White Oak Mountain Ranger: January Nights

Thursday, January 13, 2022

When the book is finally closed, or the entertainment machine is mercifully shut down, and it’s time to call it a day and crawl under the quilts, the bird dog and I slip outside to add a little more water to the lawn, one last time.


The old dog does a thorough but quick perimeter check for coons and skunks on frigid January nights.

When the cold winter sky is so clean, you can see deep into the heavens, far beyond Venus. On these nights, it’s pretty easy to believe you can see universes and galaxies that even the Hubble can’t see.


The old dog and I always check out the lower pasture. That’s where both the dog and I expect to see the Unexplained Ariel Phenomenon pilots land their craft and suck the blood out of the bovines. We had a close call in this piece of pasture a couple of years back, so we always remain cautious. We continually check this same lower pasture to make sure that the bears, cougars and Sasquatch aren’t also terrorizing the horses that are hay burners.


With that particularly paranoid late night business out of the way, more attention can be focused on looking into the vastness of the cold clear night sky. A frigid and clear night sky seems to propel one to pay a little more attention to things that travel the heavens when it’s really bitter.


By cold, I mean in the teens. When nights get this bone chilling I begin to wonder how the natives survived nights like this.


The natives I’m thinking of tonight are the tribes that hunted and lived around these parts. Tribes of people who never saw a fat European, or pigs, or horses, or felt the devastating impacts of the European’s insidious and deadly pandemics. Diseases, compliments of the explorer that is rumored to have marched with 700 men and pigs and horse through Ooltewah, named DeSoto.


On nights like this, I Imagine natives covered in hides from bears, elk and buffalo, huddled around a smoky fire. A big fire where they decided it was safe to sleep on cold January nights. Did their fires keep them warm? Were their fires more for protection from man-eaters than for warmth? Was there really any difference on a frigid January night?


I wonder if the fleas, ticks and lice that survived off of the natives made it through these cold of January nights, in some cold lodge, or a damp cave? How many winters like this could an older native expect to survive? I try to work through the mechanics of how they handled issues like kidney problems, or screaming disentary.


Imagine those kinds of problems with four feet of snow outside of the lodge when you’re suddenly driven frantically out from under the buffalo robes. Propelled into frigid darkness filled with predators that lurked on cold January nights looking for a hot meal.


Archeologists and historians are generally silent on how the natives handled these late night journeys associated with the stampeding call of nature. On a cold January night you are suddenly left to your imagination.


I guess the bottom line is that these folks were some pretty tough people, surviving in some pretty tough conditions. With every piece of flint that I find, I’m reminded just how hard it must have been compared to what we face today.


Strange are the things that come to mind on a clear and frigid January night. What is it in the darkness of a January night that grips us and makes us pause to wonder about the people that preceded us?


Maybe it is the absence of aliens, or bears, man eating cats, or even Big Foot. Maybe it’s the chill of a frigid January night when you can see into the next five galaxies and you think you can see the future as it spills out into the new year.


Maybe you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a sleeping bag that protects you from freezing to death on such a night. I never seemed to be able to find or afford such a sack. But we tried to camp on cold, clear January nights. Maybe it was boredom, maybe it was a test of some measure of toughness. But it sure is rugged at best.


There were some pretty big campfires that I thought would get us through the night but, try as we might, those fires seemed to fail sooner than later. I can still vividly see more than a couple of mornings when the coffee pot was frozen solid and how long it took the new fire to thaw it out.


Frozen coffee is about as devastating, but not nearly as long lasting, as a cheap sleeping bag.


There was the time we crawled out of an ice covered tent one morning, after a bitterly cold night on the North River, and found a confused, or lost bear hunter and a skinny hound, curled up by a smoldering fire. His hair was frozen to the ground. After we thawed him out, filled both him and his dog with hot coffee, we noticed that he had carved in the stock of his rusty rifle - BAR 3 and DEAR 4. After a hot meal they stumbled out of sight in the laurels and disappeared like some mythical beast. Maybe they were really aliens. January nights that cold does strange things in the deep woods.


Strange are the things that one conjures up on frigid January nights. Maybe it’s the vapor trails from the engines of the Unexplained Ariel Phenomenon that seem to want to land in the lower pasture. Maybe it’s in the DNA passed down from the those that came to us before the Europeans.


Maybe it’s simply too cold to get the rational mind in gear. But it’s probably a good diversion from thinking about mundane subjects like Omicron, bans on trail cameras in Utah and Arizona, the 2024 elections, China and ammo shortages.


Good camping! It’s probably not too crowded this time of year.


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