I marvel sometimes at how well wildlife can survive cold weather, but to tell the truth, when cold weather hits hard, especially with rain, ice and snow, plenty of wild creatures do not survive. Birds are hit especially hard if they are being fed from a feeder and then it stops. A day or so ago, just after one of those 15 degree nights we had, I found a dead wren, and a dead shrew along a woodland path. How any shrews survive a winter I can’t figure out. They have to eat a great deal because of their high-energy life with such a strong metabolism. I can’t understand how they can find enough food, knowing that they will die in about four hours if they don’t find enough to eat.
A couple of years ago, I came across a live shrew under a board next to a tool shed up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, that was like none I have ever seen. He was a gray shrew, not supposed to be this far north and east. I was amazed at that silver colored shiny pelt it had. I hope a good colony of them are still living under the shed.
If you look in the mammal books, bird books, reptile books etc. you will find range maps telling you where everything is supposedly found and not found. But things change, and that little gray shrew is not supposed to be here, but he is. The creator knew what he was doing when he made the shrew small. If they were the size of a house cat then there wouldn’t be any house cats, and few dogs. If they were that size, I don’t think horses and cows would be safe either. Shrews are brutal and savage little creatures with a voracious appetite. They will attack and kill small rabbits and wood rats many times their size.
I have found a few species of plants out of their range over the years. When I was 19 I spent my Christmas break from college living in an old shack on the Big Piney. I had a dozen live traps and used them to find about 10 species of small mammals. I found a pair of overgrown deer mice known as a brush deer mouse living in a cave above the river. I think I have written about that too often perhaps, but I live trapped two of them and sold them to Marlin Perkins at the St. Louis Zoo where they were constructing a small mammal display. He was tickled pink because one was a female and one was a male. But the range map for the brush tailed deer mouse remains the same and they are shown to be a citizen of Oklahoma, not Missouri.
Anyhow, it is tough to be a wild creature in the winter, and few people who do not live on the land realize how many of them die. If you own land, you can’t do much more for wildlife than to put out food plots, leave brushpiles and preserve cedar glades. Those stands of cedar shelter small game, birds, furbearers, even deer. When the wind is really whistling and snow and ice ride the gales, a heavy thicket of cedar trees is a Godsend. If you are lost or have to spend a winter night outdoors, such a thicket can save your life. You find a cedar tree about eight or 10 feet tall in the middle of such a glade, and cut the top out of it, then cut out all branches on the bottom so that you have a cleared space beneath it to huddle in.
The tree will then look like a mushroom, or a big green umbrella. If you are farsighted enough to have a light spread of plastic, like a pair of big black trash bags that can fit in your hip pocket, you can spread it over that cedar tree and tie it down to the edge of the branches, basically constructing an umbrella. You use the branches you have cut away for a cushion beneath you, which helps eliminate the cold coming up from the ground. If nothing else, cut more cedar branches and pile them onto your shelter, with the limbs pointing down so that water runs off of the tree. If you can just keep a small fire going there in that shelter, you will survive the coldest night, the worst blizzard. Just think what those cedar thickets can do for wildlife.
There are four things that hikers or outdoorsmen should have in their pack if they get very far from their vehicle… a small sharp folding saw; a good sharp pocket knife or belt knife; a thin, folded plastic sheet or big plastic trash bags, which you can make a pretty good raincoat out of; and a roll of good duck tape, thicker, stronger types preferably. Thin cheap duck tape will let you down in an emergency.
Last week I was deer hunting with my old friend and fellow grizzled old outdoorsman, Dennis Whiteside, when he pulled himself up a little bank via a clump of weeds, and a tiny vine or a razor sharp blade of the tough grass slit the outside of his little finger down where it connects to his hand. It is something I have never seen an equal to, a deep cut almost all the way to the bone, done by a plant stem. He couldn’t get the bleeding stopped, it was really gushing. So we wrapped his hand in a handkerchief and wrapped that tightly with some duck tape, tight enough around his whole hand to stop the intense bleeding.
Six hours later, about eight o’clock, he took the duck tape off and his hand began bleeding profusely. At a nearby hospital emergency room, he received five stitches. All that from a weed or vine. It was the duck tape though, that made it possible for him to hunt until dark.
Duck tape is the outdoorsman’s secret weapon and every boat, backpack, pick-up and basement workshop needs to have a roll of it for emergencies. On a float trip once I patched up a hole in a canoe with that stuff. My grandpa could have done great things with a roll of duck tape.
Our Panther Creek retreat is really coming along, and though it is to be used for underprivileged children, I want it to also be a center for outdoor education as well. We will finish several miles of hiking trails this winter, and we have already finished a shooting range. I want to see it become a place for parents or a parent to bring their youngsters and spend a few days. We have never and will never charged one cent for a stay at our cabin or lodge. If you want to see it, you are welcome to come and stay for a whole weekend. Many groups and individuals have been there, and everyone who has come is in awe of its beauty and potential.
This winter, a lady who works with abused or addicted women plans to come and use our place to get them away from everything and try to help them. Until now, she has had to pay for such a retreat. Not this year.
If you are interested in helping build nature trails, I would welcome your help. I intend to publish a small self-guiding booklet for hikers to use on these trails.
I have had difficulty getting the word out to churches and organizations about our hopes to provide this 60-acre tract on a beautiful creek for kids without fathers or youngsters who need a dose of inspiration and encouragement. I asked several television stations to come and film it and help us spread the word, but none will do it. I really think that today’s news media shies away from anything which mentions God, or what they perceive to be “religious.”
This column is the only way I have to make it work. And I believe that God willing it will someday change some lives.
Our office phone is 417/777-5227 and email address is email@example.com. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613.