Fond November Memories
By Jay Dobensky on November 15, 2012, 8:58pm Last modified: November 15, 2012, 8:58pm
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Every year around this second week of November, I can’t help but reminisce and rekindle part of my childhood love for weather, held part in parcel with perhaps the greatest memories of spending time with my dad as a child. For those of you who aren’t aware, the second weekend of November usually marks the first day of high-powered rifle hunting season for deer and black bear in the state of Vermont. You see, I was raised in a hunting household; my father being a State Of Connecticut Hunter Education and Firearms Safety Instructor for nearly 50 years now, as well as a certified rifle, pistol, shotgun, muzzleloader and bow instructor for the State Of Connecticut and the NRA. It was somewhat a foregone conclusion that I would join him on the quest for the big buck as soon as my mom was comfortable letting me spend a long weekend with dad and the big boys. When I look at my now 13-year-old-son, I can’t believe how young that really is to be walking in the woods with a rifle. At the time, however, it seemed just fine, as did walking into the Barton General Store with a .357 Magnum on my hip, but this was long before Columbine and long before 9/11.
Before departing, I packed all of my “cold weather gear” into a couple of gym bags (I didn’t own a backpack) and then proceeded to ride shotgun into the great white North with my dad in his awesome Ford F250. 1983 was my first long drive alone with my dad, and during those five hours I was captivated by both our father-son chats and the beautiful display of scenery outside the truck window. The camp that we stayed at was in Barton, practically a stone’s throw from Canada, and November 1983 was your classic cold beginning to winter in Northern Vermont. I had a hearty, outdoor-loving youth, and my family was involved with a multi-generational arborist and landscaping business. Thus, I had a very early appreciation for weather. My brother and I were taught seemingly from the womb how to read the signs of Mother Nature; understanding the meaning of wind, types and motion of clouds, behavior of birds and animals and conditions of the terra firma beneath our feet. Having said that, you certainly understand why I was comfortable with the thought of being out in the woods. I had been hunting birds and small game with my dad for a while in CT, and had been camping with him for years, so this was certainly the next logical step, or so I thought.
What I was not prepared for, both mentally and physically, was the first morning of heading out from camp with a temp of 3 degrees F on the thermometer outside the door. Sure, I had my warmest clothing, but in 1983 the only high performance underlayer you could buy was waffle knit cotton long johns! The best socks were wool and cotton blend, which were fine until they began to dampen, what I would have given for Polartec, SmartWool and UnderArmour then! I had a winter jacket, but my Kmart snowmobile jacket really didn’t cut the mustard. I swear that if it wasn’t for the Styrofoam pellet-filled “Hot Seat” I would have froze to death that first morning. We hiked out to our spots before sunrise, and by the time my dad came to get me around 8 am I was shivering uncontrollably and couldn’t feel a few of my fingers and toes. Sure, I was hypothermic, but I was a tough kid, and didn’t want to admit to my dad that I couldn’t stay out any longer. Canadian high pressure had bested me, and sensing that, my dad started a little fire in the snow right where we were. We stayed for another 30 minutes or so warming up a bit, and then headed back to camp.
As I look back on that first trip exactly 29 years later (with all of my fingers and toes thankfully intact), I firmly believe that my love for the deep woods, my longing for the smell of pine-laden and incredibly clean air and my fascination with the topography, geology and extreme weather swings of Vermont came from that first long weekend. As I grew up, I continued to accompany my dad on the trip, although after the first two years we changed our destination to the small but growing town of Ludlow, which cut about an hour and a half of drive time. I fondly remember the first year of being there and hiking out into the field across from the camp, turning around and looking across the valley at the small ski area called Okemo. It had just been purchased by a husband and wife who had big plans for expanding the mountain and turning it into a world class destination resort. Oh what value the time machine would have given me then to convince my dad to buy some of the cheap property around the mountain!
There is a wonderful appreciation for weather and Mother Nature amongst hunters. As a lover of weather, I found it so intriguing while hunting to see the changes from one year to the next, temps in the fifties and sixties one year to near or below zero the next. From tinder dry crackling of leaves and twigs under foot one year to four feet of snow and not being able to get out into the woods the next. Around the age of twenty-two I came to the realization that I preferred to take a camera out in the woods instead of a rifle, and I must admit it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to say to my dad. In the end he was fine with it, and we continued for a few more years as a tandem. To this day my father still makes his ritualistic connection with his group of buddies, and he always chats with me before he goes just to check on the long range forecast and tell me about the great menu the guys are planning for this year (eating and being merry is just as important to them as the hunt)…although I think somewhere deep down he still feels a bit of sentimentality towards the special time we shared for so many years. I know I sure do!
I ended up going to college in Vermont for a year, and my wife and I have been property owners there for nearly 20 years now. I have made it a priority to show my son, his friends and my young nephews the beauty of Vermont, and at the same time teach them about weather in ways I never would have imagined when I was their age. What fun it is to plan a hike or ski/snowboarding day knowing a general idea of the forecast, and then point out to them how the weather can vary so widely from one minute to the next between the valleys and the mountains. Having apps at our fingertips and cell service nearly everywhere we go is certainly advantageous, and I always remind the boys that the first time I went to Vermont cell phones hadn’t been invented yet! Funny how things change yet in some ways continue to stay the same. This week’s weather around Ludlow has yet again risen to the task of providing constant change. It began with some of the warmest weather you could have for the time of year, and then the cold front brought flurries and temps in the twenties and thirties, along with the constant low roar of the Okemo snowguns from across the valley…or so my dad tells me anyway!
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