Rupert’s front legs were shaking with anticipation as I asked him to remain seated in the passenger seat of the pickup truck. We argued briefly about why he wasn’t allowed to sit in the driver’s seat. He didn’t seem to agree with my contention towards safety, but eventually settled into his place. My Osprey day pack was not designed for the sharp points and hard edges of trapping gear but that didn’t stop me from stuffing it with every piece I owned. Martin Luther King, Jr. day and a chance day off made for a five day weekend, Rupert and I were off to run a trapline.
This was going to be my first experience setting traps and I did not have clear expectations or goals heading into this outing. But I knew that while Rupert was running amuck I was going to get some hands on learning. I walked to a creek, about a half mile into a local marsh, and began looking for obvious spots to set my traps. There was little snow on the ground so reading sign was more difficult than usual. Eventually, I found what I thought to be good spots. Natural pinch points that looked like muskrat runs and even muddy tracks on the nearby ice.
I was about to learn my first trapping lesson, or at least about the murky nature of swamps. Wearing chest waders that I borrowed from a coworker, I felt impervious to the dirty, musty and freezing cold swamp water. So, when I decided to step into the creek to get the best possible position, I gave little thought to the mud on the bottom. I stepped my right foot into the creek, that looked to be about boot high, and nearly fell over as I sunk past my hip in the musty mud. The realization hit me that my 6’1” frame could sink into mud so deep that the only chance of someone locating my corpse would be if the next fool hardy trapper attempted the same stunt and I doubt that he will be much help.
I decided to set my #120 Victor Oneida Conibear traps from the shoreline. I found three locations that looked promising, all of which had muddy tracks on the nearby ice. Earlier, I cut some branches from a bush. The branches were about an inch in diameter and were strong with just a little bit of flexibility. I used these to stake my traps and marked the stakes with fluorescent orange tape. As I did this, Rupert explored the area, always within eyesight, finding the occasional unlucky field mouse and something that smelled good enough to roll in. As we walked out the first day I felt confident. I found habitat, sign and set my traps without breaking any fingers. Not bad for my first try..
I spent the next few days tending to the line watching Rupert dive through the cattails while I pulled up empty traps. As my return to reality and work loomed closer, the air of disappointment grew stronger. Rupert’s frustrations boiled over when he decided that he no longer understood “heel”. On our hike out he decided to run ahead to the truck, which is strictly forbidden, the truck is parked near the road and when near a road he is to be in a heel or leashed. Once at the truck, he circled it avoiding my grasp and ignored my request that he board the vehicle. Eventually, I grew tired of this and threw my pack, loaded with gear, at him. He avoided it with ease and gave me an awkward eye. I returned the look sharply and he took his seat. With that settled, I collected my gear, and invented a training collar attached to a truck battery. Thankfully, it turns out that this was fluke and Rupert heeled quite well on our following outings. Maybe we have reached an understanding? I certainly hope so because the research and development of the new training tool alone would probably bankrupt me.
We reached our final day and the feeling of failure was driven home when I placed the last empty trap into my pack. Several people have called into question my proclivity to watch baseball and even compared it to watching paint dry. I can almost understand this coming from an outsider because the mechanics of the game look the same, or at least very similar, throughout the game. But, what outsiders fails recognize, is the art of the game. It’s the bottom of the six, the count is three and two, the tying run is on third with two outs and first base is open. The payoff, fastball high and inside fouled straight back. The call, pitcher shakes it off,he likes the next one, the wind up, it’s a slider over the outside corner. The batter adjusts his eye, bat speed, mechanics and smacks it down the right field line! The batter displays more than scientific understanding of mechanics of the swing, he displays an art form or, more precisely, a keen perception. A perception earned little by little with each swing of the bat, each ball taken and most of all each strikeout.
My long winded point is that often times knowledge is not teachable, it has to be earned. I have learned the mechanics of trapping. I can identify animal, habitats and tracks. I have a general idea of what type of trap to use for a given situation or animal. I understand the law and regulations that apply to me on the trapline. But what I am missing is the trapper’s perception. I haven’t earned it yet and even if I was successful it would be more luck than anything. I keep the failure in perspective by reminding myself that I decided to start trapping because I wanted to be out in nature, on the move and trying something new. In that I succeeded, while getting to experience the nasty curveball that only nature could provide.