A Spring Scout

By Vincent C. Spiotti

 

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain and wind.  Spring had come to the mountains. The snow was melting, the water running, the streams flowing. It would be my first spring scout to my backyard known also as the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

As I strapped on my snowshoes, I looked around a warm breeze hit my face. The day was quickly becoming the warmest day of the New Year. Today I would not need my French capote. A wool toque, wool mittens, long wool shirt, and waistcoat would do fine. I buckle on my belt and tools, shoulder my shooting bag, haversack, and canteen. I grab my fusil. We are ready to go.

Enfield and I we start up the trail we had been on so many times before. Today, the snow was soft and mushy, heavy with the past evening rain. No longer white and pure, the snow was now dirty and speckled with the pine needles and leaves that had been freshly blown off the trees.

Staying on our main trail, which was well packed and firm, we made our way quickly to our favorite meadow. Here, I prepared to once again to take a few practice shots at my favorite maple tree in the corner of the meadow.

Enfield struggled around in circles in the soft and heavy snow as I freshly greased my patches and made ready to fire dozen or so rounds from my fusil. Even with the warm constant breezes, my shooting was never truer. The past few months of scouts and shooting practice have really brought my shooting accuracy to new heights. I feel proud as I create a dinner plate tight grouping at 40 yards.

Today, despite the warm temps and soft snow, we decide to scout south to Scar Brook. We began to make our way downhill through the trees. The soft snow is difficult and heavy to maneuver through. My snowshoes continued to drop down through the snow’s surface and become tangled on hidden branches and undergrowth. As I chug my way along, I still concentrate on keeping silent, my fusil at the ready for an imaginary foe. My mind drifts off as I think about stalking an animal or perhaps an enemy. In my mind, I am a hunter, a simple shadow in the forest.

In all my years of exploring the forests, I have always stayed clear of becoming a hunter. I am not sure exactly why but I can only say that I have never felt the need, desire, or the heart to hunt. I think hunting is a great sport for those many who take to the forest in search of game. Many even depend on it to survive. However, I am neither and thus have no interest.

Today, my wife urges me to explore the past through the present on my solo scouts, but begs me not to hunt. She is especially fond of turkeys. We spoke of hunting just yesterday as I was picking up a supply of black powder from town.

Growing up in Romania, my wife spent her summers at her grandmother’s farm in the countryside. Being around turkeys, geese, pigs, cows, and other various animals, she has a special love for animals, all animals, both domestic farm types as well as wild animals. If I was never a hunter before, I surely will not become one today. My wife’s love of animals, and my love for her, keeps me from even thinking about making my imaginative hunts anything more than games of my imagination.

The forest thickens as I continue to move towards the sound of the brook. Enfield plows ahead of me, then behind me, swimming and paddling though the heavy and wet snow. Today, even my 60lb dog sinks to his belly in the spring snow. With Enfield, born to enjoy the snow, and thus despite his struggle, his tail never stops wagging, like a propeller taking him to the height of his own fun.

As the roar of the brook grows, I make it to the top of a ridge and look down. I can see the water rushing over and around the spring ice and snow. I see a road, open only in the summer, which the brook crosses under. I pull out my map and period compass and quickly locate this exact location. I feel good as I realize that this is where I hoped to travel to today.

I sit for a few minutes and munch on a few pieces of jerky and chocolate. I stay quiet, slowly and carefully changing the flint on my fusil, watching the road. I wonder if this is how it feels to scout a road back centuries ago, waiting patiently to see who passes. Hopeful that it will be a friend yet nervous that it may be a foe. I continue to think of this as my ears, slowly becoming use to the roar of the brook, tune out the water as I hear the call of a crow. I look up; there he is circling above, perhaps on a scout of his own.

Nobody passes our concealed position above the road.  Enfield’s pacing tells me that it is time to move on. We have scouted this section of our backyard. It is time to begin the walk home.

I check the straps on my snowshoes, rise, and move on, beginning a clockwise loop that will eventually bring us home. As I make my way back up towards the meadow where we began, I cross several spring runoffs.  I maneuver over and around the fresh spring water, and for the first time this spring, I notice bare ground.  It was just small patches of grayish green bare ground at the base of several large pine trees, but it was still the naked earth. The forest, from the floor to the sky above the trees is awakening.  The call of a blue jay announces the change of seasons. No matter what the calendar says, spring is right here with me today.

As I retrace my path back to the start of our scout, one brook crossing has melted through. Despite a Herculean jump with snowshoes, one snowshoe-clad foot manages to step deep down into the brook. The water feels cold, yet, in an odd way, it feels good. Knowing I am only minutes from my ride home, a wet moccasin does not worry me. I will soon be home by the fire. More important than a wet foot, I rejoice in the sight and the touch of fresh rushing water. I am anxious to return back to the spring forest another time soon.

As I head home in my car, I think of spring and I think of life. In only a few months from now, my wife and I will experience the birth of our first child. Spring in the mountains this year, in many ways, brings new life to my heart, to my mind and to our lives. My love of life and of the forest has become stronger as my life has become more important with a wife and soon our child. With Enfield, the somewhat tired dog, standing in the back seat of my car, head on my left shoulder nuzzling against my neck, my mind wanders off to visit friends and family as I continue my drive home.

As soon as I arrive back at our cabin, I can’t wait to tell my wife that I love her. Spring has come to the mountains, my life, and my heart. I rejoice for spring has returned and has enveloped my world.

 VCS