Although we're far outside the normal time when deer hunters are obsessed with the state's favorite big game animal, these are far from normal times. The reason some are preoccupied with whitetails right now is the recent revelation that more deer—more widely dispersed deer—have been found infected with deadly chronic wasting disease, which we know by the now all-too-familiar acronym CWD.
It's not exactly flattering to be called "common." In the millennia-long history of England and its empire, if you were not royalty, you were considered "a commoner," and occupied a lower rung on the social ladder. In its government, if you were not royalty you had to be elected by your peers to be a member of—you guessed it—the House of Commons.
As much as we may complain about the extremes of Minnesota winter weather, the impact of cold and deepening snow is more an inconvenience than a threat. County and MNDOT plows dependably open our roads after a snowfall, so we're able to get where we need to go. A Minnesota garage is as likely to house a snow blower as it is a lawn mower, so we can clear our sidewalks and driveways with relative ease. Down-filled clothing and other Antarctic-worthy gear can be found in nearly every Minnesotan's closet. Blizzards may come and go, but we're rarely unprepared or homebound for long.
If you asked a stranger on the street what a "winter severity index" might measure, the answers could be pretty creative. Perhaps it would measure the number of Minnesota schools that close for a snow or extreme cold event. Or the number of roadside assistance calls for tows and jump-starts during the recent "polar vortex" that descended on our state from the Arctic.
My first sighting of a live Minnesota elk was at least a quarter-century ago. This timeline is linked to the days when my hunting partner and I would bunk at his grandparents' home in Mahnomen, Minnesota, from where our adventures would take us to far-flung places; most often in pursuit of waterfowl. On this particular day we were driving a county road in the approaching dusk, when in the distance we saw a very large animal emerge from a ditch and cross perpendicular to the gravel road.
It seems a great irony that the first day of winter—December 21—marks the point when the amount of sunlight each day will actually begin to increase with the passing of every day. Ironic, because the things that make winter most troublesome to some people lie just ahead. Things like the coldest days of the year, which—if history is any predictor—are likely to arrive during the last week of January.
One of the constants of my workday is receiving a flood of incoming emails, as well as those "instant messages"—innocently referred to as "IM's"—that magically appear in a corner of your computer screen and instantly distract you. Not much more than a week ago I got one such "IM" from a co-worker who lives on a popular fishing lake near my home, and commutes to the same office I do. From time to time we share experiences we've had with roadside wildlife, contending with traffic and "talk shop" as two people who serve the same employer.
During the week or so leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, state news carried the story of more disease-infected captive deer on a farm in Crow Wing County, near Brainerd. The animals had tested positive for fatal-to-deer chronic wasting disease, also known as CWD. These deer, now destroyed, were among about 100 estimated to be on this farm. Most are the whitetail variety. Some are mule deer, which are native to the West and Plains states, and are exotic here.
The annual victory of freeze-up over open water is as old as time in the Northern Hemisphere. Or at least, since the Earth ceased to be tropical, and populated by dinosaurs. For a lifelong Minnesotan, there should be nothing unexpected about marshes, potholes and lakes transforming from rippling or wave-tossed, to motionless and flat as a billiard table. The outcome is inevitable every November or December.
The sight could easily have been missed. We were leaving our duck hunting destination, heading homeward on a county road that leads away from a large national wildlife refuge. My hunting partner and I had spent several days watching our decoys bob and weave on its waters, hoping to attract passing ringnecks, redheads or bluebills. We'd had limited success; we were apparently early, and many of these birds were reported to be still holding at points farther north in their migration.