By the time December rolled around, I was beginning to believe that getting out again in 2007 just wasn’t going to happen. Finances had taken a nose dive once again. Round trip from my house to Marseilles State Fish and Wildlife Area used up the same amount of gas as one round trip to work. That’s how tight things got. I couldn’t justify using up that one trip of gas for the opportunity to hunt down a few squirrels. What if going hunting meant I couldn’t make it to work one day?
Mid December came and so did an unexpected chunk of change. Just enough to pay a couple of neglected bills, buy some little Christmas gifts for the kids and to give me an extra tank of gas. It’s much easier to wander around the woods in search of squirrel when you aren’t guilt tripping about the possibility of money wasted in the endeavor.
Got out to Marseilles before dawn. The weather conditions for this trip were perfect. There was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, the temperatures were in the low 30’s and a nice fog kept visibility down to a couple of hundred yards. The fog almost proved to be a horrible hazard. On the road in the dark on the way there, front end of car almost met ass end of deer. Why a deer would be standing ass facing the traffic on the edge of the road grazing is anyones guess. A lucky swerve to the left kept us both from becoming another deer/car accident statistic. I can’t believe that the only thing this deer could find to eat was growing out of the edge of the asphalt of the road.
But I could be wrong. Maybe it needed a little road salt for flavoring.
Based on my trip out here at the beginning of November, I knew not to waste my time going to the spot where I knew I would do well. It was still closed to hunting. I’ve heard that somewhere back there a mock Iraqi town has been built. The military uses it for training. I find it odd that they would close this area during the fall and winter hunting season. How much of Iraq resembles northeastern Illinois from October to March? From the film footage I’ve seen of Iraq, and the guys I know that spent time there, I don’t see or hear about too many deciduous forests, or snow. A big flat farm in central Illinois that was covered in sand would be a better training ground. I guess that describes Texas doesn’t it? So why not Texas?
This forced me to rethink where I’ve been on this large piece of land. Marseilles is almost 4 square miles and over 4 years, I barely covered a square mile of it. Almost down the middle of it runs a creek that flows and meanders north to the Illinois River. Except for the area that is now off limits, I’ve concentrated most of my hunting on the west side of this creek. By maps, I’ve estimated I’ve walked almost three quarters of a mile north of the gravel road that runs east/west from the check in parking lot. But these were more like probes inland. Walk north until meeting an impassable situation, or in my case a situation where you stand looking down into a steep ravine and say to yourself “there is no way in hell I’m going down there.” Then turn around and go back.
This day I decided to go directly to the east side of the creek. Up a hill and out into a large open field. Across the field to the edge of the heavily wooded ravine that slopes down somewhere along the east side of the creek. I had crossed this creek in the past and I kept an eye on it looking for one of its many shallow spots. There weren’t any. I was looking down into water that was easily 3 feet deep. Not good when all you have on are waterproof, calf high boots. This deep water couldn’t last that long, I thought. I was far enough along that I now had no choice but to commit to finding a crossing. I dropped down into the ravine, sitting and standing every now and then in anticipation of the bounty of squirrel that I imagined to be there.
The description is correct except for the bounty of squirrels. And the slope of the ravine. At the far edge of the ravine, the slope and the snow had me sliding down much faster than I thought would happen. Luckily there were plenty of saplings to grab onto. I’d say it all went smoothly, but then how would I account for the loud thud that was let out when I hit the bottom. It took a bit to regain my composure.
It seems that just about all state parks and forest preserves are no more than former farm land. I’ve proven this to myself while lost in the woods on numerous occasions. Buried deep within what seems like impenetrably dense woods will be remnants of buildings. Sometimes no more than the overgrown outline of a foundation. Rotting out cars are sitting miles from roads with mature trees growing through their floor boards. Remnants of fence posts line up through the woods and if you look, lines of barbed wire along the ground follow the paths of the posts.
After abruptly coming to the bottom of the ravine I looked around and at the bottom of a steep slope was a bathtub. It was half buried into the slope and green with algae. I could see that it was one of those old cast iron enamel coated tubs. I looked up the slope, knowing that’s where it came from. Mature trees grew all along the slope. I also knew that at the top of this slope was nothing but woods. I was just up there and there was no sign of a road or anything resembling civilization. Amazing how nature quickly reclaims all that is man made leaving almost nothing to be found.
The sound of running water woke me from my day dream. There was a way across the creek. I was still along side the pool of the creek and followed the sound down stream. I could see in the distance the flowing water over rock. The creek again was just inches deep. As I followed the creek I came across the cause of the pool. Beavers had constructed a densely packed, 3 foot tall dam spanning from one shore to the other. With just sticks and mud it was holding back a good quarter mile of 3 foot deep water. Imagine the pressure of that much water.
How do they do that.
On the other side of the creek I stopped and leaned against a tree to smoke a leisurely cigar. Below me was a tangle of woods with a series of narrow ravines. A big doe tip toed down the far slope of the ravine in front of me, got to the bottom and had to stop to figure out how to get up this side of the ravine. Again, if I had a bow, a perfect shot was presented to me. No more than 80 feet away and standing perfectly still side ways to me. Next year for sure I’m getting my deer permits. I wonder if they allow you to go both deer and squirrel hunting. I could sling a bow over my shoulder and carry my 20 gauge pump for squirrels. The deer gave up trying to figure out how to get up the steep slope, turned around and went back the way it came. It never did see me.
Up one slope and across a point and I was back in an area I hunted 3 years earlier. On cue, off in the distance, 3 squirrels took off heading away from me. They jumped up into a big poplar and came back down on the other side of the creek. They were heading off to a nest I could see high in a tall maple. With the leaves now all gone and a layer of snow on the ground, their rust colored fur was easy to spot as they moved. But when they stopped, usually on the side of a tree facing away from me, they may as well have vanished into thin air.
I headed in the direction of the nest . . .