…let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world. –Henry David Thoreau
Just after the sun rises, my wife, son, and I don our winter boots, heavy coats, and watch caps, and step out of the warmth of our home and into the frigid morning air. We walk from our property, listening to the frozen earth crunching and crackling beneath our feet, and follow a trail towards the frost-covered forest.
Just before leaving our property, we pass the first trap – a dirt–hole set with fox lure. Nothing. We keep walking.
We step into the forest, usually startling a squirrel or two just beyond the few pine trees that border our property. We descend a hillside into a deep draw where my wife and son turn right and begin their walk up the first hill of the day. I break left and check the second trap. Nothing again. I double back to the trail and step quickly up the hill, reaching my wife and son somewhere near the top. His little legs can only move so quickly. We follow the edge of the field toward a little goldfish pond. It’s surface is partially frozen and I wonder how the frogs, and even the goldfish, are surviving through the winter. On the far side of the pond, I start looking towards a large oak that marks the area where my next trap is set. It’s empty as well. The next trap is only twenty or thirty yards away at the base of an old hickory which is now used as an anchor point for a barbed–wire fence. Empty.
The three of us trek up the hillside following the edge of the field. By now my legs are aching from moving my body over mountainous terrain. At the top of the hill, we pass by a small cabin and past the cabin owner’s trail camera. We wave each time we pass it, and I think about him looking through his photos of all the deer and the occasional bear and seeing my family as we appreciate winter morning walking.
Past the cabin we walk the trail that follows just below the ridgeline. We stop here often to listen to the morning birds squawking and chirping. This morning we spooked several turkeys and watched them disappear into the valley below. This is where the three of us part ways. Misti and Turtle continue along the path as it rounds the draw and then climbs up onto a relatively flat shelf of hardwood forest. Meanwhile, I start down the draw towards the direction of the spooked turkeys. I walk straight down a spur until I reach an oak tree with thick green moss wrapped around the base of its trunk. From here, I can see my next trap still set just exactly as it was the day before. I turn left towards the mostly dry creek bed that follows the draw into the valley below, cross a few flat boulders across the creek, and then climb a steep embankment to my next trap. It’s empty as well.
I climb further up the hill, my legs aching from the incline. I follow along a fallen tree which I use to keep myself upright as my feet slip and slide on the steep hillside. When I reach the next shelf, I veer slightly right until I see another slight draw. I follow it upwards until I turn right up another steep incline. From here, I see another untouched trap. Just above it, my eighth trap shows some signs of activity. It had sprung, but was unsuccessful. I attribute the lack of success to the frozen peat moss that I spread over it several days ago. I reset it, place a piece of wax paper over the pan, cover it with new peat moss, then put new bait in the hole and new fox urine around the set.
Misti and Turtle drop down the hillside from their flat shelf and meet me to walk through a forest of ancient oak trees. We walk quickly into one side of a draw and back up the other side. Here are my coyote traps – one set at a junction of two fallen trees and one just below a limb beside an old logging road. Both empty.
Now that we’ve checked all ten traps of my line, the “work” is over and we casually walk back through the forest. Although the temperature is still well below freezing, the hill–climbing has warmed our bodies, allowing us to relax and enjoy the forest. We listen for birds. We look for squirrels. We study fox tracks along a snow–covered fallen log. We talk about what we’re going to cook for breakfast when we get home and about our plans for the day. And we breathe. We breathe in the serenity of the cold mountain air and breathe out everything else.