Nature’s Ornery Ways

By V. Paul Reynolds

Whether hunting in Colorado High Country or the Maine North Woods fir forests, you always keep a close eye on the weather. In some cases weather vigilance can make the difference between being comfortable or uncomfortable – or downright miserable, or even in harm’s way.

There is a mountain road in Western Colorado below the Beaver Flattops that over the years has taunted, teased and threatened me. A narrow switchback with deep ruts and hair-raising drop offs, it can be tame or treacherous. It all depends on the weather. When wet it is a sheet of greasy Colorado goo that tries to suck your truck and you off the edge. Elk hunters dread it. But we chance it because it leads to elk. You just never know the contingencies until you get there and begin worming up the mountain.

This October a long dry spell was a stroke of luck. “Wow, are we lucky!” one of my fellow hunters exclaimed. “The road’s a piece of cake.” And it was, all the way. Dusty, but safe.

It was almost too easy, so I worried. Nature can be sneaky and fickle. Never gloat when the weather goes your way. The forecast was for clear skies, but unusually cold for early October, even by Rocky Mountain standards. By the time we backpacked our way to the drainage and set up our camp site in the aspens below the spiraling peaks and dark timber, the quick-moving front was evident, and at 9,200 feet the cold came upon us like the icy breath of Boreas.

That night, sleeping on the ground in a one-man tent was an altogether unprecedented experience. Not my first time tenting in that country in October, but nothing from previous years came close to this on the scale of personal privation. Never have I been so cold, not even when ice fishing northern Maine in January with a 20 knot wind down the lake. A zero degree down-filled mummy sleeping bag, heavy long johns and a bunch of hand warmers probably held off hypothermia. Nonetheless, it was a long night of shivering, teeth-chattering sleeplessness.

The Colorado sun finally inched in over the Flattops the next morning. Instant oatmeal and hot tea, along with the blessed sun, finally produced a warming reprieve, from the long dark night.

It wasn’t over either. For reasons I don’t understand, Nature’s ornery moods have a way of hanging on like a rainy spell in early June.

Later that month, during a week long late-season cow hunt in the North Maine moose woods, nasty weather chased me down yet again. Five days of unrelenting fog and drizzle left logging roads a ribbon of insidious mud that bonded itself to my truck and trailer as though they had been dipped in concrete.

The Grand Finale, unnoticed by us, was working its way from the mid-section of the country. On Friday, still without a moose, Diane and I threw caution to the wind, literally. Determined to find that cow, we ventured into moose country in spite of the high wind warnings. We were quickly running out of time to fill Diane’s moose tag. We knew from experience that a 50 mph wind would bring trees down across the logging roads and that moose might not be moving. But you can’t tag a moose hunkered down in a cabin at St. Froid Lake Campground. The forecast called for the winds to die down in mid afternoon and we had a chain saw for clearing blow downs off the roads. So we struck out for the clear cuts south of St Francis.

Wouldn’t you know it. Not only did the winds not subside by mid afternoon, as predicted, they picked up a head of steam! Gusts of 60 mph or more were snapping off the tops of big spruce trees and flinging them willy nilly like matchsticks onto our roadways. By 4 p.m. the St. Francis Road had a tree across it every half mile or so. By then moose was the last thing on our minds. Getting back to the St Francis checkpoint in one piece before the chain saw ran out of gas was the challenge .

Turning in our pass at the checkpoint, we were told by the North Maine Woods gatekeeper that there was a major power outage throughout the St John Valley. We made it safely back to Winterville and the campground just minutes after a big splntered spruce sheared off at the campground driveway and took out the facility’s main power pole. We drove unwittingly over downed power lines and then backed our way to safety.

The high wind spared our cabin’s roof but not the heat, hot water and lights. BY bedtime, Diane and I were not so sure we wanted to go moose hunting the last day, but we were at it again when the alarm went off at 4 a.m.

Oh yes, no moose taken. What an October!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.

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