Written by Mart Allen for The Adirondack Express
Random thoughts on the winter scene
It’s said beauty is in the eye of the beholder, by the same token the same may be said about weather. As the saying goes, “It’s an ill wind that blows no good.” Throughout history many invasion fleets found that out, much to their chagrin, too late.
The thought arises for two reasons to this eighty-year old curmudgeon. We seem to be in the throes of a winter more in sync with the old traditional Adirondack winters we were accustomed to in the past. The other reason is I, like all eighty something crotchety old men, no longer look at winter the way I once did. You no doubt notice I left a clue, to the reader, that I did not always view winter the way I do now. In fact I used to revel in it and questioned how anyone could not feel the same way I did.
One of my greatest joys as a kid was a good old fashioned winter storm. In the beginning it meant we did not have school. We were free to pursue our own pleasures, as limited as they were back that long ago. Even at a very early age youngsters were conditioned to and expected to have daily chores. A condition, don’t ask me why not, our children did not, to the extent we did. I have to remind the reader that in that day and time we didn’t even have the pleasure of listening to the radio. I was mid-way into my teens before we got our first radio.
The next phase began at about thirteen and the mood changed and with the realization that at last we had a way to actually get some spending money on our own. We would pair up and tour the neighborhood soliciting homeowners and businesses to shovel their walks and driveways. That was usually the first opportunity to begin your working career and came about before you were considered old enough for a paper route. At the same time we all found time to have some winter fun. Building snow forts, having snowball fights and, best of all, sledding and ice skating. Skiing did not come into vogue until much later and was limited in our bailiwicks to barrel staves for skis.
My high school winter years were dominated by hunting and trapping. I easily wore out a pair of the old rawhide webbed snowshoes every winter. I did well up into my fifties, until the rubber coated nylon models were introduced. Then I wore the tails of the shoes down to the rivets before I learned to wrap them in electrical tape. Many of my contemporaries did the same and I estimate that we formed a cadre that traveled on average as many miles, if not more in some instances, on snowshoes as we did in regular shoes. One reason is that the snow and ice made travel more direct and far easier than it did in other seasons.
During WWII the rabbit population declined to the point that there were few to hunt in the vicinity of my home. I had a long legged rabbit hound and he turned to running red foxes which proved to be more sporting than running the rabbits. We hunted long and hard, the two of us, for our first fox. An old dog fox hung out in a big frozen nearby swamp and we had nightly set-tos after school until dark every night. For days on end between trapping and hunting my meals waited for me in the warming oven of my Mom’s old coal fired cooking range. The day finally came when the old fox’s luck ran out and a charge of double ought buckshot put him down. I was never so surprised in my life when my dog Sport came along on the track and found his nemesis in death’s repose at long last. He never even paused to sniff him, simply walked a short distance away and began licking his feet in disinterest. I ended up killing 16 foxes that winter with Sport after I figured out the pattern. I learned quite a lot about the ins and outs of fox hunting and that the dog’s greatest interest was in the chase, not necessarily the fox.
When the rabbits started coming back I continued hunting them simply because there was more action and they were darn good eating to boot, especially the cottontails. My mother, like many women, learned to prepare them several different ways including Hasenpfeffer. We ate so much game that we became accustomed to carefully test every bite for lead shot even after searching for it while cleaning.
In any event that’s a short synopsis of my early perceptions of winter, which followed pretty much along the same lines until the beginnings of my eighties when, no pun intended, my thoughts went south. Not that I ever did or cared to physically.
I still enjoy my winters but not with the same vim and vigor I once did. I am content now to feed the birds and turkeys. Work in my wood shop making hat stretchers, folding tables and whatever strikes my fancy. I sell the stretchers on the internet all over the US and the world and enjoy the banter with the people who are interested in and buy them. Otherwise my social life is confined to a daily trip for mail, a sore subject of mine as many of you know, and coffee with friends at Runway every afternoon. But enough of this, as my favorite progressive at the Old Forge Library likes to call my, “Walks down memory lane.” Truth be known, age effects the way all seasons are perceived and tolerated, not just winter alone.
With I will leave you with a thought of my own, for the week, that perhaps some of you rabbit hunters may want to try turning your bounty into Hasenpfeffer: Soak pieces of cleaned rabbit in equal parts vinegar and water in a glass or crock container to which is added one sliced onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 6 peppercorns, and a bay leaf for two days. Remove and save the liquid. Roll pieces in flour, saute with onions, use liquid, sweet or sour cream to make gravy and serve. In addition domestic rabbit, which can be bought in the frozen section of many grocery stores, is good prepared the same way chicken is.