White Oak Mountain Ranger: January Nights


When the book is finally closed, or the entertainment machine is happily shut down, and it’s time to stop and crawl under the duvets, the bird dog and I slip outside to add some more water to the lawn one last time.

The old dog does a thorough but quick perimeter check for raccoons and skunks on freezing January nights. When the cold winter skies are so clean, you can see deep into the heavens, far beyond Venus. On those nights, it’s pretty easy to believe you can see universes and galaxies that even Hubble can’t.

The old dog and I are still checking out the lower pasture. This is where the dog and I expect to see the pilots of the unexplained Ariel phenomenon land and suck the blood out of cattle. We had a tight call in this piece of pasture a few years ago, so we’re always on the safe side. We continually check this same lower pasture to make sure bears, cougars and Sasquatchs aren’t also terrorizing horses that are hay burners.

With this particularly paranoid late-night affair out of the way, more attention can be focused on surveying the vastness of the clear, cold night sky. A frosty, clear night sky seems to urge you to pay a little more attention to the things traveling through the skies when it’s really bitter.

By cold, I mean teenagers. When the nights turn freezing, I begin to wonder how the natives survived nights like this.

The natives I think of tonight are the tribes that hunted and lived in these parts. Tribes of people who have never seen a fat European, or pigs, or horses, or felt the devastating effects of Europe’s insidious and deadly pandemics. Diseases, compliments of the explorer who is said to have walked with 700 men, pigs and horses through Ooltewah, named DeSoto.

On nights like this, I imagine natives covered in bear, elk and buffalo hides, huddled around a smoky fire. A big fire where they decided it was safe to sleep on cold January nights. Did their fires keep them warm? Were their fires more for protection from man-eaters than for warmth? Was there really a difference on a freezing January night?

I wonder if the surviving fleas, ticks and lice of the natives survived those cold January nights, in a cold hut or a damp cave? How many winters like this could an older native hope to survive? I’m trying to understand the mechanics of how they handled issues like kidney issues or cries from the infirmary.

Imagine that kind of trouble with four feet of snow outside the lodge when you’re suddenly frantically chased out from under the buffalo robes. Propelled into the freezing darkness filled with predators that prowled the cold January nights in search of a warm meal.

Archaeologists and historians are generally silent on how the natives handled these nocturnal journeys associated with the hasty call of nature. On a cold January night, you are suddenly left to your imagination.

I guess the bottom line is that these people were pretty tough people, surviving in pretty harsh conditions. With every piece of flint I find, I am reminded of how difficult it must have been compared to what we are facing today.

Strange are the things that come to mind on a clear, freezing January night. What is it in the darkness of a January night that grips us and makes us wonder about the people who have gone before us?

Maybe it’s the absence of aliens, bears, humans eating cats, or even Big Foot. Maybe it’s the chill of a freezing January night when you can see the next five galaxies and think you can see the future as it spills into the new year.

Maybe you are lucky enough to be able to afford a sleeping bag that protects you from freezing to death on such a night. I never seemed to be able to find or afford such a bag. But we tried to camp on cold, clear January nights. Maybe it was boredom, maybe it was a test of some measure of tenacity. But it’s safe at best sturdy.

There were very large campfires which I thought would get us through the night, but no matter how hard we tried, those fires seemed to be dying out sooner rather than later. I can still clearly see more than a few mornings where the coffee maker was frozen and how long it took for the new fire to thaw it out.

Frozen coffee is about as devastating, but not as durable, as a cheap sleeping bag.

There was the time we crawled out of an ice-covered tent one morning, after a freezing night on the North River, and found a confused or lost bear hunter and a skinny dog, cowered by a smoldering fire. Her hair was frozen to the ground. After thawing it, filling it with hot coffee, he and his dog, we noticed that he had carved into the butt of his rusty rifle – BAR 3 and DEAR 4. After a hot meal, they stumbled into the laurels and disappeared. like a mythical beast. Maybe they really were aliens. On January nights, this cold does strange things in the deep woods.

Strange are the things one conjures up on freezing January nights. Perhaps it’s the vapor trails from the engines of the Unexplained Phenomenon Ariel that seem to want to land in the lower pastures. It may be in the DNA passed down from those who came to us before the Europeans.

Maybe it’s just too cold to get the rational mind going. But it’s probably a good diversion from thinking about mundane topics like Omicron, the ban on surveillance cameras in Utah and Arizona, the 2024 election, China, and ammunition shortages.

Happy camping! Probably not crowded this time of year.


Comments are closed.