D.S. Pledger: Winter hardships come to light as snow melts

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D.S. Pledger
Saturday, March 15, 2014

As the snow begins to melt and winter finally loosens its grip on the state, it will soon be time to head north and open up the cabin for the season.

Most years this is a greatly anticipated trip, but this spring I’m feeling a bit of trepidation about going. After the deep snow and intense cold that was unrelenting since November, I’m afraid of what I might find.

For starters, I wonder if the porch roof made it through the winter without collapsing. We added it to the cabin as an afterthought, so it doesn’t have as steep a pitch as the rest of the roof and has less support. Earlier this week I got a call from my pal Gordie, who lives near our place, and the picture he painted wasn’t very encouraging.

“We’ve still got about three feet of snow in the woods up here,” he informed me. “I’ve been shoveling off some roofs in the neighborhood and got onto one guy’s shed without a ladder—the snow came right up to it. When I got up on it, it started to creak, so I had to keep shoveling ahead of myself so that my extra weight wouldn’t collapse it.”

One thing I like to do on the spring trip is to look for deer antlers, but I’m afraid that this year I might find more than a few sets with the deer still attached. As early as the beginning of January whitetails were already showing signs of stress, and things really went downhill from there. Later that month deer were reportedly walking along roads looking for any plant material that plows had cleared, and by early February they had yarded already with at least eight more weeks of winter to go. I haven’t read anything about it (maybe because nobody can get in the woods yet), but I’m afraid that the winter kill is going to be off the charts this year.

The terrible weather also means that surviving does will have far fewer fawns this spring, if any at all. Come fall hunting season, we might be lucky to see a deer in the woods.

Along with deer hunting, will the fishing season also be screwed up? Heavy snow cover on a lake can completely cut off sunlight, which eliminates photosynthesis in underwater plants. This means that they stop producing oxygen, which increases the likelihood of a fish die-off dramatically.

As we talked, Gordy pointed out: “Unless we get a big melt-off, and quick, a lot of things are going to be a little late this year.”

“Things” such as making maple syrup. Traditional tap time is St. Patrick’s Day, but when the snow is deep it presents problems. If you bore your holes at normal height, you will be standing on tiptoes (or have to carry around something to stand on) when the snow level drops and you’re placing and emptying buckets. If you bore the tap holes low, allowing for the snow melt, you’ll be emptying buckets on your knees until it drops.

And the sap in the northland probably won’t be running for a while. Since the snow has been around for so long, the bottom layer of it has probably been compressed to ice, which will keep the tree roots cold and prevent the sap run from starting. When it does finally begin, it will be late, and if the weather warms fast, short-lived.

When my logger friend went to his cabin near Catawba to check on things, he had trouble even finding his sap cooker.

“And when I did find it” he told me, “it was frozen in so tight I finally gave up trying to shovel it out. Guess I’ll just have to wait for the sun to take care of it for me.”

When the warm weather finally does arrive and I make my trip, I wonder what other casualties of last winter will be awaiting me?

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net.

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