White Oak Mountain Ranger: It's A Sign

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The other day, when it was 70 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I was throwing hay to the horses. A strong wind was blowing out of the south, drifting chaff in my eyes when I heard the sandhills. There were two, maybe three hundred birds in a series of ragged, clattering V’s so high that it took some time to find them up in the thermals over White Oak Mountain.

I took it as a sign. Maybe it was the odd warm spell, or the lack of a coat; but the long birds drifting north on a strong wind out of the Gulf have annually been a sign.

I thought that this bunch was a probably a few weeks early. Maybe cranes don’t pay much attention to the Weather Channel or Viper Cast, the Farmers Almanac or European models. Perhaps they just got tired of Gulf seafood and sandy hot crabs. 

It’s not too far out to believe that this particular bunch was full of young male birds that just wanted to claim dibs on a few receptive long legged Tennessee models that hang out on the Hiwassee Island all winter. The lure of a good tango by the river bank in February is a pretty powerful urge even for a bird.  

From their altitude, you can bet good money, the flocks of cranes could see the Island and instinct told them they were going to make it by dark. That probably what was causing all the excited chatter as they slowly drifted north in the fading evening light.

I’m fairly certain of the amount of time it takes to get from the Gulf coast to the island by car. I wondered if they could complete a trip like this in one day. Even with a stiff tail wind coming from somewhere south of Cuba, and a cloudless sky, it made me curious to know if they actually make a long trip like this in one day. If you are knowledgeable of the hours per day it takes to fly north, pass this information on to me because the inter-web failed to answer this pressing question. 

Maybe it was the older, more elderly and tired birds that were doing all the talking like, “Man my joints ache like they are on fire!”; or maybe it was a bunch of loud, out of control kids bringing up the rear that were whining, “Are we there yet?”

Irrespective of being a little early; it was a sign. Spring is certainly getting closer. Maybe even an early spring followed by a wet summer. We can hope.

Soon crappie can be found feasting on minnows again. Hope is in the air. 

There is undoubtedly some more cold weather to endure but who can second guess a bird that has made a trip like this since the cavemen hunted north bound flocks with clubs. 

I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on one of these tall cranes. Two of my buddies and I were in a goose pit at Blythe Ferry, This occurred back when TWRA would let you try your hand at shooting at a Canada goose out of a pit. These pits were, more often than not, ankle deep in water. It was the 70’s.

A single bird slipped out of the river bottom in the early morning fog and made that strange call before landing in our decoys. We stood in the mud asking ourselves if this goose was wearing a strange red hat of some kind and how it had managed to get his legs stretched like that. My buddy who went on later in life to become a Ducks Unlimited grand wizard wondered aloud if the bird was good to eat.

We had no idea what we were looking at but we held our fire out of an abundance of caution. The caution probably came from the fact that we were surrounded by TWRA game wardens who only allowed nine shells per hunter in those half-day goose hunts. 

When you checked out around noon one often had to pass an intense interrogation by very stern looking law enforcers awhile holding a dead crane, asking stupid questions like, “What the heck kind of goose is this and what exactly are you feeding these strange looking geese that stretches their legs?” These tentative questions, more than likely, would have ended the morning on a bad note.

So I trust the cranes. 

It’s time to start tying nymphs for trout, rummaging through and resorting tackle boxes, putting fresh line on the reels. Locating that spool of six pound test that you lost track of when you started reaching for the bow and the shot guns always takes time and February is as good a time as any. Now is the time to clean up the greenhouse for planting tomato seeds. It’s high time to make that turkey call that is guaranteed foolproof. (Note: This likely fruitless endeavor will be my model #34!)

I dislike February about as much as I dislike August. Sure there are still a few days to chase rabbits, quail and grouse if you have decent dog; but let’s face it, this time of year these elusive creatures are about as scarce a your first COVID vaccine shot. There really isn’t much to do in February other than drink copious amounts of aiming fluid by the fireplace and prepare for better weather.

The hay is slowly dwindling. The firewood pile is pretty much depleted. There are probably another two or three hours worth of time with a chainsaw. Dry wood is necessary to limp into those cool April nights in order to ameliorate TVA’s bill by sitting next to a good fire at night.

The cranes moving north is a sign of hope. 

I once worked for a plan demanding sociopath that would yell, “Hope is not a plan!” (before I would slink out of his office, leaving him trembling in his big leather chair). After I slammed the door I found myself muttering under my breath something like, “Yeah, but @#$$%$# my plan is full of hope!”

The cranes were a sign. A sign of hope, an early spring, and a better future we could all stand about now.

* * *

Contact the White Oak Mountain Ranger at news@chattanoogan.com



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