We're now halfway through the big game of winter

January 31, 2009

WELCOME FEBRUARY! Groundhog Day represents halftime in the Super Bowl of endurance it takes to prevail through the long New Hampshire winter.

Like that famed old groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, I wonder if it's safe to poke my head outside or remain holed-up indoors. Perhaps "Super Bowl Sunday" offers the opportune moment for a halftime pep talk. The good news, team, is we're halfway to spring. The rough part of the game may well be behind us now.

After the ice storm in December, the first-quarter jitters were masked by holidays. The January second quarter was a hard-hitting, physical contest: long, cold, dark and snowy. We sustained some injuries -- even if only psychological.

As we exit the locker room with a slim lead on the board, we've got momentum. February brings longer and warmer days; strong sunlight and hopeful signs of spring.

By month's end, maple twigs redden, buds swell, woodpeckers drum, red-wing blackbirds return, fur-bearing mammals breed as snowbanks melt and icicles drip during successive thaws. The first feeling of warm sunlight on your face signals that spring is indeed "just around the corner" regardless of the Pennsylvania groundhog's prognostication.

Beware the "Ides of March." The fourth quarter is a contest of sheer will, which requires maintaining resolve, protecting the lead and ultimately running out the clock. Sometimes one freak April snowstorm can blow the whole game like an improbable come-from-behind overtime field goal. Pace yourself.

Our wild neighbors are waging their own battles with winter this year. The deep snow and bitter cold makes survival difficult for wide-ranging mammals searching for food, water, cover and -- for owls and most fur bearers -- mates in February.

Recently on Academy Brook in Loudon, near Loudon Ridge Road, neighbors spotted a young bull moose sprawled-out on the ice. They thought it had fallen through, but it was just too slippery and high a bank to climb.

The horse owners successfully wrapped a lunge line around the moose's neck and pulled it to a spot were it could slowly get back on its legs and walk off into the woods. Exhausted after its ordeal, it gave a last wistful backward glance of gratitude to the rescuers who had the horse sense to wrangle the young moose to the edge of the ice.

In Greenfield on North Pack Monadnock Mountain, a doe with two uniquely-colored "pie-bald" fawns returned last week to a vegetable garden to finish off the remaining Brussels sprouts. Their mottled coloration like an Appaloosa pony, a "paint" in cowboy lingo.

This report included a short video clip of the white fawn stamping out a warning -- no Photoshop or Internet hoax. After the November deer season, when many wildlife units were closed to doe hunting due to the deep snow last winter, this trio has survived this winter thus far.

Unlike snowshoe hares or short-tailed weasels (called "ermine") which change pelage from brown to white in winter, the white fawn will likely retain its coloration year-round. I've heard sporadic reports of odd colored deer, including rare white albino deer seen by hunters around Green Mountain in Freedom and Effingham in the Ossipee River valley. And no, that hunter said he wouldn't have taken a shot even if he had one. Superstition.

Enjoy the game. Ignore the groundhog. Better days ahead