The wind was howling outside the widow like a frozen banshee, and the snow swirled like a thick white mantle across the landscape. As I looked out the windows I sighed deeply. “What’s wrong Daddy” my youngest daughter Charly asked. “Oh, just all this snow and ice means I won’t be out trapping for awhile” (the snows was already knee deep on the ground and the ice was measured in feet instead of inches on the creeks and rivers), I told her sullenly. She had an odd look on her face “I like trapping Daddy, I like when we catch possums” she said happily. I smiled knowing that Pop would be so proud, as he was a wizard at catching the scaly tailed creatures. I sat back in my armchair and watched the crackling fire blazing away in the fireplace, the sweet fruity smell of the cherry wood wafting through the air.
I stared at the fire and my thoughts started to drift to days of yore, when I was young and running the trapline with my Dad, Pop, Arnold, and even some more recent days when I ran the trapline with my own kids, Clayton, Jamison, Teagan and Charly. I smiled at the thoughts that played in the movie theater of my mind. Teagan walked in just then and seeing my far away look asked “Daddy are you alright?” “Huh? Oh yeah, I am just fine just thinking of some of my favorite times on the trapline” I said. Teagan and Charly both rolled their eyes. “Let me guess” Teagan stated “You’re thinking of Pop and the trestle fox.” Then Charly said “And you’re remembering your first fox.” “Yes and well yes” I said “But I am thinking of some other events you have never heard me mention before. These are things and events that in and of themselves are not so much lessons, but rather just very happy memories” I said to the girls. “Would you like to hear some of them?” I asked. They both looked at me wide eyed, sort of like, Daddy has new stories? (OK, so maybe I like to retell my favorites over and over a bit.) Teagan answered “Of course Daddy, we loved your stories, especially NEW ones.”
“OK” I began. “This first story happened to Pop and I one season as we were driving around checking coon sets out by the state prison. Now this time of year it was not uncommon to see the large flocks of blackbirds in the fields feeding before migrating south for the winter. As we were driving I pointed out a large flock of blackbirds swirling up from a cornfield and into the woods like a plume of black smoke to Pop. But, as I watched the swirling birds I saw a white speck! There in the mass of swirling black was a snow white albino blackbird! Even Pop, who was never impressed by much said “Will you look at that.” The albino looked like the eye of a swirling black demon amid the flock. That was and is the only pure albino I have seen in the wild.” The girls seems to still be interested so I picked another story from past.
“Teagan?” I asked. “Yes Daddy” she replied. “You know how somedays we go out and check traps, even if it is raining, snowing, icing, blowing, freezing, or what have you?” I asked. “Oh yes” Teagan replied, and even Charly nodded her head.
“Then let me tell you about a day your Grandfather and I had once” I said. “It was one of those cold wet, bone chilling winter days. The kind of day where the clouds hung like a dirty gray sheet over the sky and it couldn’t decide if it wanted to rain, sleet or snow on you. And the wind would either cut like a frozen knife into your face or whip the frozen rain pellets against your skin so hard it stings. It was one miserable haul through the fields checking traps let me tell you.” The girls giggled.
I continued “Well we had caught one fox in the bottom hollow at Denenno’s and went to check Twaddells. Now normally we just drove up to the upper field, but no such luxury today. We parked at the barn and grabbed the gear for remakes from inside the trucks cap. The wind was howling across the sodden fields like a pack of ravening wolves, making the ensuing trip to check Dad’s line even less appealing. As we were already soaked from the previous spots we had checked Dad just sort of bulled through the brush behind the barn to the nearest edge of the top field. OK, I thought I was wet before, but going through the brush was like being dipped in a tank of ice water. As we neared the top of the ridge I could see a muddy fox dancing in Dad’s set. Well at least my ice bath wasn’t a total loss I thought. As Dad was remaking the set, the sky decided to up the ante and changed the rain to a wet heavy snow, which had begun to cover the ground by the time we had slogged back to the truck.
