John Harrigan: Greens and peepers and bears and moose
Two items last week stirred thoughts of spring, which is just springing here. In Colebrook, we're more than two weeks behind Concord on green grass and the emergence of flowers and leaves; Pittsburg still further. I can go from my farm, where the snow's gone, and hike into my camp to the north and around 300 feet higher, and finish the trip walking on snow.
The New Hampshire Union Leader ran a feature one day last Wednesday on dandelions and the fact that (surprise!) they're good to eat. But the feature discussed fancy dishes that I'd never heard of and, much as I love to cook, wouldn't bother to try.
The story never even mentioned good old-fashioned dandelion greens, a spring treat I've looked forward to ever since I was a kid. My mother sent us out to dig them. If we couldn't find enough on the front lawn, we went over to the golf course (carefully replacing our divots, of course). Into a tub they went to be washed innumerable times until they were free of grit. And then, just as the rest of supper was about ready, into the steamer they went, to be served with vinegar and butter. Nothing like it in the world.
By the time the ground was bared by the spring sun, settlers who cleared the land we now relish as the openings from which to see the scenery were desperate for fresh greens, having subsisted all fall and winter on preserved goods from their gardens. That's why there are several old-time recipes for cooking dandelion greens. But really, I think the simple way is the best of all.
This all reminds me of my Nashua Telegraph days, when I saw a neighbor frantically running around spraying his lawn. "To get rid of the dandelions," he explained, "but it's practically impossible."
I wanted to reply that I think dandelions are beautiful, at least for a very brief while, and anyway are good to eat, but I spared him the sermon.
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Thursday night, as I rolled the barn door shut, I heard peepers from the swamp behind the outdoor furnace and stopped for a minute or two to enjoy the chorus. They are right up there with cowslips on my list of favorite signs of spring.
Peepers are tiny little frogs that cling to alders and reeds and the like in swampy places and sing their little hearts out in search of mates, but I prefer to think that they sing for the sheer joy of it.
They are next to impossible to sneak up on, for the slightest sound will make them shut up instantly. Even the ground trembling from the softest of footfalls, or any rippling of the water, will do the same.
Told this one night at supper, my younger daughter Kathryn, who was then about 10 and has a decidedly obstinate streak, (I can't fathom where she got it) was suddenly absent from the table without having asked to be, a departure from manners.
She was gone for quite a while, even after we'd repaired to the living room to solve the problems of the world in front of the fireplace, and when I went out and called there was no answer.
But this is no grounds, in the countryside, for calling 911. Kids always show up, usually snow-covered and frozen, and in this season, wet and muddy.
Suddenly in she rushed, muddy and wet for sure, with a glass jar, and within it a truly beautiful, tiny, two-tone frog, with tiny little suction cups on its tiny little feet. Katy, showing the peeper around to company, was beaming with pride, and rightly so. That kid had stood practically motionless in the ice-cold water of the little pond across the road, moving ever so slowly, her legs not making ripples, just the way a heron hunts fish, and by glance at the clock on the mantle it had taken her almost two hours to catch her peeper. And so my heart too swelled with pride, as she ran out the door and back to the pond to let it go.
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As a result of the response to last week's column on ever-warming weather, ticks, the lottery permit season and, in general, moose, WGIR's Jack Heath, on the Friday morning show I share with him, wanted to talk about - yup, moose. So did several callers, but we only had time enough for two.
When it comes to wildlife, everybody's an expert, but I've never claimed to be and do not now. I only chime in now and then, which I'm the first to note is nothing but an opinion.
Two things have emerged from my mail and responses from listeners. Everyone seems to concur that there are vastly fewer moose, a drop seeming to have begun roughly three years ago. And we're not talking about roadside moose here. I'm hearing this from loggers, hunters, hikers, antler-hunters and fishermen, many of whom routinely are getting well off the beaten track.
And I've heard from people who feel insulted by what they perceive is Fish and Game's line, which seems to be, as one reader put it, "They're out there, you've got to get off the road and find them."
His response: "Pretty insulting, considering how far we're walking to find good cuts to hunt and get away from everybody else."
Next Friday at 8 a.m. on WGIR: Bears - and I hope to get longtime friend and Fish and Game biologist Eric Orff to join us.
John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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