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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ghosts of the past...Turtle Creek

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At the end of my street the railroad track leaves town, roughly following Turtle Creek towards the Little Miami and providing an easy getaway out of town. Tired of days of cold rain I bundled up in my heavy hunting coat and took off. Within sight of my house Turtle Creek forks. Here at the forks is the best documented incident of the killing of Indians within the limits of Warren County. In July, 1792 two men in route to Cincinnati were captured by Indians. A search party was formed and the Indians were tracked here to the forks of Turtle Creek where the trail was lost. Among the would be rescuers was Henry Boltzelle, who discovered smoke in the woods close to the fork. Sneaking closer he found an Indian leaning against a tree eating meat off a large bone he had cooked on the fire. Henry shot him dead and reloaded in time to kill another Indian who burst from the trees. The Indians were buried in the sand along the creek. In the Indians gear was supposedly found four scalps. Just another reason I guess that Lebanon has a reputation of being one of the most haunted small towns in America. Close by here Gen. Josiah Harmar's army camped on a hillside just outside of Lebanon overlooking Turtle Creek's valley. Ironically Turtle Creek itself is named after the great war chief of the Miami's Little Turtle who kicked Harmar's armies butt and sent them packing. Little Turtle, along with the other great war chief of the time Blue Jacket of the Shawnees, defeated not only Harmar's army but also General Arthur St. Clair's army in the worst defeat ever suffered at the hands of Indians. Over six hundred soldiers were killed while Indian losses were only 40. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull's victory at the Little Bighorn years later on had only the advantage of much better news coverage in becoming famous. It was four years before Little Turtle and Blue Jacket were defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
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A quarter mile further on down the tracks a small creek runs under the tracks before joining Turtle Creek. I haven't yet been able to find a name for this tiny creek on any map. The railroad crosses the creek on a small bridge maybe twenty five feet long and about head high. Here I found the evidence of a deer doing something I would have never thought one would do. A set of muddy hoofprints showed that a deer had crossed the creek on the railroad ties of the bridge! So much for the water gates used for cattle working on whitetails.
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I followed the left bank of this tiny stream down to Turtle Creek. Here in the streambed I found old bricks rounded off by time.
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Possibly relics of the July 10, 1882 flood. Two heavy downpours cause a reservoir dam at the site of present day Harmon Park to break, flooding the town and washing away several houses. No lives are lost, but bridges on Broadway, Main Street and Mulberry are washed away.
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Among the stones on a gravel bar in the creek, I spotted something very odd.
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A closer look made me think of a bone before I finally decided it must be some kind of tooth. While the outside looked like a bone it was not hollow or filled with spongy marrow. Instead wavy ridges seemed to fill the interior. I decided it must be some kind of tooth. There was just one problem with this theory. The "tooth", if indeed that's what it was, measured three inches long, way too big for any animal roaming Ohio now.
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Excited I returned home to do a little poking around on the internet. This seemed to confirm my idea that it was indeed a big tooth but gave me no clue as to what species. The next morning, with daydreams of everything from elk to the megafuna at the end of the last ice age dancing around inside my head, I headed out to Cincinnati's magnificent Museum Center at Union Terminal. If your in town for only one day and can see only one thing in Cincinnati come to Union Terminal, it's easily the best thing in town. At the Natural History Museum they went and rooted around in a box of jawbones and came back with an ID. A Bison, probably a bull considering the large size. Pretty cool considering that Bison have been extinct in Ohio for two hundred plus years. Although never coming close to the numbers out west, small numbers lived in the Little Miami Valley from the time of the last ice age up until the coming of the first white settlers in the late 1700's.
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The Museum Center at Union Terminal:
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A collection of mussels from the Little Miami at the Natural History Museum.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Foggy morning

Along Turtle Creek and the Little Miami...
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deer fog
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter skinny dipping...

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Every winter when I'm freezing on a tree stand trying to tough it out or maybe busting the ice out of my guides while sauger fishing I'm reminded of the winter Tecumseh spent jumping in the Little Miami. Even when he was a young boy the Shawnee sensed greatness in Tecumseh. Possibly because of this in the winter of 1776 Tecumseh's father the great warrior Black Fish summoned him and told him it was time to seek his Pa-wah-ka. A Pa-wah-ka was a magical object thru which one could talk to and recieve power from the Great Spirit. Black Fish told Tecumseh he must strip every day and run naked to the nearby Little Miami and plunge into the river before returning home. Well this went on day after day. Through snow or cold sleet and rain he ran to plunge into the Little Miami. As winter wore on he would have to break through the ice formed on the river's edge. All this barefoot and naked mind you. What a test of sheer willpower this must have been for Tecumseh. Finally in mid-January Black Fish told Tecumseh that the next run would be his last, that Tecumseh was to wade to the middle of the river and dive to the bottom and close his hands on whatever he touched and bring that back to Black Fish without looking at it. Tecumseh ran naked to the river, plunged in and returned with a small white quartzite rock. Black Fish declared this his Pa-wah-ka and Tecumseh forever afterward wore it on a cord around his neck. I imagine it must have been priceless to him considering what he endured to earn it.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The lucky unlucky week...

