This past weekend was the annual youth fishing derby at the lake ( St. George). I volunteered to haul over a carload of # 10 cans, several spatulas, and a few crates of dry kindling to help kids learn to build a fire and cook their own food. It was so fun! The ice fishing derby is a great mid-winter event created to encourage kids and their families to get out and ENJOY winter. A whole day of winter fun! Kids (and adults!) could try their hand at drilling a hole through the ice and ice fishing, they could put on a pair of the skates or strap on the snowshoes that were provided, or borrow the sleds to use, or take a ride around the lake on a snowmobile, they could even crawl inside an igloo. My contribution (along with my much-appreciated Fernwood helpers) was to set up a “Hobo cookout’ using # 10 cans as individual stoves and to teach kids how to cook on them. Please picture in your mind a bunch of kids in a large area looking out over the lake scattered with large # 10 cans and small ‘kid constructed’ piles of tinder and dry twigs and boxes of ‘strike anywhere’ matches and plates piled high with hamburgers, hot dogs, and rolls. Now you have an image of how things looked. Here’s the really fun and great thing about teaching kids to build a fire outdoors in the middle of winter and letting them grill their own lunch; All of a sudden, despite any past finicky behavior about food, they will now eat almost anything. They are so proud of this basic skill…make fire, cook meat… that they forget about any picky tendencies. I watched one very slight girl cook and eat 6 hotdogs ( no bun, straight off the stick), I saw several hot dogs roll off the stoves and hit the ground, picking up a slight coating of vegetative matter, only to be quickly wiped off with a wet and grimy mitten for further cooking, then eaten. Many of the cooks charred their dogs to the point of oblivion, no bother, they ate those too. Hamburgers were flipped onto the ground, over-cooked, undercooked, and then happily eaten smothered in ketchup using a wooden shingle as a plate. One boy did touch the top of his stove without wearing his gloves and burned a finger, teared up for a minute, plunged his hand in the snow for relief, and then continued cooking his burger to perfection with the other hand. Bravo! All of this great fun happened because a community recognized the importance of getting outdoors, learning seasonal skills and craft, as well as providing an opportunity to embrace winter here in Maine. The event was also free for everyone… burgers, hot dogs, chili, soup, and baked goods were all donated and also free, all day. The big barn on the property was open and heated with a big wood stove, inside were posters and booklets about fish species, lake habitat, animal tracking guides, and ice fishing rules and regulations. Large pots of hot chocolate, coffee, and tea were on standby for anybody needing a warm drink. Community is essential to all of this. I am so proud to live in a place where we celebrate the beauty and opportunity provided by our landscape and to gather, one and all, to have fun and share knowledge and experience. As you can probably surmise, it was a good day! Oh, and check out some of the beauties kids caught throughout the day ( picture above)…not bad, heh?
Most afternoons, we venture into the woods. It is the dogs favorite part of the day… and ours too! With the icy conditions along the nursery footpaths and along the road, the deep woods offer better footing at the moment. Traveling ground that keeps us upright is not the only reason we tuck into the forest every day. Aside from the peace and serenity the woods provide, it’s also the track stories we can read along the way that call us into the wild. In our absence, perhaps while we lay fast asleep, many of the wild critters who stay active during Maine’s harsh winter are out prowling or foraging in search of food, and in doing so they have left their travel stories in the snow. As we hike toward Kingdom pond through a mixture of both coniferous and deciduous trees, cross over an old lumber clearing, and arrive at a grove of mature hemlock, the animal activity is laid out before us in a network of foot patterns. Coyote and fox travel with their intentional, business-like gait, leaving well-defined canine tracks behind. Snowshoe hare bound from one thicket to another, their large paddle-like back feet leaving imprints out beyond their front feet. Mice move from stump to stump leaving their slight tail dragging marks. Turkeys have left evidence from their searching for acorns under an oak tree, the snow trampled and flattened, looking as though a square dance had taken place. Deer tip toe across the coyote tracks, carefully heading in the opposite direction, their heart-shaped hoof prints leaving their mark. Of course, the dogs go mad with all the smells and freedom and cover over many of the tracks before we reach them. By the time we arrive at the pond, we have added our own foot travels to the mix. We can see where that lone fox has kept going, his thoughts on distant shores, his determined trail leading out across the ice. Maybe a meal or a warm den awaits him on the other side. I hope he finds both.