“Well just one more stop” Dad said with a smile, the melting snow dripping off the ends of his mustache. “Cool” I thought to myself, as the next stop was Darlington and I had two fox sets there. Teagan rolled her eyes at me “No not THAT set” I said. “But just like Twaddells, we could not drive out to the sets at Darlington either. So again we got out of the truck, and got the gear to remake the set. It had changed back into a rain/sleet mix by now and I was keeping my eyes down to prevent the stinging slap of the frozen pellets on the howling wind. Dad stopped and pointed to the south where the field road met the edge of the corn field. I looked and could see a blob of brown moving against the brown landscape. I had a fox! As I had not caught many at that point in time I was very excited.” I paused, then said “Ok so I still get excited when I make a catch, but that is not the point.” The girls giggled again. “After I had dispatched the fox I went to remake the set and saw that the stake had been worked so long and hard in the wet ground that now there was a hole about 2-3 inches wide and 8 inches deep. I just picked the trap up out of the ground with no effort. I looked at Dad like “now what?” He said, “Just use that stake hole like it is your dirthole and remake the set.” I did as he instructed and remade the set, then we quickly hurried back to the warmth of the truck, and headed home to get some breakfast and hopefully, at least for me, a cup of MomMom’s hot cocoa.”
“Did you catch anymore foxes in that set?” Teagan asked. I thought about it for a minute “I am sure I did as it was a good set, in a good location, but I can’t remember.” Just then the wind gave a particularly loud shriek outside, and I watched as the wind driven snow made the back fence disappear in a cloud of white.
“This reminds me of the time Clayton and I got caught out in a storm like this” I said staring out the window and the near zero visibility of a ground blizzard. “Tata went trapping?” Charly asked. (Tata is her nickname for Clayton.) I smiled at her. “Yes, when he was younger he would go out with me and check traps” I said. “This story happened one year just after Christmas. We had been hit with a big snowstorm about a week before and it dropped 20 inches of snow on the line. Luckily the boys and I had snapped the traps before the storm hit. Then after the storm the temprature had dropped to -5 to -20 for a week solid. Then one Saturday it warmed up to 10 degrees, the sun came out, and the skies were cobalt blueand cloudless. I wanted to go dig out some traps if possible and Clayton wanted to try out his new shotgun, so he tagged along. We went out to Ballantynes’s to see if we could find any of our sets and dig them out. The knee deep snow made the trip to the bottom pasture tough, but it was so nice out it was great fun.
We had gotten 4 or 5 traps dug out and came to a set I had on a now non existant trail. You could clearly see where some canine had dug through the more than 2 feet of drifted snow to get at the lure (Lenons Coyote Super Range Super All Call). I took my trowel and pushed it down where the animal had stopped digging, and heard a metallic clink. I smiled and Clayton asked me “Why?” “Well if the trap had been set we of most likely would have caught him” I said. We looked for more traps, and I let Clayton shoot his new 20 gauge a few times at snow banks just so he could get used to the kick.
As we got near the back 40 as we call it, someone turned out the light. I mean we were in bright sunshine and blue skies and then instantly the sky was a deep battleship gray. Oh, did I mention this is as far from the truck as we can get on this farm, about a mile or more over gullies and other dips and uphill to the truck. I looked at Clayton and saw him realize just as I did something was really wrong, then the wind picked up and it started to snow.
Now having been born and bred in Pennsylvania I had never seen a ground blizzard or a whiteout, but I sure did that day. I mean everything was GONE; Clayton and I were just in the middle of a blank white sheet. “What are we going to do?” he asked me. “I luckliy knew the farm well enough to know where we were and how to get to the truck. Easiest would be to head back across the gullies and hillside to the truck but it would need to be a straight line and we could easily trip, fall and or hurt ourselves in the now hidden gullies and dips. We were near a fenceline so I told him “We’ll follow this fence to the next one then go left.” We did this struggling through the snow the entire time. When we go to the end of that fence we were at a corner. Now I knew that the barns and my truck were only about 300 yards across that white sheet, but they were invisible in the screaming blizzard. “Clayton you need to trust me and hold on to the back of my jacket” I told him. “Why? He asked sounding concerned. “Because the truck it right over there, I waced my hand … somewhere” I said. He grabbed the back of my jacket and we headed off in the direction of the truck. We were within 75 yards before the barn materialized out of the white mist. We quickened our pace and reached the truck fairly quickly. Instead of the 10 minute drive home, it took us more than 30 mins. Needless to say your Mamma was quite upset, as we did not have cell phones back then, and the storm caught her off guard as much as it did us. She was worried we had gotten stuck in a ditch or worse.” “Wow” the girls both said.
