November is a time of withdrawal.  Merriam-Webster’s summation of the word alludes to my feelings of the month.

Withdrawal: 1)  the act of taking back or away something that has been granted or possessed: 2)  retreat or retirement especially into a more secluded or less exposed place or position

As the sun sinks lower and lower to the southern horizon, I repent for my sinful whispers to see less of it in the summer.  This repossession of what was taken for granted forces me to look inward.  Wishing to be like that lazy mouse in the children’s book Frederick, I try to remember flowers, warmth, and energy that comes with ample Vitamin D. I fear, however, that I gathered too much grass and not enough Sun.


The cows appreciate my harvest though.  I tried poetry night in the barn, but the bovines were more interested in hay, salt, water, and constantly harassing each other.  I have a naive idea that only my cows don’t get along.  They’re like kids; and every time I see one gore another for a better slice of leaf, or body-check a sibling into the wall for being too close and not moving fast enough, I think my cows are the worst, while those in other barns contently eat hay and simply snuggle.

Well tough, in the barn they must stay: retirement into a more secluded and less exposed space.  Not that these hairy beasts mind the wind and weather.  To the contrary, Scottish Highland Cattle seem to love cold or blowing rain.  If given the option, you’ll find them in the fields and never inside during inclement weather.  (They’re more likely indoors during intense heat and sun.)  There in lies their sully attitude; they don’t want to be cooped up.


What needs a respite in November is the land.  All summer the earth was trampled by hoof and tractor tire.  Now, it get’s a break to replenish and rebuild with all the workings of things that are beautiful and beneath me.

For my boots still compress the soil.  I justify my Frederick farmer guilt with the saying, “The best fertilizer is the footprint of the farmer.”  That’s right, while you’re stuck in traffic I’m busy fertilizing my fields.  Early morning wanderings out into the hay fields and into the twelve hundred or so trees that make up our Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CREP buffer.  This thin line of forest diversity and vertical vegetation frames our northern border.  It also shades and filters a small waterway which is adjacent to it. (And home to a beloved beaver. Be sure to check out April 2018 if beavers are your thing.)

The CREP buffer is a secluded place.  Withdrawal into it is a time for observation and reflection.  Often, no matter the season, the space is like a naturalist/farmer’s car wash.  You enter one end muddled or drained from all the mooing and manure, and then, (out across the hay field and far from the sight and sound of what you should be doing), you come out fresh and revitalized.  Notwithstanding the calm of decreasing distraction, there is a spatial tranquility to the space.  Where forest meets field, the concept of Prospect and Refuge takes place.  Frank Lloyd Wright made exquisite use of this intuition.  His buildings are imbued with primal peace and excitement of early humans exiting the cave.

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Ecologists and wildlife biologists recognize the benefits of these habitats as edge effects, or areas where animals have the prospect of food and the refuge of shelter.  The greatest farm species diversity and activity falls within this zone.  You can witness the exchange of life as birds, insects, and mammals make short forays out into grassland only to retreat back to the safety of a branch or bush.  The Song Sparrow is the most common tree and turf bouncer.  It chirps and scampers from the tall, dried stalks of grass to the lower limbs of alders as I pass.

Although I haven’t seen them of late, tracks tell that the coyote prefers the mown paths along the forest edge too.  In some areas the route is well worn.   Occasionally, it detours into the prarie and I follow the light paw prints to where a vole hole or mole hill is excavated.  This time, I wish the trickster all success.


In the open field, prospect is an advantageous, yet dangerous game.  Here, the American Woodcock and Savannah Sparrow find shelter within tractor tire ruts and folded clumps of fescue.  Later in the winter, flocks of Western Meadowlark will also peruse the Poaceae; their gargling and melodious song seeming to alight from nowhere.  Now, what we hear are vast armadas of Snow Geese.  Arrow upon arrow of the V-formation flocks pass up our welcoming fields for others who can’t stand them.  Apparently, the geese consume a large percentage of the dairy farmer’s hay cuttings.  For me, I would count it a blessing.  Not just to have the birds grace my farm, but also the first cutting of hay is a risky business.  Usually the fields and weather are too wet in the spring so I end up cutting in summer when the grass is stemming and gone to seed.  A Snow Goose feeding could be a good stunt.  Unfortunately, I’ll never know unless I can figure out a way to get  a thousand geese to land in spite of the power lines.

