The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 13, 2014

The promise of Spring

By Larry Case
For The Register-Herald

BECKLEY — Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm

— John Muir

 

When we first stepped into the woods Tuesday morning I knew you could tell it was coming, the past months have been long and hateful, but the promise that we have cannot be denied. Like the cottontail that runs in his circle as the beagles plead with us to be ready, it is not here yet, but it is coming. The line of geese we saw in the evening, headed due north, said the same thing:  Not yet, but it’s coming. As outdoorsmen we stand with our brothers everywhere, steeped in our anticipation of all that is to come, the promises that have been bestowed to us and handed down for generations.

  One of the first of these for me has been the admittedly premature scouting and listening for turkeys to gobble. It’s not really necessary to be out there in the middle of March and hear turkeys make that racket when you aren’t going to be hunting until the last week of April. We go anyway; we stand in the cold and the dark and wait for that first gobble. For a moment you may despair and think it might not happen this year. Maybe we are so weary from the winter that we doubt ourselves and our promise on God’s green earth. Listen, have faith, watch as the pale glow starts in the east. That big ‘ol bird with the red, white and blue head is going to rattle and lay your fears to rest.

  Mike called and said that he had already been native brook trout fishing — twice. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t envious at first, but then you reminded me that he was only exercising one of the quintessential traditions of spring for an outdoorsman — catching a native brook trout. The brook trout stands as a symbol of wild places in the spring. He is born, lives and dies in sometimes tiny mountain streams and bears little resemblance to his stocked relatives. He is also as tasty as he is beautiful. If we are going to talk about putting fresh brook trout in a skillet (with fried potatoes of course), we can’t do that without what else? Ramps!

  In this part of the world most people who tramp the woods don’t have spring without ramps, a plant resembling a green onion that grows wild in the mountains. Going out and digging “a mess of ramps” is as much a part of the ritual as catching the trout. They are as essential to the season as warmer weather, getting the garden ready, and oh yeah, turkeys and trout. We are told that they are a member of the leek family and are famous for a fragrance known only to a ramp. Personally, I think ramps are like bluegrass music, you either love them or you hate them. I like both and hope we will always have ramps, fried potatoes and brook trout. (All cooked streamside where the trout came from, of course.)

  Most of you woodsman know what’s coming next. After ramps, the spring woods bring us another delicacy, the morel mushroom. Morels occur only in the spring and most look like a small, light-brown, somewhat shriveled Christmas tree. Roaming the woods in search of morels is all part of the experience, and good morel locations are often as closely guarded as secret turkey places.

  There are certainly worse ways to spend a day than scouting for turkeys, digging ramps, catching a trout or two, and looking for morels while you are at it. Almost forgot: You just might find an antler shed with those mushrooms.

  These are just some of the promises we are given when spring comes to the Appalachian Mountains. They are yours to enjoy and pass on to your children, see that you do that, passing all of this to the next generations ensures the continuation of the outdoor culture we cherish so much.

  I know it’s supposed to be bad weather today, but we are still gonna go out past the old log barn and listen right? Pick you up at 5:30? You bring the meal worms, I’ll bring the coffee.      

If you want to contact Larry Case about an article, or anything to do with the outdoor world, you may reach him at larryocase3@gmail.com