December came in a bit warmer than usual; in truth it feels more of the normal November weather, and throughout the month we have had weather in the 30âs and even into the 40âs; however, we here in the frigid north do not too much mind losing a month of cold weather, as we have ample despite the reduction. Though this winter has not yet been cold by Northern Minnesota standards, it will nonetheless be long, with the pasture grasses having died back in early September and to remain dormant until the middle of May. The crofterâs greatest fear in the northland is not necessarily the cold, but rather the lack of snow in early winter, a situation wherein we now find ourselves. No snow, or little accumulation of snow, means the frost may have the freedom to reach depths of 4 to 9 feet into the earth, bursting waterlines, destroying or at least rendering useless homestead sewer systems, and perhaps more importantly for us, deep frost will and sometimes does shift a cottage foundation; but we do put bales of hay around our own foundation to try to keep our wee hovel warmer and its footing in place; we carry water to the house from our well, by hand, and use a heavily ventilated privy year âround, so worries of frozen or burst water lines are foreign to us in winter as the need for reading material in our outhouse at 50 below zero. Tulip was AI bred near the end of November, but came back into heat by middle December which resulted in another visit from the AI gentleman; there was no charge for the return visit, but I had rather she had settled the first time. As aforementioned, we have, and now had, hopes for the milch cows to deliver their calves the first of September, when Herself begins her new school year, then to milk the cows until the first of the following June before drying them off and having our summers away from the lovable brown-eyed ball and chain represented in the family cow. My little backyard trap line; âIn the everlasting snow-drifts, In the kingdom of Wabasso, In the land of the White Rabbitâ, continues to produce a furbearer now and then, and has produced a great number of snowshoe hares; the meat from the latter has lightened the cost of feeding Herself and I, and has done no little to feed the families of our children. It is our hopes to expand our snare line for hares over the Christmas break from school, and if the weather holds in the warmish range we are now enjoying; hopefully, some of the older Grand-Darlings will be able to accompany me on my daily hike in the bush. When the trap line was a bit shorter, I would ârunâ the entire line before I milked in the morning, but now the circuit has expanded a full two-mile hike through overgrown fields, willow labyrinths, and over-mature stands of Tamarack, Popple, and White and Black Spruce; I must now of necessity take my stroll along this line of snares after I milk. If the snow were a wee bit deeper I should want to use my cross country skis, were it deeper still, the snowshoes would be in order, but for now the sine qua non of my daily stroll are my admirably serving, though decade old, âfelt packsâ. It is my habit to take my âshell bagâ across my shoulder; it being previously loaded with various sized snares, wire, pliers, and other incidentals useful for the setting of modern restraining snares, catch up 10 cartridges for my little .25-20 rifle, though Iâve never, on a hunt needed or used more than 1 or 2, I shoulder my rifle, and set off. If I were to spend longer afield, I should want my woodmanâs pack in preference to the shell bag, and perchance with the shell bag besituated therein, as there is far more room within the pack for extra trapping âpossibles anâ fooferahâ, flagging ribbon, and an extra compass; my primary compass is ever attached to the zipper of my overcoat, a heavy two-bladed jack knife, and there is room aplenty for an âoutersâ niceties: a thermos of coffee, matches or butane lighters, a few packets of honey for energy, should I be in want of the same, a quantity of dry tea, a small camera, and of course a pencil and pad for taking an amateur naturalistsâ notes, or jotting down some passing philosophical musing. To the right side and on the outside of the woodmanâs pack is strapped a light, well covered, Marbles double-bit hatchet of the Nessmukian pattern, and a sheathed hunting type knife with changeable blades, including a saw are ever on the packsâ opposite side. Were I traveling further from home and hearth, or in very cold and foul weather, I will toss a Whitneyâs or Hudson Bay wool blanket, of the 6-point size, into the bottom of the pack; and yes, I have spent the night out at 35 below zero. The line, though seemingly short, takes an hour and half to two hours to walk, depending on what I have caught, or how many sets I need to make or remake, or as happens far too frequently, I am distracted by way of giving chase after ruffed grouse or hare. Ivan Turgenev, in his; A Hunter's Sketches, wrote of hunting similar wild game and wild lands in Russia, âthe moors extend over tens, the forest over hundreds of miles, and that splendid bird, the grouse, is still extant there; there is an abundance of the friendly great snipe, and the loud-clapping partridge cheers and startles the sportsman;â one might say the same of Northern Minnesotaâs moorlands, forests, and grouse. It gives me the greatest pleasure to read the âsignâ in the snow, left by passing creatures about their own business, though I do generally see rather less sign from the animals Iâm pursuing than I would prefer, until their legal season of chase has ended when miraculously they are once again found to be plentiful. It is good to be out and getting the fresh air, leaning against the north winds, and walking among the forest giants, while the exercise of the affair, done daily, must be therapeutically valuable; certainly a few mile jaunt taken on a daily basis is more beneficial to oneâs health than riding a reclining chair near a warm heater in oneâs living room. I cannot mentally conjure a vision even partially comparable to the incredible splendor of a freshly snowed wood, lest it be in the face of Herself, and the faces our Grand-Bairns, nor is there a power so obliging the winter wanderer to see what may be found further into this dazzlingly white, ice bejeweled, hinterland. On occasion I will wander into the empty trackless miles of wilderness south of our homestead, in the pretense of following up a grouse or perhaps responding to the Sirenâs Song of the Great Out There, as all wilderness wanderers of adventurous spirit are want to do, but I am cautious to not mention these impromptu outings to Herself as she fears for my well being, more so and especially now, after my having a âcardiac eventâ earlier this month. There is a far different transcendental impression to be felt when afoot in the heavily snowed bush when compared to, say; long canoe trips I have taken in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. When one is riding âshankâs mareâ in a dense wood, it is not unusual to have oneâs visible travel route limited to a 15 to 20 yard distance, frequently less, while in canoe travel a distant shoreline may be seen miles away; certainly a mature snow-whitened wood, with a closed canopy is not a happy place for the faint of heart, or the claustrophobic; one finds oneself in alone in a very closed and isolated universe where there are no road signs pointing the way to home and hearth. Looking back on this past year and all Wolf Cairn Moor has given, is humbling indeed. There was a new calf born to Tulip in April, and, in the natural course of things, rich milk aplenty from Tulip; there might have been two calves but Lucy failed to settle. The General and the 3 Ladies, our Embden geese, gave us countless eggs for the table and raised 14 goslings to freezer age; as a bonus, the feathers and down from these harvested geese will stuff several pillows. Our rabbitry supplied an enormous amount of fat free protein for our and our extended families diet. The croft chickens provided meat and eggs in an amount that defies reckoning. This yearâs experiment with ducks has left something to be desired, but the owls have enjoyed, and are yet enjoying them, immensely. The six diminutive piglets, purchased in May, have been feeding the families since the end of October, and there are yet 2 very large hogs in the lot to be butchered in late February; these two oversized representatives of the kingdom of pork will be ground into sausage when they are processed at nearer to 500 pounds. Christmas and Thanksgiving did themselves proud for the two holiday meals at which they were guests of honor, and Thanksgiving even gave us quite a few of her large speckled eggs before her turn at the board on Christmas day. And lest I forget my sweet tooth, the three top-bar hives of bees, despite the severe drought conditions, produced enough honey to enable us to give plenty to family and friends until the next honey flow in June; depending on the temperance of one old curmudgeonâs aforementioned sweet tooth.