On a full circuit of the farm I always conclude with a stop at the river.  Here is our most dynamic edge and arguably the most diverse.  Home, road, and river all converge within less than a 100 foot strip of land.  The banks are steep due to flooding and tidal influences.  We have crayfish, salmon, kingfisher, bald eagle, cormorant, merganser, mink, river otter, deer, coyote, and yes, beaver all along the shore.  Once in a while a harbor seal makes the ten mile journey from Puget Sound.  It’s exciting to see this exotic mammal out of its usual habitat.  I often wonder what it thinks of this foreign and fresh water, and what drives it so far upstream?  Is it the possibility of easy fishing or a respite from the crowded waters of Puget Sound?

Whatever it may be, take some time this season to withdraw to a comfortable place, be like Frederick, that good-for-nothing solar sponge, and reminisce on lighter times.


Listen to all the traffic.  We’re too close to the flyway.






In A Sand County Almanac, Leopold boasts that:

There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffed-grouse hunting.  There are two places to hunt grouse: ordinary places, and Adams County.

He goes on to expound the particulars of what makes for an extraordinary ruffed-grouse hunt.  The attributes are unique and cherished by the writer in much the same way as all of us come to covet a place where we hunted, and then caught our prize: be it a pumpkin, mountain peak, ten pound fish, patch of mushrooms, good deal on a purchase, parking spot, breathtaking photo, sunset, or a Buck deer.  We remember.

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We remember because we are all hunters.  Hunting is instinctual and undeniable.  Prehistorically, it kept us alive.  Now, it enables us to thrive.

Unfortunately, “hunting”, in today’s world seems synonymous with killing.  Although Leopold began his journal entry boasting of hunting grouse, he dedicated most of his October journal entry describing what he observed, thought, experienced, and never mentioned a shot bird.  Yet in today’s increasingly urban landscape, we’ve over emphasized the final act.  Perhaps our snap-shot focused society has mislead us all into thinking that is what it’s all about: the trophy picture.


Taking a step back, obviously, it’s not.  Contrary to the image above, I believe it’s mostly about the stories.  Perhaps this is the excuse of a hunting failure.  I admit to being a very unsuccessful deer killer, yet when I trudge up through the Ponderosa Pine, Douglas and Grand Fir forests of the east Cascade Mountains, I run into a fair amount of deer.

Literally, once a good sized Buck ran straight into me, and though I could of reached out and scratched his ears; I drew back my bow string, and with arrow poised for a shot, watched it shamelessly clatter off my sights with the rhythm of my pounding heart.  Spooked, the animal stopped still, its ears perked, and keyed into my camouflaged hide-out.  From the thicket I can’t imagine what it thought as it tried to reason out what creature made such sounds?  During the adrenaline rushed seconds, I strained from the tension of the taught bow string while flicking–and failing–to get the arrow shaft back on to the sights.  It was too much for the frightened beast, and as I finally let out a labored breath, it blew out a warning snort and bounded away.

No deer this year, nor the last, yet that year I did manage to score some half-dollar sized blisters.  “The big bucks are above the tree line,”  I heard.  So I trudged up Dirtyface Mountain and after what seemed like a hundred switchbacks and equal amount of doe deer (which you cannot shoot), I made camp to get out of the cold and rain and patch my heels.  Long hours were spent in my tent eating nuts and staying warm.  Finally, after two days of “hunting”, I quit the high elevation wilds, and walked back down the mountain, only to find one slinking six-pointer cross in front of my car as I drove through a neighborhood.

