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Celebrating the season with simple pleasures
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As one who counts his blessings every day, I shouldn't feel any different during the holiday season. But, for me, this time of year always carries an enhanced feeling of serenity as Christmas approaches and another glorious year comes to a close.

It is the simple, familiar things in life, moreover, that seem to offer the greatest sense of wellbeing. My favorite coffee cup with its Orvis outfitter logo embossed on the side is warm to the touch and comfortably heavy when filled with an early morning's hot brew. It often goes with me to the Man Cave where I'll key in a few passages describing someone's recent outdoor adventure or conjure up an observation or two about the meaning of life.

My lightweight Yukon Charlie snowshoes, received as a Christmas gift a few years back, offer more simple pleasures. I'll strap them on in a bit to take an early morning walk around the farm with Major. Like so many other things, he and I share a great fondness for the outdoors.

We're both excited about traipsing through the snow, examining animal tracks for freshness and hoping for a glimpse of a deer, turkey or perhaps a pheasant or two, now that their numbers are coming back from the downward trend of a few years back. And by adding my Dad's old 16 gauge to the moment, Major's demeanor rises to extreme delirium as he executes an acrobatic display of animated leaps and twists.

Soon after departure, however, Major stops short to do his dirty business in a snow bank, then moves on to jab his nose into the many dried and drooping clumps of grass on the CRP field behind the barn. We'll follow the bluff, drop down the dugout trail and walk along the river, now nearly frozen over with an icepack that will last until next spring's thaw.

The riverbank and adjoining marsh is a busy place with signs of turkey, otter, pheasant and raccoon at various points along the way. I'm doing some trapping this year for the first time in years. I've "re-inherited" son Darin's traps now that he's too busy with family and work to enjoy this time-honored outdoor adventure.

I don't figure to catch much, but it's one more reason to venture outside. Besides, I need to gain insight to the Best Management Practices designed to further trapping education - as developed by the International Organization of Standards.

Well-worn but still serviceable items of clothing also contribute to a blissful frame of mind. A heavy jacket draped over my favorite fleece pullover - a tan Ducks Unlimited zip up which now clings tightly to a snug turtle neck. A comfortable pair of boots, reinforced with Gore-Tex and Thinsulate, repels the snow and cold while a fluffy, oversized stocking cap carrying a prominent Pheasants Forever logo keeps head and ears warm.

Major, of course, is toasty warm with his double layer of fur, thanks to genetics inspired by North Atlantic fisherman who, centuries ago, needed help retrieving their heavy nets. The only concern is that he will decide to go for a quick dip in the Pecatonica, not unusual for a dog who, on occasion, takes a nap in a snow bank on a sunny January afternoon. Refreshing to him perhaps, but the ice is thin toward the middle, and I cringe at the thought of him breaking through with no way to pull himself out.

I also count among my blessings the many interesting people encountered during the past year, often through some unlikely circumstances. For example, Herb Blaser of Belleville called me looking for help to settle an apparently contentious debate about whether more deer are killed by hunters or by motor vehicles. Ironically, it was a just a couple of years ago that a rut-crazed buck caved in the front of my truck just a few miles from Belleville on County Highway PB.

Armed with last year's stats on car-killed deer, I stopped by Borland's on Main Street where the boys meet for coffee every morning. A lively group, they were engaged in a vigorous pick-a-number game, the results of which would determine who would pay most for the refreshments. After several rounds, I began to get suspicious as a five spot disappeared rather quickly into the kitty.

To settle the matter of vehicle vs. hunter deer kills, roughly 20 percent (1,085) of the deer killed in Dane County in 2009 were the result of collisions with vehicles. The margins were much wider in Green County (233 vehicle-killed deer) and Lafayette County (180) during 2009.

While leaving Belleville with a lighter wallet, I felt much enriched by a few moments of banter around a crowded table of aging philosophers, each with a lifetime of stories to tell.

There is, indeed, much for which to be grateful as we enter the holiday season, celebrating the birth of Christ and the precious gift of life.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at