By Ben Gruber
It was a trying December for us at our home, so it was nice to get in some good family time outdoors to reconnect and recalibrate. One particularly nice December day found all three of us at my house strapping on snowshoes and headed out to our “back 40” to see what nature was up to.
Addy is 3 this year, and she has been itching to try snowshoeing again. She had snowshoes last year but lacked the coordination to make them work, so she mostly rode in my backpack. This year was an entirely different story.
With some makeshift gaiters made out of the sleeves of one of my old sweatshirts to keep the snow out of her boots, she set off at a pace that kept me working to keep up. As long as she stayed on the trail I had broken last week, she kept right on trucking with no falls. She hiked almost a third of a mile on her own, which impressed me.
I promised her that if she learned to hike with minimal complaining, I would take her to the Boundary Waters canoeing. Now, she has been working hard to impress me and always asks if she is doing a good job and if I can take her to the Boundary Waters now. I would say she should be ready by summer.
The next day we dragged her mother along with us, the first time I have managed to get her on snowshoes. We made it to our creek and had to stop there as some of the recent rains had it running fast and high, and I was not willing to get wet. We followed the creek to our property line and then crossed through some tall grass prairie back to the farm.
We were pleasantly surprised to see a significant amount of deer signs. While we have a ton of deer around, it seems that usually they find winter ground with better food during the snowy months. Maybe some of my tree cutting is paying off with some better browse and cover.
Addy ended up in the backpack after hiking a few hundred yards, and I earned my keep breaking trail while carrying her. It was a beautiful day to see our farm covered in fresh snow, and as nature tends to do, it left me feeling refreshed and recalibrated. As John Muir said, “Keep close to nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
A few days later I convinced my father to drive up for some ice fishing. I may be in the doghouse for that one since my mother-in-law was in town visiting, but such is life.
I tried to make up for it the next day by taking favorite wife and daughter ice fishing too. Unfortunately, the fish on the Big Eau Pleine were finicky at best that day. I marked a few fish with electronics but could not convince them to impale themselves onto a hook and turn into our dinner. Apparently that sounds better to me than it does to them.
We ended up with a short walleye, a perch, and — an ice fishing first for me — a bullhead on a tip-up. Hopefully the bite picks up a little bit for me in the coming days. I have a friend that pulled his permanent shack out the other day, so hopefully I can trade some beer for the occasional use of it.
Winter has us firmly in its grasp now, but that is no reason to be stuck inside.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.