I tossed another cherry log on the fire and stirred the coals a bit. “Tell us more Daddy” Charly asked. Hmm I thought, sifting through random thoughts and memories.
“Well, there was this time Jamison and I tried our hand at trapping beaver through the ice” I said. The girls actually looked interested in the story so I continued. “Yeah one season many years ago, when Teagan was very little, and you were still a baby Charly, Jamison and I got bored and went down to the river” I told them. “It was mid January and ther was about a foot of snow on the ground and the river had about ten inches of ice on it. We had packed a few 330 conibears, some wire and the digging bar (to spud out a hole with), and brought Tori (my black mutt) with us just for fun, as she loves the snow and cold” I explained. “Well Jamison and I went down the river and looked all over for any beaver sign. We didn’t find anything till we searched along this one bank. I could see a dark line in the snow, and as I walked toward it the ice broke out from under me!” I exclaimed.
The girls looked concerned, while my wife looked amused. “Luckily the water was only a little over knee deep, so all I did was splash a bit on my coat, but it did scare me. I saw that the channel was running from the bank, through my legs to a feed pile I could barely see in the snow about 20 feet behind me. I climbed out of the hole I had made and set a 330 but realized I had left the wire in the truck. So I sent Jamison to go get the wire while I waited; that’s what kids are good for on the trapline. As I waited I heard sort of a sloshing sound of water behind me. I turned around to yell at Tori thinking she was playing in the hole I made and I saw the ice in the hole bobbing up and down, then I saw a beaver shooting down the run. He saw me and was as suprised as I was I think, because he did a somersalt in the middle of that run and reversed himself in a flash and was gone! I stood there slackjawed in amazement, till I heard “WOW THAT WAS COOL!” from behind me as Jamison came walking up. I totally agreed with him and quickly made a set in the run with my 330 and blocked it in and wired it off above the ice.
As we were walking back toward the truck I saw a large hole in the bank, where it had partially slid into the river. I walked over to see what kind of hole it was if anything” I told the girls. I looked at my wife and she had a big grin because she knew what happened. I continued “As I stuck my head partially in the bank hole I saw that there were two holes, one going down into the river and the other going up into the bank. At almost the same time I stuck my head in the bank hole, a beaver stuck his head out of the top hole! I don’t know who yelled louder me or the beaver.” Everyone laughed at that. “As I was scrabbling backward out of the hole I heard the beaver splash into the river through the other hole. Did I mention the bank hole was sort of up on the bank so I had to sort of climb up and look in? Well as I was backing out of the bank hole I was in a bit of a hurry and just ended up flat on my back in the river bed in the snow, with Jamison laughing his head off at me” I told them. They all laughed, probably picturing my 250 pound form hurtling back out of the bank hole like I had been shot from a cannon.
I eased back in my recliner and watched the fire a bit more. “Daddy what about the mink you saw?” Teagan asked. “Oh yeah” I said “That was rather interesting. I had just dropped Charly off at school and was on my way to work when I decided to look at two bottom edge sets I had at a small creek. I pulled up, shut off the van, and got out to check the sets. As I neared the bridge I saw something and heard a splash. I stood on the concrete abutment over the creek and looked around. Thinking it might have been a muskrat I stood still and waited to see if it might reappear. A few seconds later I see a head pop up out of the water, but it wasn’t a rat it was a mink! It swam a little ways upstream then climbed out onto a piece of shelf ice. The mink then humped along a bit on the ice and saw or smelled me, not sure which, and then it stood on its hind legs and looked up at me. I didn’t move but quick as lightning it jumped into the creek and disappeared. I stood still and waited some more. Then the head reappeared and the mink climbed back onto the shelf ice, it stood and looked at me its head wagging backand forth. Then it ran up and down the shelf for a minute then stood and sniffed at me again. Finally it eased into the water and calmly swam down stream till I lost sight of it around a bend.” Both of the girls were staring at me wide eyed. “That sounds neat” Charly said. “It was very neat” I said.
I got up from the recliner and restoked the fire with wood. I sat down and eased the legs up on my chair, and watched the dancing flames some more. “Daddy tell us more” Charly pleaded “Please.” “Not tonight, we have to save some stories for another time, and who knows what new stories may happen to us by that time” I said with a wink.
Mike Di Salvo