I drove straight up to the cabin after work. Calling it a cabin may be a bit of a stretch really. It's more like one of those shelters you find along the AT. A place to get in out of the weather and build a fire. No running water, no electricity, maybe one of those big sheds you see for sale in the Home Depot parking lot placed out in the woods would be a better description. Working nights put me there sometime before dawn. Some trips I had the energy to hunt that first morning. This was not one of those mornings. I unloaded only my duffel with my sleeping gear and a big cardboard box of scrap wood I'd sawn up from old pallets into firewood. Building a roaring fire in the old barrel stove I unrolled an old sleeping bag unto the floor nearby. On top of this I unrolled a another bag and then snuggled down inside my warm bag that had been with me to the mountains of Colorado and on countless backpacking and fishing trips up and down the Appalachians. I dont know if it's really that great a bag or if it sleeps warmer just knowing I had been thru worse weather somewhere in it before. That was it till noon when I began unloading the rest of my gear for the week and began thinking about the evenings hunt. I noticed when unloaded my tree stands that the tip of my index finger was tender but I didn't think anything of it at the time. That evening my stand was in a sugar maple about three quarters of the way to the top of the ridge in a bowl. Below my stand a steep little hollow made crossing rough on the deer till they were even with my tree while behind me a side ridge had sort of a low saddle. These two things had most deer drifting thru the woods past my tree, or at least that was the plan. I didn't see anything. Well no deer that is, indian summer was in full swing and the woods was alive with squirrels and chipmunks. Normally in mid November you saw them for just a few minutes each day but now they were out in full force. I counted five grey squirrels at one time out in front of the tree with more rustling thru the dry leaves behind me. The deer in their heavy winter coats were nowhere to be seen with temperatures approaching seventy. But it was supposed to drop near freezing at night so mornings should be good. A forcast of near freezing meant that it would be a hard freeze at the cabin. Surrounded on both sides by high ridges, the narrow valley was a natural sink that the cold settled in. It was always quite a bit cooler there at night than the forcast for the area as a whole said it would be. In early fall after the first frost you can climb the ridge behind the cabin and find a line where everything below was killed, the weeds all hanging lifeless, while looking up the hill everything is still alive. That night was perfect camping weather. Right at dark the temperature started dropping and the weather was just right for setting around the fire and stargazing. Grabbing the binoculars I looked at the waxing half moon just before it began to dip below the horizon. Amazing. With even low power binoculars the moon is a breathtaking sight with all the mountains and craters are clearly visable. After the moon slipped from sight I turned my attention to Orion. Just last week at work we were looking at Orion during a break at work. It was allmost unrecognizable there in the city, at least compared to out here. Out here Betelguese the bright star on Orion's shoulder was obviously reddish even without the binoculars. Rigel, Orion's left foot is the sixth brightest star in the night sky. Looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion's belt is the easiest way to locate this constellation but out here even the stars that make up the sword hanging from his belt are clear without binoculars. But out here on a good night like this you can even see the fuzzy cloud of the Orion Nebula in his sword. To me, with my bad eyesight, I need binoculars to tell that the middle "star" in the sword is, in fact, a fuzzy blob but supposedly those with perfect eyesight can tell even without help. The nebula is a huge cloud of gasses and space dust in which new stars are forming some 24 light years across. The three stars of Orion's belt point roughly to Sirius the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is twice as bright as any other star in the sky and is easily mistaken for a planet. I sat up till Sirius had moved from the horizon to overhead just enjoying the night and stargazing. A barred owl called several times from the woods above the cabin, one of the coolest sounds I know. I often hear Great Horned Owls here too. The Barred Owl calls "who cooks for you" while the Great Horned Owl sounds more like " hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo". The next morning was clear and cold with a heavy frost in the little bottom alongside the cabin, perfect hunting conditions. Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, piliated woodpecker, squirrel, then a flash of movement down the hill too large for another squirrel. Out into a beam of sunlight stepped a beautiful six point buck. Not the biggest buck in the woods but still a magnificent animal. In Norman Maclean's brilliant book, A River Runs Through It, one of the two sons describes his father as the only man that used the word beautiful in everyday conversation. Of course it helped that they lived and flyfished in Montana. Out here, in the deer woods, I also find the word coming to mind almost constantly. The buck would take a few steps then stand with his head back testing the wind looking like nothing so much as a marble statue of a deer. He was indeed beautiful. Normally in November the bucks you see are steady walking looking for a doe or already chasing one. Not this guy, he was in no hurry and it was awesome to watch him feed slowly and alertly up the hill towards the tree. About twenty yards from the tree I thought he looked right at me but I guess I was high enough and blended well enough into the tree trunk that he went back to feeding. Picking a spot low in his chest I loosed an arrow which flew perfectly and he went down still within sight of the tree. Next was the mixed feelings of elation but also solemnity that always comes with harvesting a deer. Jose Ortega y Gasset once said "We do not hunt to kill - we kill in order to have hunted." Which I think sums it up just about perfectly for