It is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. Its first meeting was held on the shores of Lake George and now the 50th is there, too.
Insofar as I am on the Board of Directors, a lot of time has been spent running back and forth between various venues, but it is well worth it to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.
Of course, one element of meeting old friends, particularly writers, is a recounting of many old tales. The competition to tell the best one on the other guy is unspoken but pervasive. I am not sure it will be possible to declare victory in one particular contest.
In this case, another newspaper columnist and I were trading stories about a mutual friend. Said friend — I will use an improbable pseudonym and call him Wayne — is somewhat notable for loud, dramatic reactions in instances of stress.
My opponent led off and chose the weapon — a bass fishing story. Seems he and Wayne were going out just before dawn to practice for a tournament. Due to a packing mishap, Wayne was wearing a pair of gray sweatpants. They had both overcome their lack of sleep with copious amounts of coffee and, just as the sun was coming up, it caught up with Wayne. He demanded to be taken to land, but was refused, there being no good landing site in the desolate area they were fishing. My friend pointed out a nearby beaver house, said the beavers were going in the lake every day, it was 5 a.m., and they were at least a mile from any habitation.
Persuaded, Wayne climbed up on the bow and began. The uncomplicated nature of the urinary process is one of the great rewards of a Y chromosome, the single drawback being the slow, uncertain nature of emergency stops. So, once Wayne got busy, my friend said, in a loud voice, “Why, good morning, ladies. How did you get out here so quietly?” The result of the ensuing scramble was a terrific visual on the light gray sweatpants and a magnificently crafted verbal reaction.
Rising to the challenge, I recounted a bass fishing trip involving Wayne and I in a canoe on a remote lake. He, an accomplished tournament fisherman, scoffed at my choice of a topwater lure given the time of day. I tossed it out only a few feet from the boat to get a loop out of the line and a 4-pound bass hit it with a gill-rattling leap and resulting splash that covered us with water. Wayne thoroughly cursed me, the fish and the odd gods of angling while feverishly working to remove his chosen lure and tie on a topwater plug.
While this went on, my bass was dragging us toward shore and as I got it unhooked and released, Wayne was ready to cast. During his mighty backcast, the hastily-tied knot failed and the lure went high in the air, coming to rest about 10 feet up in an overhanging willow. Turns out this particular lure was an unfailing blue whatchamacallit which was no longer manufactured and retrieving it became an ultimate priority.
I suggested landing and climbing the tree. Wayne demanded I simply paddle him over under the lure. Wayne is a not-too-tall, fairly sturdy guy and having him stand in a canoe trying to snag his lure with the rod tip gave me some pause. It got worse because he could not reach and next stood on the seat, still finding himself about an inch short. His intention was to raise up on one foot to gain the necessary altitude, but I could not help myself. In spite of the capsizing danger, every time he would start to stretch, I would give the gunwales a small shake, causing him to drop down and emit an inarticulate bellow. After a half-dozen of these, I relented, he knocked the lure down, and we got back to fishing, both pretty amazed that no one got wet.
Another species prone to inarticulate bellowing is the red fox, and there are many calls and complaints coming in at this time of the year because few people are familiar with the various noises a fox makes. There is, in fact a rock group in Norway called Ylvis who have a hit song entitled, “What Sound Does A Fox Make.” The video has gone viral and attracted the attention of over 50,000,000 people so far. Ylvis suggested noises such as “wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow” and “fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow,” clearly demonstrating the danger of depending on celebrities for factual information.
The fact that red foxes are primarily nocturnal explains why their vocalizations are not familiar. Coon hunters and game wardens, the most nocturnal subspecies of humans, know the sounds well, but others who happen to hear describe the sound as “like a woman’s scream” or “it had to be a mountain lion.” Actually, many of the violent noises emitted in Yeti-calling contests seem to be mimicking the primary call of the red fox.
Referred to as a “bark” it is a loud, cough-like, guttural “YAAGGAGHH!” It often occurs when the fox is alarmed or a family group gets separated. The warning may be repeated every 20 seconds or so for up to a dozen repetitions, often being answered by another fox as they search for each other or independently move away from the danger. Our other native northeastern fox, the gray fox, makes a somewhat similar sound, but theirs is higher in pitch and is held longer, which really does give it a human-in-distress quality.
Red foxes playing will often emit short barks, very much like small squeaky dogs, but their other definitive vocalization has a much more interesting name — gekkering. Gekkering is a series of guttural chatters interspersed with an occasional howl or yip. This is used in aggressive encounters, territorial battles, and fighting over mates.
There was a magnificent post on one of the animal rights websites asserting that when foxes found their soulmates, they hugged and emitted a bonding primal scream. What was shown in the video clip was a pair of male foxes reared up, gekkering in each other’s face preparatory to attempting to chew off portions of their opponent’s anatomy. This clearly demonstrates the danger of depending on... oh, I already said that.
So, if you hear loud, alarming noises in the dark, it is most likely just a fox surprised by your presence — unless, of course, you are in the Lake George area, where it might just be some outdoor writers messing with each other...