I write this to you on what the calendar says is the first day of winter. In truth, I have never been a big fan of this particular solstice. The other seasons seem to have more pizzazz and more to look forward to.
We are always ready for the spring season to come in March, and in September the autumn equinox is bringing us the coming hunting seasons. Summer is all right, I guess, and maybe we can look forward to doing more fishing.
The winter season is, though, I confess, probably not my favorite. Now there is quite a bit of hunting left to do and I like that part, but at the risk of sounding like I am complaining, the winter can be cold and dreary. I suspect I would not have said that 20 or even 10 years ago. The years seem to change us, and we don't even know it.
I am told that winter is actually the shortest season of the four, so I guess there is some comfort in that.
By the time you see this, you will already have Christmas done, and hopefully you're in a blissful state of savoring the food, the presents and the warm thoughts of being with friends and family. Most of us could use a lot more of this with the state of this crazy world we are living in now. I am thinking that Christmas and winter used to be a lot simpler for yours truly.
Once upon a time, your intrepid outdoors writer probably liked the winter and a bit of what we would have called a "tracking snow." This was just enough snow to track various animals but not enough to make walking the woods too difficult. Usually a couple of inches was enough.
Cottontail rabbits were often a favorite game to track in hopes of bagging a few. Even though we often hunted with a pack of beagles, it was still nice to see the rabbit tracks in the snow, knowing that the next brush pile you came to may hold that furry bundle that will streak out when your buddy wades into the cover.
The beagles would start a clamor of barking on the track as the rabbit got out of Dodge. The chase was sometimes short, sometimes long. The rabbit would sometimes circle back to you, sometimes not.
But short or long, we stood there quietly awaiting his return, listening to the yowling of the pack. You loved the excitement in the beagles' voices, and it helped you not to notice your cold feet in cheap boots or your runny nose. A bleak winter day was now lit up with fire and excitement, the beagles would turn back toward you, and you just may get a shot that you hope you won't miss.
It was excitement, anticipation and hope, all wrapped up into a rabbit chase.
Rabbits were not the only fare as we tramped along the ridges and the creek banks. At one time, a couple of pals and I considered ourselves pretty big trappers. Muskrats were our main fare and the easiest to catch, but any area that had muskrats also might hold a much more exotic varmint (to me): the mink.
Mink tracks in the snow even today will give me a sudden surge of excitement. I don't think experienced trappers consider mink that hard to trap, but back then we thought they were very cagey as we hardly ever caught one. The fur on a mink in wintertime, I thought, was as luxurious as a silver fox, but in truth when we didn't get much for them. At the time we were trapping, the fur market wasn't exactly booming.
A lot of this hunting and tracking things in the snow happened after Christmas, but going into the big day there was always the eternal hope of a long slim package under the tree that could be anything from a Daisy BB gun to a Remington or Winchester .22 rifle. Depending on your age, any of these would thrill the young hunter to no end. New boots or gloves that might keep us warmer were nice, but a new gun of any kind was the best Christmas that could be imagined.
That is what I wished for you my friends: the best Christmas ever. I hope you got that Daisy Red Ryder, a sleek new squirrel rifle or that turkey shotgun you have been wanting. I hope you got that time with family, especially the grandkids or your mom and dad, and I hope you are still stuffed with turkey and ham.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you wonderful readers.
And I hope that rabbit circles back to you.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.