’ve heard enough, we’ve got work to do!”
Anyway, in this scene things were bad, lives were on the line, time was short and the impossible had to be done. Time travel(I think) was to be attempted, and Mr. Spock started doing the math calculations. Things were looking good. Then Mr. Scott rushes in with a problem that could throw a wrench into the whole thing, declaring “Captain, I canna change the laws of physics; I’ve got to have moor(more) time!” So Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Scotty are trying fix Mr. Scott’s problem. McCoy, realizing time is of the essence gets annoyed with Spock who appears to be spending too much time on Scotty’s problem, and, trying to catch him shirking his mathematical duties glares at him declaring “SPOCK aren’t you supposed to be working on the time travel calculations?! Mr. Spock, who is helping Scotty AND doing the ridiculously convoluted time travel math in his head calmly looks at McCoy and says with typical Vulcan non-emotion “I am” and looks away again. At this, McCoy all but implodes, mutters something unintelligible and storms away. It’s one of my favorite scenes.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in the present time period, it’s early March and a lot of folks would like to use some time travel to jump ahead a month or two. Weather-wise the last month has been a bit unusual for February, being much colder than normal early on with actual temperatures being in the minus 20’s and minus 30’s at night while staying well below zero during the day. Winds would cause jaws to drop nationwide as they produced windchills in the minus 40’s to near minus 70. Officially called a Polar Vortex by meteorologists, old-timers called it an old-fashioned “cold snap”.
Then the snow came. My snowblower saw more action this past February than the last two, maybe three total winters combined. Every few days the phrase “another chance for measurable or plow-able snow” could be heard and would elicit an audible groan and definite agitation in the populace. Snowshoers, skiers, snowmobilers and dogs alike were giddy with glee. However, down in the Twin Cities it snowed more days than it didn’t. In the end they received two feet more than a typical February, totaling 39 inches in 28 days. Cries of “where’s Spring?” could be heard all over. Reminding some people that this is February in MN, it supposed to be like this and that Spring is still a month away brought stares that burned holes in you, but at the same time dropped the temperatures even more. Pointing this out also got you banished from certain circles and establishments and unfriended on Facebook. And here we are in early March, month of the infamous “tournament storms”. Oh boy…
So although some parts of the state have received more snow than is typical, especially in such a short time-period, it’s been a fairly “old-fashioned” winter. But people aren’t used to it, they’ve forgotten what winter is really like. That’s because we haven’t had anything remotely like this in the southern two thirds of the state since 2014. Up until early February of this year(2019) we haven’t been able to snowshoe(requiring at least 12 inches of snow) here in central MN more than three times since 2014. We almost had it late this past December, with ten inches down, but then it again melted down to 3-4 inches. We got out once last year in mid April(!), yes mid April, twice the year before. In each instance the snow was gone or reduced to a couple inches of crust within a few days of falling. When ever a snowy weather system was on the horizon it went around central MN or fizzled. If it did hit us it often melted partially or completely within two weeks or less. All winter long, since 2014. A local cross-country ski race was organized for the third week of January starting in 2015. January of this year-2019 it was finally able to be held for the first time-with barely enough snow. Too dry otherwise.
Enough commentary. The BPB have been busy the last 4 years, flowing with the seasons, transitioning from one to the next, along the way experiencing and learning new things. And continuing to introduce young and old to the outdoors. Some of us are in different chapters of our lives taking on new and unfamiliar challenges, with successes and failures. Two of our young guns are not so young anymore, both having graduated high school. Both are big hits with the youngest crowd at our rendezvous, having developed into great teachers of their events. And both bring pride to their families and the BPB, serving our country in the Army National Guard and United States Marine Corp. So for the time being the BPB are a bit spread out. But in the end we almost always have time for each other, especially at the annual BPB Avon Hills Rendezvous. That is always a good time.
Even though it has, for now become a challenge to gather throughout the year we still find time to celebrate the seasons. Foraging for wild foods is a challenge, whether it’s wild rice, blueberries, cranberries, maple syrup, sumac berries, leeks, fiddle heads or morels. Most years we don’t get to all of them but when we can it’s a great year.
