Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tree Rat Dreams

I'm steadily approaching four decades bumbling around our little blue marble, and I'm still surprised at how my brain works.  Sometimes at how well it works, more often at how it fails to work at all, but mostly, the tangents and obsessions it frequently enjoys with or without my consent.

Since my last post on the joys of simple squirrel hunting, there has been little but visions of the delicious little tree rats dancing in my head.  I kid you not, there have been dreams about squirrel hunting.  Full-on, I can hear the snow under my feet, dreams!  Other men dream of scantily clad women or soaring through the air.  Sometimes both at the same time.  I dream about buck-toothed rodents through a peep sight.  What would Dr. Freud say about that?

I've made the most of this current unexplained obsession, hunting them frequently.  It's a wonderful time of year to be out in the woods.  They are almost devoid of human presence even in my populous neck of the woods.  There are a few snowmobilers and cross-country skiers (a past obsession of mine), but most of the hunting seasons are closed, so as a dude on a pair of snowshoes with a rifle strapped to my back, I generally have the joint to myself.

I've walked in the sun until I earned raccoon eyes behind polarized sunglasses, and fallen asleep sitting at the base of a surprisingly comfortable shagbark hickory.  I've enjoyed a hot lunch, my legs swinging over the precipice of a sharp gulley like a kid on a bar stool, whispering and basking in the afternoon warmth with a good friend.  I've drunk deeply from a flowing spring, very nearly fallen on my face, and generally had a helluva good time in the past couple weeks.  Made my share of nice shots too.

I even learned a new method for cleaning them, thanks to the wonders of YouTube.  Brunswick Stew, squirrel pot pie, and nutty squirrels fried in butter with shallots and chanterelles have been consumed at my table, alongside a host of the wonderfully dark and strong winter beers we have this time of year. 

In short, it has been squirrel-palooza around here lately.  And it isn't enough yet.  I plan to hunt them at least a couple more times before the season runs out at the end of the month.  I had to buy another brick of subsonic .22 shells.  I had to wash my snow camo jacket after so many outings, lest even the little limb rats smell me coming a mile away.  I've fallen in love all over again with my boyhood rifle.  The occasional missed shot serves only to keep my legs pumping up over the next ridge.  Like Bacchus, my thirst cannot be slaked.

While this latest obsession, approaching unhealthy fanaticism as it is, came rather unexpectedly with a single invite to go hunting, other trance-inducing fixations come at more predictable intervals.  All this tromping around the timber with fluffy-tail fever has cut into my ice fishing, and I do regret that somewhat, but I'm more well prepared to deal with the upcoming annual preoccupations.

One day near the end of February or beginning of March, I will sit at the desk directly behind me in this room, and tie a few flies.  Just a handful to replace the flies I donated to overhanging brush and submerged logs last year, nothing that would require a Zoloft prescription.  Then I will start to frequent an internet fly-tying forum I belong to more often, gazing in wonderment (and a little envy) at the beautiful ties of the other members.  The ice will begin to recede from my favorite bluegill holes, the fly tying catalogs will clog the mailbox, somebody will ask me for a dozen of that fly that worked wonders for them last year, and I will again become transfixed.

The TV will remain dark almost exclusively.  Workouts and after-work fishing trips will be forgone with nary a care.  Dinner will be forgotten.  Gasp!  Phone calls will go unanswered, and a shower or two may even be skipped.  The situation can get a little ugly when there's a short in the wiring, and things slip out of control.  Look at Gary Busey.  

Sometime around the middle of April, I will emerge from this room like a bear from the den.  Eyes bloodshot and weary from precision work and my refusal to admit the possible need for a pair of drug store reading glasses, fingers calloused and sore from packing and prodding, deer hair clippings and feather pieces in my hair.  With fly boxes overflowing and confidence in my smallie ammunition for the year, I will retire the vice for the most part, and take a nap.  Until the ice begins to fade again next year.

Which is convenient because shortly after I've come out of hibernation at the fly tying bench, the venerable morel mushroom will come into season.  Prized for their rich earthy flavor and ease of identification, no other fungi in Wisconsin is pursued with the fervor and passion given to the diminutive honeycomb obelisk of the mighty morel.

Recipes and folklore abound in the cult-like following of the morel.  How to find them, preserve them, cook them; everyone has an idea or an anecdote or two.  There are books, forums, and walking tours dedicated to finding this mycological marvel.  Restaurants are named after it.  Mushroom hunters hide their secret spots with the maniacal zeal of wizened trout fishermen.  As a seasonal locavore, my personal menu varies throughout the year.  No meal, not a single one, is more looked forward to, obsessed about, and fawningly doted over than that first morel dinner of the year.  I dream about that meal, but that somehow seems more sane than dreaming about squirrels.  You'll just have to keep reading this blog to find out what it is.

I searched for years with varying degrees of success before my friend Woody invited me out to his farm in the heart of morel country.  I still grab my favorite walking stick and tour the woods on my own as the calendar slinks up on Mother's Day, and I do well at times.  I can think of little better for the body and spirit than a good long walk in the Spring woods, but I know when I see Woody's name pop up on my phone, it ain't about the hike anymore.  Enough with the romance and foreplay, it's time to get some.

Thanks, Woody!

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