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Winter Sign

Winter Sign

Jim dale Huot-Vickery
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 326
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  • Book Info
    Winter Sign
    Book Description:

    The locus of Jim dale Huot-Vickery’s life is a remote cabin in the northern wilderness of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region. More often than not, it is winter here, a fierce, beautiful season that dominates all living things with its relentless cold grip. This is the inspiration for Winter Sign, the profound story of fifteen years of surviving the seven-month-long odyssey of winter in the far north.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8821-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: A Path with Heart
    (pp. 1-14)

    The overall sign—after twenty-three years in the North Country—seems as clear as a crystal of snow:

    We are hunted and haunted.

    Winter hunts us with its cold and haunts us with its beauty.

    Such is winter a mistress to reckon with: white wicked yet alluring: to be avoided even as we embrace her. And so it is we move between soul and soul, our own and that of a season, hoping the two flow together into something we can live with. Like all love-hate relationships, we twist and turn, sigh with pleasure or cringe in pain, yet we...


    • A Necessary Violence
      (pp. 17-30)

      The Smith & Wesson .357, stainless steel with black rubber Pachmayr grips, lay holstered in a desk drawer by my left thigh.

      The gun was out of sight, out of mind.

      During summers, from May to October, I often wore a revolver as a National Park Service ranger in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, but on January 30, midway between ranger seasons, the gun in my cabin at Hocoka was more of a forgotten bear precaution than anything else.

      Still, the gun was loaded with .357 hollow-points: bullets designed to expand on impact.

      Outside, beneath clearing skies, at least six...

    • Hocoka
      (pp. 31-56)

      The heart of the matter, its soul, what my French-Canadian forebears and métis cousins calledâme(which, ironically, also means bore of a gun), was rooted in a place that came to be known as Hocoka.

      “Everything the Power of the World does,” Black Elk(Hehaka Sapa), a Teton-Dakota (Sioux), once said, “is done in a circle.”

      Everything tries to be round.

      Life and death, Black Elk explained,¹ is a circle. The four directions form a circle, as do the seasons. The sun and moon, themselves round, move in circles. Wind whirls. Birds’ nests are cyclical. In Black Elk’s days,...

    • Solo
      (pp. 57-94)

      It’s hard to say exactly when Solo first came into my life at Hocoka as part of its wide, welcoming world. As the land’s whitetail matriarch, Solo was to stay with me so long—through all the years and changes—that her origin became obscure.

      Like her species,Odocoileus virginianus borealis, she seemed to step out of the far reaches of time and mystery.

      Perhaps she was the fawn I stumbled upon my first spring at Hocoka. I was walking the path out to the driveway, meandering among fir, small swamps, and black ash, when I saw a doe standing...

    • Snow Wonder
      (pp. 95-118)

      The snow that fell on the dead yearling, as wolves and ravens fed, did not obscure the realization there’s a delicacy to snow—the unequivocal wonder of it—that melts the hardest, most hammered, heart.

      For if there is magic and challenge in the whitetail’s world, perhaps—as with northern peoples—it rests in the miracle of a snow crystal. If there is ineffable beauty in the wolf’s universe, as there is everywhere and always, perhaps it blooms in that meteorological instant when water vapor freezes into hexagonal plates, dendrites, and stellar shapes.

      Lumped together, crystals form snowflakes, and it...

    • Singing Snowshoes
      (pp. 119-132)

      As Solo and the other deer adjusted to the wonder and rigors of winter snow, heeding the call to migrate or yard up and hunker down, I took to snowshoes.

      They were the only way, sometimes, to travel.

      Either snow was too deep to walk in or skis sank too far, and so, if I wanted to go winter’s pathless way, really step out into the wild—track wolves, deer, and their weaving mystery—there was often only one choice.

      My French-Canadian ancestors called themraquettes.

      Their Ojibwe neighbors and cousins called themagimag.

      And as I strapped on my...

    • The Challenge
      (pp. 133-148)

      A buck once sang me a home-ward song, and challenged me, in a way I’m not likely to forget.

      At first, as he came straight across the lake cove toward the cabin, I thought the buck was Ruff.

      It was early December, the buck was arriving at Hocoka about the same time Ruff would have—migrating right after freeze-up and rifle season—and he was good size.

