Some diversions for you winter enjoyment

When I made the decision to become an outdoor writer more than 25 years ago, I promised myself never to use some of the tacky metaphors, buzzwords and other contrived sayings so many hunting and fishing writers seemed to be in love with.

At the top of my self-imposed list of banned words and phrases was “cabin fever,” a term manufactured in the early 1900s to describe the depression or anxiety felt by someone confined indoors by the rigors of winter for extended periods. The first time I heard it, my mind conjured the image of a grizzled mountain man huddled by the fireplace in his cabin, gnawing on a piece of venison jerky and gripped by some sort of neurosis brought on by the monotony of nothing more to do than watch the unrelenting snow pile ever higher outside his window.

I’m not sure if so-called cabin fever is a real psychological malady or not, but I’m sure one of the dippy pop-psychologists on daytime TV could come up with enough blather to do a show on it.

I know I’m not alone, however, in being overtired of watching the snow and ice pile up outside my own window. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive a couple of emails or phone calls from friends who are as anxious as I am to hear the first turkeys gobble or catch a fish or two in the coming weeks. I’m often asked if I’ve been doing any ice fishing, which I have not for a few years.

My last ice-fishing outing was actually on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, and folks in that part of the world take their ice fishing seriously. We headed out on the lake in a small convoy of trucks, snowmobiles and ATVs for several miles to a small encampment of a dozen or so portable ice shelters, tents, and wooden shanties.

A couple hours before dark, we broke camp and, in what looked like a military-style deployment of people, vehicles and gear, headed several more miles across the lake to a “walleye spot,” where we stayed for several hours after dark.

When I was in my twenties, two older friends who were avid ice anglers invited me to fish with them a couple of times each winter. Each had special modified sleds they had made to transport all their gear and other necessities over the ice. They took a great deal of pride in having everything they could possibly need during a day on the ice all organized and ingeniously stowed away on those compact ice carts. They also had plenty of extra gear, so all I had to do back then was to show up dressed warmly enough to spend the day.

Since I didn’t need to bring any fishing gear, I always took care of the food for the day, bringing a thermos or two of hot soup or, on days when the wind wasn’t bad, a portable stove or hibachi to cook some hot dogs or burgers.

That welcome contribution to those winter outings always got me invited back, and a simple lunch of soup and a hot sandwich never tasted any better than it did out on the ice. Both of my original ice-fishing mentors are gone now, but those days spent on some frozen lake with them are among my fondest outdoor memories.

Looking back over my February notes from the previous few years, a trip to the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County to see and photograph the staggering numbers of snow geese that converge there has become a frequent event to help pass the winter for me. As of Feb. 10, Middle Creek has hosted only meager numbers of waterfowl so far this winter, which included about 5,000 snow geese, 1,000 tundra swans, several thousand Canada geese and just few ducks.

Middle Creek manager Jim Binder said, “This is the first report of the season because there hasn’t been much to report so far. We’re having a real winter for a change and the ice and snow are keeping the birds elsewhere. Numbers of Canada and snow geese have fluctuated along with the amount of ice cover, but these tundra swans have surprisingly been here all winter. Given the conditions I’m surprised that there’s this many birds here, but don’t expect more until we get a substantial thaw.”

So unless we get that substantial thaw quite soon, the window for the annual snow geese invasion of Middle Creek is likely to be a short one. If conditions change for the better, I’ll try to provide an update then.

One upcoming indoor event I’m looking forward to is the 9th Annual Wild Game Feast on Saturday, March 15 being hosted by the Altoona Alliance Church, located at 3220 Pleasant Valley Blvd (next to Planet Fitness). The buffet style meal will include various kinds of wild game, sides, desserts and drinks. I attended last year’s event and can say the variety and quality of all the food was simply wonderful.

The featured speaker will be white-tailed deer expert Charles Alsheimer, who will show his multimedia presentation, “Whitetails: A photographic journey through the seasons.” Alsheimer is one of the best outdoor photographers I’ve ever seen, and his deer photos are nothing short of amazing. If you like deer, you will be blown away by his show.

Doors open at 4 p.m. and dinner will be served at 5 p.m., so get there early to browse some of the informational booths and outdoor resource tables, including Alsheimer books, posters and calendars; Pennsylvania Game Commission; Christian Bowhunters of America; Taxidermists; Wildlife Leadership Academy; and others. Door prizes will include a crossbow, rifle, fly rod and more. Space is limited, however, and tickets can be obtained at the church for a suggested donation of $7 per ticket. Tickets are limited to ages 10 and older. For more information, call Pastor Tim McGarvey at the church office at 944-0171.