Needless to say, after a few seasons of trying, I never killed a deer, but I’m a good hunter and an okay story teller.

“A Hunter with a Heart”

In Julianne Lutz Warren’s biographical tribute, Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, she summarizes some of Leopold’s thoughts on hunting in Chapter 9: Wildlife and the New Man.  Among many quoted gems within the essay, Warren consolidated Leopold’s idea of a Sportsman as a “civilized” hunter.  Adding: “He was “a hunter with a heart,” one who realized that “his power to destroy carries with it [or] places upon him the responsibility to conserve.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my aim here to justify hunting, or even try to bridge an understanding of whether it is necessary or irrelevant.  What I hope to get across is the importance of hunting in my ecological, conservation-based education.  Without it, I do not think I would have a balanced understanding and appreciation for wildlife.  Sadly, by taking beauty from Nature I realized how much more precious it is to keep creatures in the skies, streams, and forests.

Like many of my arguments, I seem to only evade, squirm, and then tentatively stand on righteous quicksand.  Not because I lack moral compass, but rather I do not wish to be yours.  Temperance is a tepid voice.  In a time when politics are polar, belief is violent, and everyone is either “us” or “them”, the mighty middle, the silent majority, just wants to do good work.

For now, my work is in the fields or in the mountains.  I wear work or hiking boots and carry pruners or a camera.  My rifle remains in the gun safe.  Never fired and maybe never will be, yet I don’t plan on preventing a young student of Nature from having that opportunity.   If so, I think we’d deny good people the chance of being nurtured by the land.  We may even repress the Hunter and, in turn, find him elsewhere and unwanted.

Preservation, Conservation, Recreation

A last thought I’d like to share is how hunters often defend that which they aim to kill, and moreover, the land and habitat that animals depend on.  Steven Rinella wrote a short piece for Outside Magazine‘s November 2018 issue.  In This Land is OUR Land, Steven reminds us of our common ground in that we all protect public lands for mutual benefit.  Whether you’re a backpacker, fly fisherman, mountain biker, or naturalist, all parties should galvanize around issues and places we value, because extreme forces would like divide the land for private, restricted ownership, and overexploitation.

This equal access is only possible with the Mighty Middle.  Yet, it’s also a messy middle as Freedom is messy.  We all have a moral compass, it’s just not everyone’s on the same heading.  So have a little understanding and appreciation for the next person.  Try to relate with what others value and figure out how we all can experience our passion.

Once you learn to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, or with it.  And I know many pleasant things it will do to you.  Aldo Leopold, “Wherefore Wildlife Ecology?”

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With that in mind, below is an excerpt from the USDA Forest Service’s webpage:  “What We Believe.”

Motto: Caring for the Land and Serving People

The phrase, “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” captures the Forest Service mission. As set forth in law, the mission is to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people: It includes:

  • Advocating a conservation ethic in promoting the health, productivity, diversity, and beauty of forests and associated lands.
  • Listening to people and responding to their diverse needs in making decisions.
  • Protecting and managing the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept.
    Providing technical and financial assistance to State and private forest landowners, encouraging them to practice good stewardship and quality land management in meeting their specific objectives.
  • Providing technical and financial assistance to cities and communities to improve their natural environment by planting trees and caring for their forests.
  • Providing international technical assistance and scientific exchanges to sustain and enhance global resources and to encourage quality land management.
  • Helping States and communities to wisely use the forests to promote rural economic development and a quality rural environment.
  • Developing and providing scientific and technical knowledge aimed at improving our capability to protect, manage, and use forests and rangelands.
  • Providing work, training, and education to the unemployed, underemployed, elderly, youth, and disadvantaged in pursuit of our mission.

Not bad.  The government gets a bum rap, (lately it seems, by its own constituents), but what’s above lies at the heart of what they, (and possibly Leopold), try to accomplish.  So support their mission, and support individuals and groups that want to keep public lands public.