me. When I no longer feel solemn about the killing and do not feel the seriousness of killing an animal I will no longer hunt. But recognising the seriousness of the act does not mean feeling guilt. I feel no guilt just respect for a beautiful animal. It is possible to kill something and love it at the same time. On my little sixteen acres of woods and thicket live a nice little deer herd, racoons, opossum, squirrels, flying squirrels, fox, coyote, skunks, chipmunks, and countless little mammals such as whitefooted mice, voles, etc. Plus somewhere around seventy species of birds including grouse and wild turkey. Add in reptiles like the five lined skink, fence lizard, box turtle, and at least a half dozen snake species. Plus our woodlands are some of the worlds most diverse with as many tree species in our woods as in all of Europe. The woods also supports populations of amazing woodland plants such as trillium, bloodroot, ginseng, jack in the pulpit, etc. All existing because this is a "deer woods". What would happen if I decided to become a self sufficient vegitarian and converted it all to growing something like corn? All that habitat, all that rich diversity of life would be gone. I think it's a more logical arguement that becoming a vegitarian is the worst thing you can do if you love wildlife. In The Everlasting Stream, writer Walt Harrington tells of a city lady scolding him saying something along the lines of "how can you take pleasure in killing a cute innocent little bunny rabbit?". His answer was "How dare you eat that bunny rabbit without killing it". I'm not advocating that every one do as I do but dont think for a second that habitat used to raise the 150.4 million cattle, sheep, hogs, and goats and 8.9 billion chickens, turkeys, and ducks slaughtered in the US every year doesn't come at a steep price in less birds, less reptiles, less mammals, and yes, in less deer in the long run. After dragging my deer out of the woods and taking him to the processors to be turned into steaks and burgers for the coming year I noticed my finger was now quite swollen and becoming hard to bend. That night in camp it began to swell quite badly and throb. I slept very little that night. The next day not wanting to leave camp but still knowing something had to give I drew a sharp broad on an arrow across the most swollen area slicing it open. Out oozed a sickening stream of puss looking like toothpaste being squeezed from the tube. Almost immediately the finger began to feel much better and was nearly well in two days time. That morning the highlights of the hunt were a grouse ghosting thru the woods at dawn and a spike buck that walked right under the tree. I felt very good about my stand after not being spotted by the grouse as these wary birds spot me in trees much much more frequently than deer. I was spotted a short time later by a grey squirrel. He ran up a tree and out on a limb to eat an acorn about ten feet from me and and at the same height. He sat there for a bit, his gnawing loud in the still morning woods, till suddenly a look of seeming shock came upon him as he realised there was a monster ten feet away. But he didn't run, he did much worse, he sat there and whined, a loud scared whine that sent surrounding squirrels running for safety. He then began jerking his tail violently in alarm and whining even more. Twice started down the tree to leave only to climb back up to his perch to whine some more. Finally a switch was thrown in his little squirrel brain and he decended to rustle around in the leaves right under me for twenty minutes looking for acorns!
The evenings hunt produced another army of squirrels and a huge buck bounding up the trail. I grunted to stop him, then again, and again too loudly, all to no avail. I soon saw why as a dog came trotting after him only to give up the chase right under the tree. I was sorely tempted to rid the woods of one less deer chasing dog but did not. It was one of those evenings in the country where sound seemingly carries forever. About a half an hour before dark on the ridgetop across the valley from me probably a quarter mile away I heard the loud thunk of a crossbow firing and the sound of deer running. Later back in camp I found that the hunter had tracked his deer down the hillside across the gravel lane my cabin and was wandering around on the steep hillside lost. I yelled up "hey buddy, are you lost?". No more noise. Then twenty minutes later more brush popping and then the sound of a 22 pistol being shot in the air. Again, "hey buddy are you lost?". This time he answered, "yeah, kinda, in a way". A few more yelled instructions and he was out. I didn't say anything about him being lost two hundred yards from his truck but his buddy that came on a four wheeler to pick up his deer sure did. He had shot his first deer, a button buck that couldn't have weighed eighty pounds. His buddy said he had called him on his cell phone while lost and scared away two bucks, a spike and a fork horn. From his description they were both deer I had passed on in the last week or so. Exhausted from not sleeping the night before I turned in early looking forward to a long nights rest. I awoke an hour or two later sick as a dog. I barely made it out the cabin door and off the deck before losing supper. Another night without sleep. As glorious as the hunting and camping had been my health the past few days had been proportionally horrible. During the long night I packed up all my gear for an early trip home. But my treestand was still around a maple tree high on the ridge behind camp so I decided to hunt that morning before leaving. Sitting there in the tree I looked up and there was a deer. Seemingly appearing out of thin air, a doe stood twenty yards away. She was under a few white oaks nosing thru the fallen leaves. I heard a rustle and another doe appeared about thirty yards away. It must have taken them twenty minutes to cover the few short yards to the tree. Finally at less than ten yards the biggest doe turned sideways and I sent another arrow on it's course filling my tags, my freezer, and ending a painful but successful hunt.
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Some trail camera pics
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headed for the freezer.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010