Tales of the Hunts
Published 11:50 am Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Clues to the past
The warm, late winter days in the Appalachians give us hope of the beauty that’s ready to abound in a few short weeks. After a good snow, most of us are looking to the future spring weather that beckons us outdoors. When a warm day arrives in February, you may be dreaming about the future, but you should also look for clues from the past.
One clue of the recent past you may find is a shed antler. As winter ends, the male white-tailed deer drops its antlers in preparation for creating a new head dressing. Some people call these “white gold” and search hard for these treasures in February and March.
Anecdotally, the best way to find these antlers is to not look for them. The next best way is to drive a vehicle through a field and one will most likely puncture a tire.
Once you find a shed, take a moment to realize what you are holding. For seven months, a deer grew this mass of bone for the purpose of passing on his genes. Some tips of the antler may be broken from fighting, but it was inevitable that this tool would be discarded after breeding season.
While you walk through the woods searching for antlers, keep a lookout for other hints from the past. If you see daffodils or other bulbs popping up, take a break and take inventory of the surroundings.
While daffodils grow wild, many times they are clues to an old home place. The humble homes of our Appalachian ancestors were decorated with transplanted bulbs. Some old beds have done so well that they look like thick bladed green lawns on the forest floor.
Near the bulbs, a mound of a long forgotten home may be tangled in vines. Remnants of a chimney give a clue to where families used to warm themselves on the cold nights of winter.
Watch your step as you walk around so as not to twist your ankle on another clue to the past: walnuts. The ones the animals haven’t eaten scatter the ground. The old residents either built their homes next to a tree or planted one shortly after building.
Walnuts would have been a good addition to the diet at the time, but it would not have been the most abundant mast crop. Chestnut trees dominated our landscape for years until a fungus from Asia made its way into our forest in the early 1900’s.
Still, signs of the mighty Chestnut are seen with hopeful shoots growing out of old Chestnut stumps. These shoots are born to die as the fungus will get them before maturity.
A walk in the woods this time of year is well worth the effort. When the temperature rises for a nice afternoon hike, keep an eye out for clues of the past. They could be a recent clue retelling a deer’s life cycle, or a window into a culture almost lost. While the spring-like days make us hope for future warmth, the foliage-free landscapes reveals hints to our past.
Keep your eyes peeled as you look for clues from the past on your next walk in the woods.