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Deep winter thaw

February 10, 2011

Recently, a brief respite from freezing temperatures resulted in thawed hoses and a break from lugging buckets of water to the goats, chickens, ducks, and pig. The layer of ice that greeted us at the front step and made our walking treacherous past the cars and back to the livestock and all the way up and down the driveways finally melted. Mud was pleasing compared to the ice, and with the sun hanging in the sky longer, a taste of spring beckoned and tempted. We know what month we’re in, and aren’t so easily fooled, but a few days beguiled doesn’t hurt. My mind went first to garden plans, and getting orders in for onions, leeks, peas and greens. With the gears lubed and turning, I thought more seriously about the spring meat chickens and the beekeeping inventory.

But what made my heart leap was the thought of spring striped bass running in the harbor and back behind Pochet Island; marsh fishing, funky little inshore spots, wild hungry stripers tearing up the outer beach, home-grown rooster feathers tied into killer Lefty’s Deceiver droppers (or teasers) and poppers drawing attention in those deep pockets that hold fish, even on a low incoming tide. Time for hunting was hard to get this winter, and pond fishing has been quick and hit-or-miss, but I’m hard to suppress when it comes to dreaming. I like to imagine a big striper hitting my lure like a ton of bricks, somewhere around the Gorilla Hole or at the tip of Nauset Inlet at sunset – turn of the tide, follow them back down the beach on the outgoing tide, hit the holes, cast over the bars. A girl’s gotta fantasize.

Realistically, I didn’t fish hard with my first-born until she was at least six. Before that it was sandcastles and snacks, with a couple of rods set in sand spikes and baited with fresh sand eels on high-low rigs. I set them out as though I could care less, hoping only for bluefish, and let me tell you – kids really respect that kind of thing. If they get the inkling that you really, really want to do something, they will make the whole day unravel faster than a cheap sweater on barbed wire. There was some trickery involved – plenty of snacks and toys and swims on the backside and warm sweatshirts – but big healthy bluefish for dinner rewarded my modest efforts. After a few years of that we were back on the stripers; casting and moving, setting up fires for s’mores and fresh littlenecks on the half-shell and putting ourselves in a good position for dusk. And then it was big striped bass; acres of fish moving in from the South, reels screaming and braided line going taut like a fine razor. There’s nothing like following a 30-pound striper down the beach and working with the surf to bring her in on the sand.

I’ll keep dreaming and looking forward to the stripers’ return. I don’t expect to be in a position to experience a striped bass mind-meld, but I’ll be happy with a taste of that life. In the meantime, in the real world, there were sweet sights during the thaw. The bees were flying. Two of the three hives were very active, but one was still. I’m hoping the quiet colony is still alive, maybe unwilling to leave the winter cluster because of a smaller population. As I gathered splintered locust and maple limbs from the woods to feed a bonfire, I came across many young, docile honeybees stopping to rest and look for drops of water on the forest floor.

Warm weather also brought clams. One can’t gather clams inshore in freezing temperatures, by law, so it was refreshing to come across some locally harvested quahogs, or poquauhock as the Wampanoag once called them. I didn’t dig this collection, but received them from a friend who gathered them near Fort Hill, just a few minutes as the canoe might glide from our swamp. Mid-winter chowder was another spirit-lifting taste of spring. Believe it or not, we’re hurtling headlong into an explosion of buds and birds; awakening perennials and returning schools of fish. While the weary dread the updated forecast, I’m thankful the Cape has thus far been spared the worst of winter’s wrath. I’m happy as a clam enjoying the bracing cold winds and embracing whatever weather comes along. With a little taste on the tongue of what’s to come, it’s hard to be anything but hopeful.



that's a big quahog

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