We continue to hold our Rendezvous every October just as the leaves are approaching their fantastic best. New people and families have joined us every year convincing us to keep going. Curiously the archery segment is gaining popularity and is slowly morphing into mostly longbow and recurve shooters. And the BPB seems to send a contingent to the Perham Rendezvous every year where we share fun times with our friends up there while representing the BPB well in the shooting, archery, and ax throws.
This time of year is maple syrup season. When winter has run it’s lap for the year the days are longer, temps are warmer, and the snow is melting. The baton exchange with Spring is just ahead. There is a period of time, two to maybe four weeks in length when nighttime temps are below freezing and daytime temps hover in the mid to upper thirties to maybe forty degrees. When this happens, through the gift of physics the sap begins to flow in the maple trees. Small holes are drilled into selected trees, a spile(a specifically designed short length of “pipe”) is tapped into the holes and a container is then hung below the spile to capture the sap. Many trees may be drilled and tapped. When enough sap has been collected it is boiled down to produce that wonderful thing we call maple syrup. About 40 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup. The length of the season is dependent upon the temperatures. When the nighttime temps start to stay above the freezing mark the time has come to shut things down until next year. This year we are behind because it’s been a cooler than normal start to March. The season may go into April as it did last year. We’ll wait and see.
After the maple syrup season we can look forward to the greening of the landscape as the sun really takes over. This means foraging for fiddleheads and leeks, and later on the chance to hunt morels. It also means the first wildflowers will poke their heads up; often hepatica, and then bloodroot are the first to be seen. Hepatica can sometimes be seen in thick “mats” that can cover several square yards in colors that range from white to pink to lavender to violet. And all the time never reaching much over three inches tall.
And finally spring brings the opportunity to hunt gobblers, or longbeards; the wild turkey. Their thundering response to your calling can cause any hunter’s heart to pound. It’s an addicting challenge: turkeys possess color vision with acuity superior to ours, hearing that rivals that of a whitetail, the ability to figure out what they are seeing ten times faster than a human can, and absolutely no curiosity. If something seems out of place they usually don’t wait to confirm their suspicions, they turn and leave, sometimes in a hurry. Even from as far as 100 yards away. But when you get one to come to your calling it’s electric. Imagine sitting against a big ole oak and seeing as I have, not one, not two, but three gobblers coming over a rise three abreast 55 yards away, all in full strut, gobbling, looking for that nonexistent hen that sounded so sexy. I was doing the calling that morning for my nephew sitting next to me. It was his first turkey hunt. His gun was already up and in position; you don’t want the birds to see you move. The toms, back-lit by the encroaching sun came over the rise three across in glorious, puffed-chest, wing dragging-big-fanned-tail full strut gobbling like madmen, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all in unison. You could feel it in your core, resonating. It was utterly deafening. I then heard my nephew mutter to no one in particular “Oh my gawd!”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the end of his gun barrel begin to waver, then to shake. He tried to stay under control but the adrenaline shot was just too big. He was toast.
The toms continued in but then stopped short just out of range. They had seen something they didn’t like and turned around to leave. I pleaded with them to come back, and they did, eyeing our decoy, gobbling but unsure. I began to shake. Their gobbling intensified as I pleaded for them to come on in. Again they turned to leave, still gobbling, and again I brought them back. This back and forth continued for awhile, quite awhile. Eventually they tired of the suspicious sassy hen and moved away for good, back to the east, over the rise, still gobbling. After our heart-rates and breathing returned to normal I checked my watch. The whole episode-start to finish had lasted just over an hour. Turkey hunting. It’s addicting.
SO, as Spring takes the baton for its lap be sure to get outdoors. And introduce a person or two to the outdoors. Especially a young one. Who knows you may end up with a lifelong fishing, hunting, or camping buddy. What could be better than that!
Enjoy the Outdoors,