Finally, there is snow!
The season's first snow arrived just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. It didn't last long, but did provide enough cover for Whiteface Ski Center to open for a few days.
The white cover also provided hunters a chance to find fresh deer tracks and soothed the soul of the most nervous creature in the forest: the varying hare. Often referred to as snowshoe rabbits, these timid creatures undergo a complete change of color in response to the diminishing hours of daylight.
Children climb on the roots of a tree on the opening day of The Pines area at the Wild Center in 2008.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The process, known as photoperiodism, provides the hare with a white coat for winter that offers a most appropriate camouflage when there is snow on the ground. However, when all decked out in white and viewed against a brown or green backdrop the poor creatures provide an easy target for predators.
It is always amusing to discover a hare huddled at the base of a balsam, hiding in plane sight. The situation is reminiscent of watching a little kid cover his eyes in order to appear invisible to others. I often wonder if they realize how vulnerable they really are?
The fresh dose of snow proved a boon for hunters, and many tags were filled in just a few days before soaring temperatures erased the snow cover. For a majority of North Country hunters, the coming weekend will signal a last chance to put meat in the pot before the season comes to a close at sunset on Sunday, Dec. 4.
Despite their take - or the lack of it - most hunters gauge the success of a season on the time they spent in the woods in the company of longtime hunting companions. The season is best defined by the friendships that were renewed, the jokes that were shared and at least one "tale of the hunt."
Typically, the season ends with the lingering scent of stiff camp coffee, left simmering on the wood stove.
As you're finally rolling out of the sack, there's always a slight twinge of sadness that comes with the realization that it will be the last breakfast of the season. It may be due to the fact that goodbyes must finally be said to a group of old friends who only have a chance to get together but once a year.
Or possibly it comes with the realization that you'll now have to clean and oil all your gear, patch the roof, seal the cracks and close up camp. More than likely, it has something to do with the fear of chasing down Christmas gifts and putting up decorations.
Despite a lack of snow, which has increasingly become the norm in recent years, the season provided a few pleasant surprises. One of the most interesting discoveries was the apparent abundance of ruffed grouse. I probably flushed more grouse this fall than in any year in recent memory.
I also saw and heard more pileated woodpeckers than ever. Also known as the Cock of the Woods, these big birds constantly scour the trees in search of insects as their pounding reverberates through the forest.
Recess: A good reason to go to school
I've followed the story with great interest, as a recent debate raged over the perceived dangers of a new, all-natural playground located at the Lake Placid Elementary School.
The new facility, which was named Paw Print Park, was constructed completely out of wood, earth and stone. It was built to replace the existing wooden playground that was showing its age after 20 years of use.
The new design was based on The Pines, a similarly constructed facility located at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods" provided the dedication for The Pines play area.
The Pines at The Wild Center was based on a similar play center that was first discovered at The Minnesota Arboretum, near Minneapolis. Construction of the first all-natural play area in Minnesota evolved serendipitously. It occurred after workers at the facility had felled a sprawling old-growth hardwood tree.
After they removed most of the limbs, and hauled away a majority of the branches, the main trunk of the tree was left lying on the ground.
The following day, the facility's activity director was astounded to discover the tree covered with kids who had ignored the facility's established playground to climb the old tree. Since the tree was lying on the ground, it was considered safe. It was only natural.
Unfortunately, as a society we have become conditioned to expect playgrounds to include certain devices. In 2008 after Louv completed his dedication of The Pines at The Wild Center, I had the honor of opening it up to the assembled horde of kids.
The children took to it like ducks to water. Climbing and clambering over the roots of a massive stump fan, swinging from wooden monkey bars and building imaginary forts with a pile of limbs and logs. The children were active, and noisy and thrilled to be there.
However, as I watched and listened to the joy of kids at play, I saw one little girl tug on her mother's pant leg. She said, "Let's go home, mom. Now!"
Her mother, who appeared shocked, responded, "What! Go home? Aren't you going to play?"
The little girl responded sadly, "No, I can't play here, mom, this isn't a real playground. They don't have any swings, and there's no slide. There isn't even a teeter-totter."
Incredulous, I watched as her mom followed her back to the car and they drove away. "How sad," I thought, "that an imagination is so stunted that she can see a teeter-totter for the trees."
Throughout my school years recess was my favorite class, although gym class ran a close second. Recess was where I truly excelled. I took risks, I learned to share and I realized my true potential to have fun. I regret that I rarely see such enthusiasm in today's youth.
It is unfortunate that injuries happen and I regret that two Lake Placid Elementary School students were injured on their new playground. However, kids and adults take an assumed risk every time they walk out the door. I believe there is a far greater risk in keeping them indoors.
Last year, Lake Placid Elementary School instituted a model physical education program, when students were given the opportunity to learn how to ride mountain bikes during gym class. What an ideal tool of discovery for local youth, but I have to wonder what will happen to the program after the first kid falls off a bike.