      He had four tines on each antler.

      Strange, I thought.Ruff’s already been an eight-pointer.

      I had one of Ruff’s old antlers on my windowsill. I picked it up and looked at the...


    • An Ancient Tension
      (pp. 151-178)

      Yet deeper, toward blood on the tracks, and Solo, like a rifle scope, stood aimed and alert.

      Her tail flicked nervously.

      With her back to the cabin, her neck upright, and ears locked forward, she watched something I couldn’t see, something through the thickly falling snow across the cove, something in the woods of the slope along Rainbow Ridge.

      Something I was missing at my cabin table.

      It was midday.

      Silence, like soft snow falling, swirling: all around in the blanketing whiteness: another three inches on January’s midwinter snowpack.

      Morning’s low of 1° F had inched back up, beneath clouds,...

    • Rip
      (pp. 179-188)

      When I found Rip, Chris’s and my black cat, dead in the cabin on a cold winter night as the deer mingled outside, I knew part of my life, my close life with Chris and Rip, was over.

      It was, some might say, just a cat’s death, but it was more than that. Rip’s death was real yet symbolic. It was a wide-ranging ending.

      A bridge was burning and some of its wreckage lay before my eyes.

      As countless couples in the North American outback know well, the hinterlands are afloat with marital flotsam. Half-built cabins are scattered throughout the...

    • Omens
      (pp. 189-216)

      Rip’s death: the wolves in dream and along Rainbow Ridge: the wolf attack of the yearling: the lame buck: a bluejay that let me touch it: a doe on the deck: it was hard to tell what were normal events, luckily noticed, or what—drawing me in, there partly for me—was a sign or omen.

      If some of the incidents were omens, what did they mean?

      To whom were they addressed? And from whom—or what—did they come?

      Were omens hocus-pocus, as many people believe, or was there some underlying phenomenon occurring that could be explained, albeit incompletely,...

    • The Dark Night
      (pp. 217-240)

      Another winter was coming. I could feel it in the east wind whipping across the length of Lake Superior a hundred miles south of Hocoka. As large gray waves heaved into whitecaps beneath a gray sky, spray was tossed forward, snakes of foam writhed waves, and wind ripped at my jacket.

      A chill swept through me.

      Carefully, I walked the shoreline’s boulders. Sand filled hollows among gray rock ledges. Gulls wheeled in the wind. Another gull stood among the rocks and sand near my feet.

      The gull tried to move forward but toppled headfirst into the sand.

      Its neck was...

    • The Haunting Moon
      (pp. 241-248)

      And just like that, every moon began to haunt me.

      They had risen full, cratered, orange-paling-to-white: silhouetting pine branches on cold ridgetops in winter or rising full and swollen over the restless waters of Lake Superior. There had been moons over the prairie of the Red River Valley, shining over countless lakes of the Quetico-Superior canoe country, sparkling on night waters of remote, serpentine rivers, glowing on snow of subarctic taiga, or shining winter after winter through Hocoka’s cabin windows.

      Many moons for me, at least 540, each with its own story.

      Now, however, with the passing of Hocoka’s darkest...

    • Life Ascending
      (pp. 249-264)

      As the haunting moons bore down, and as the ship which was my life careened among winter reefs, I had a hunch what crossing moonlit water might mean.

      It meant passing through darkness.

      It meant facing one’s fear.

      It meant following what little light there sometimes was, moving from sign to sign and—blessed or shocked, strengthened or weakened—trusting one was on a trail of evolving, ascendant life.

      It was a journey, essentially, of soul.

      Come deeper, now, come deeperthe wolf had seemed to say when it left the yearling alive for me to kill.There’s no turning...

    • Closing the Circle
      (pp. 265-286)

      The circle of Hocoka tightened and closed, I suppose, on a starry winter night when I howled with the wolves.

      Inevitably the snows had come, again and again, deepening, astounding even old men and women of many winters. By March the snow-depth approached the all-time record of 122 inches, almost double the winter average, almost three feet more snow than what deer, wolf, and people were used to.

      It was winter 1995–96.

      It was my thirteenth winter at Hocoka.

      There’d be days of ten inches of snow, then a few inches, then a blizzard dumping two more feet. Or...

  7. Tracks/Notes
    (pp. 287-304)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-312)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)