Springtime and a hunter’s debts

The snow is almost gone from our yard already. Here, facing northwest across the Winooski Valley, an April without white stuff on the ground is a rare gift.

Moose track

Soon, crocuses will be in bloom. We’ll be planting peas and salad greens. And the world will be buzzing with life.

The spring peepers, returned from the mud, will begin their chirping chorus in the old beaver pond near our house. The ruffed grouse who have spent the winter feeding on aspen buds and eluding raptors will be drumming, mating, and laying eggs. And the largest of our forest-dwelling neighbors will be on the move.

Every spring, we find moose tracks by the pond. The great, dark animals come down from the hills, drawn to wetlands where they—still wearing thick winter coats—can find relief from the heat. The thermometer is supposed to hit 75 this weekend. With no leaves on the trees yet, shade can only be found among the conifers.

Black bear track

If we’re lucky, we find bear tracks, too. Emerging from hibernation, they’re on the lookout for food. Time for us to take the birdfeeders down, lest we once again wake at midnight to the sounds of a bruin snuffling around on the back porch.

In this lush, bustling time of year, I take pleasure in seeing our wild neighbors and signs of their passage.

On seeing deer or deer tracks, I might think briefly of autumn, of the way dry, frosty leaves crunch under a whitetail’s hooves.

Mostly, though—as I did before my hunting days—I am just grateful to move among my fellow creatures, knowing that they are moving all around me. As I did before my hunting days, I feel indebted for the simple gift of their presence.

Bear-marked beech with backhoe, near a southern Vermont ski area

As I did before my hunting days, I sense the importance of protecting our neighbors’ homes—the highlands and the wetlands and the routes traveled by moose in between, the stands of beech where bears fatten themselves when the mast crop is good, the steep and rocky places where bobcats den—from greedy encroachment by too many of our homes and roads and economic enterprises.

Perhaps the only difference, now that I occasionally drag venison from these hills, is that I am indebted to these creatures and places in yet another way.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Arthur says:


    I absolutely love this time of year. Being able to see everything “come back to life” is completely beautiful. All the animals come back out to play; the birds come back from their winter hideouts; the bears emerge from their dens; the flowers begin to bloom once again. It’s incredible.

    And being able to “interact” with them on their own turf, and to see signs of their presence, is awesome.

    By seeing and feeling their presence, and reflecting on those animals who have provided sustenance for us, it makes you feel alive.

    I love it.

  2. Joshua says:

    Very nice. Also, good shot of the feral back-hoe there… they are usually very skittish.

    Tracks have always amazed and fascinated me. I devoured Mr. Murie’s book as a child, not knowing until recently his and his wife’s importance in protecting much of our wild.

    Thanks for letting me think about that again!

  3. Tovar says:

    Arthur: You bet! I love it, too. Living in northern parts of U.S., as you and I both do, we really appreciate the return of all the warmth and movement. After months of freezing weather, who wouldn’t?!?

    Joshua: I think the backhoe was in a winter stupor. I’ve always loved tracks as well. I remember making plaster-of-paris casts of them when I was a kid.

    Albert: Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words!

  4. Casey Harn says:

    That was a nice post, Tovar. At first you had me thinking of the book “The Education of Little Tree” where Grandpa would take Little Tree up into the mountains in the early morning, watch the sunrise, and Grandpa said something like ” I love watching the mountain wake up.” Only in this case it’s the turning of the year. I love to read the writings of people who pay attention to the things like this.

    I also appreciate your “new”sense of indebtedness. I know completely what you are talking about, but just have a hard time articulating it into something coherent and readable. You do a great job of it.

    Thanks for the post. I need writers such as yourself !!

    • Tovar says:

      Hey, Casey, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, whether by day or by season, there’s so much ebb and flow to notice and appreciate in the world around us.

      Figuring out how to say something in writing can be tough. I struggle with the task a lot, and fall flat on my face quite regularly. 😉

  5. Eric Nuse says:

    I also love the coming of spring. For many years I’ve kept an outdoor journal, noting different sightings of animals, tracks and events. I always note the arrival of robins, redwing black birds, wood frogs, peepers, spring beauties, when the perch spawn, etc.

    This spring is very troubling. Everything is way too early. It feels good to have no snow and 75 degrees but this spells trouble for lots of critters. Winter tick larva that falls on snowless ground means they survive in great numbers – bad news for moose. Green fields mean barred owls hatching at the normal time miss the easy hunting for meadow voles by their parents. I think you get what I mean.

    I’m afraid rapid climate change is coming home, it may feel good, but look a bit deeper and it makes my worst deer jacker look pretty benign in comparison.

    • Tovar says:

      Good point, Eric. The gift can also be seen as part of a larger curse. Fellow Vermonter Amy Seidl has written a book on that very topic, titled “Early Spring.” Have you seen it?

      I think folks concerned about climate change probably ought to be careful about pointing to the weather extremes of the moment as evidence. It seems like the same move that’s often made by those who don’t think climate change is real—except they point instead to cold snaps in the South. We just get into an endless anecdotal battle, instead of stepping back to look at the bigger picture.

      I guess I enjoy spring every year, even when it doesn’t come ’til May…or, dare I say, June? In the spring of 2001, we still had two feet of snow on the ground in mid-April.

  6. Doug says:

    Good post and great track images. Spring here is in full bloom and watching it happen is a treat.

    Looks like bears there are a much bigger issue than around here.

  7. Tovar says:

    Doug: Thanks for stopping by!

    All: I wrote too soon about “an April without white stuff on the ground.” We just got a foot of heavy snow and it’s still coming down hard. It will melt fast, though—temps are supposed to hit 70 by Saturday.

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