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Tomorrows and Yesterdays
By Mike DiSalvo

I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday……

The words of Janis Joplin hung heavy in my mind, as I sat with my children in the back yard. We were watching over a pot of simmering trap dye, waiting for the traps to obtain the proper shade of black. As I sat and watched the steam rising off the pot, and smelled the acrid, musty odor of the dye, my mind drifted back to the early fall days of yesteryear.

My younger brother Matthew and I were gathering walnuts to dye the traps. Dad and Pop had the sheet of plywood they used every year, placed on two sawhorses with the entire collection of traps spread out on it. I can still see them up the field framed by the big walnut tree; each with a small file, two screwdrivers and a wrench. Pop bent over filing a pan notch square and level, Dad holding a trap up and slowly adjusting the pan tension to his liking. Both of them making sure the pans set flat and level, before they were tossed in the dying pot.

My boys and I had done the same thing to the traps now in the sweltering pot. Clayton asked, “Why do we do all of this to the traps?” and I explained to him much as it had been explained to me, we did this to make the traps fire faster and work more efficiently.
We pulled the traps out of the pot, shaking them to remove the excess water, and hung them up to dry. Then we put the bucket of wax on to melt down so we would be able to wax the traps. The kids wandered inside for a glass of juice and a sandwich. I stayed out soaking in the warm fall sun by the dying/waxing rig.

I guess it was the smell of the freshly dyed traps or the hot crackling wax that helped my mind to drift back to the past. Suddenly I was five years old, staring out of the frosted windowpane of my Grandparents front window. When I was young I would spend the weekend at my Grandparents house during trapping season. I was too little to be able to keep up with Pop on the big lines yet, so I had to wait till he came home. (Pop my paternal Grandfather; was a cantankerous, opinionated, gruff, outspoken old cuss.)
Then I could run the line with him down the woods behind the house. He’d come in smelling of half rotten fish and a blend of coon lures, go to the bathroom then sit and have 2 cups of coffee. When he was done we would put on our rubber boots and trapping jackets and head off into the woods. I can still see him in his trapping outfit, a thorn tattered blue stocking cap, and a dirty, smelly, battered, canvas-hunting coat. He gave me some valuable trapping lessons back then.

I remember asking the common questions kids ask, “Why is the set there?” “Where do coons sleep?” and things of that nature. Pop was always to the point when he did answer. “I made the set there because two streams come together, and that way any coons following either stream had a chance of getting caught”, he told me. He showed me how to make cubbies using flat stones in the creek. “First you prop up the two sides, and then you put on the back, and finally the top, making sure there aren’t any holes the coons can reach into. (One of those cubbies is still there; it just needs to be remade.) He showed me how to read fox, coon and opossum tracks on the sand bars in the creek. He would test me by making me identify a partial track, just a toe or two. Those abilities were very helpful later in my trapping career. We were walking along and then the scenery changed on me.

 I was at the first set I ever made by myself. Just down the street from my Grandparent house was a bridge over an abandoned railroad track. Under the bridge were several shopping carts, semi submerged in the sticky mud and icy water under the bridge. I took a chicken of Pops that had been killed and wired it in the back of one of the shopping carts, and then I used sticks to fence off all but a small opening. I put a #1 longspring in the opening and wired it off to the shopping cart. I was so proud of that set; it looked like one I had seen in an A. R. Harding book.  I tossed and turned all night just sure I would nab a big ole coon.  I ran to check the set the next morning, ignoring the briar scratches and cuts. I got to the set and to my delight it held a big fat opossum! I was an eight year old kid and this was my first catch so even though it was an opossum I was still tickled pink. I dispatched it and ran back to Pops. It was covered in foul-smelling, sticky mud, but I didn’t care, and neither did Pop judging by his smile. I ended up catching four opossums in that set but never a coon. When I was eight, opossums were worth about eight to ten dollars apiece, and thirty five dollars bought a heck of a lot back then.

Things started getting hazy and there I was, about ten and Pop and I were trapping an area he called Harvey’s. This area consisted of hardwoods, brush and semi open fields interwoven with fire trails.  It was a regular fox paradise with all of the different types of habitat. Pop had several fox sets throughout this area. As we were walking along he asked, “Where would you make a set?” ME! He wanted to know where I would put a set! Wow! I replied, “I think where that trail coming out of the woods meets this big trail at the top of the hill here would be my spot.” “Why make the set here?” he asked. “Because this is the junction of two trails, both of which come out of different types of terrain, plus the top of the hill gives a good vantage point for hunting” I replied. Pop just nodded and seemed to have a slight grin. He set the trap for me since I couldn’t do it myself. I used the trowel to scoop out a bed for the trap and stake. I tried to bed the trap but it kept wiggling around, so Pop had to help me bed the trap, and pound in the stake. I sifted the dirt over the trap, smoothing it out with a crow feather just as I had seen him and my Dad do hundreds of times. Pop said “Looks like a good place for a post set”, and who was I to argue? I found a nice looking stick and stuck it in the ground behind the trap, then applied some Hawbakers Red Fox Gland Lure and a squirt of urine. Pop tilted the post back somewhat. “This way the fox has to get closer to investigate the post” he explained. The next morning as we started to top the hill, I thought I heard the “clink” of chain. As we topped the hill bouncing around in the trap was a gorgeous red fox. I was in a state of shock. Pop was saying “Way to go boy!” and I couldn’t say anything. We dispatched the fox and remade the set. After we finished running the line, we drove to my parents to show my Mom and Dad what I had caught. We took the fox right into the living room, and took pictures of me holding it up. Pop and Dad had big smiles on their faces, and I felt like a real trapper at that moment.

As my parent living room faded from view, I was amazed to find my Dad and I putting in fox sets in Darlington. It was a cold, cloudless January afternoon, the kind of day Dad called “crack cold” because if you stayed out to long your fingers and toes felt like they would crack off. This was a nice area with big fields cut my hedgerows and fencerows. It also had a few field roads leading to the heavier woods and brush. We walked around looking for spots to put in the sets. (Even though I had caught a fox in a set I had made, it technically didn’t count as MINE. Since I didn’t set the trap or bed it myself. It took me two more years before I had setting the trap, adjusting the pan, and bedding all down pat.)
I picked a spot for my sets were two field roads met. One road was coming out of a thick brushy area and met the other road at the edge of a cornfield and a fencerow. I put in a flat set on the more brushy side of the intersection and started to make a dirt hole on the side toward the cornfield. As I was knelt down making this set Dad was wandering around looking for a place to make a set of his own. I was just finishing my set, when two hunters walked up with a beagle in tow. I continued to lure and bait my set, while they talked to my Dad. I stood up and walked over to the hunters and my Dad, and their beagle walked right up to the flat set I had just made. I cringed just waiting for the yelp when the fool thing got caught, then I heard a very liquid sound. The stupid dog had jut pee peed on my rock backing! The hunters said goodbye and went their merry way. Dad asked “What’s wrong with you?” “that stupid dog pissed all over my perfect flat set, now it’s ruined’ I replied. “Son, all that beagle did was improve your set” Dad told me. We checked the sets on Sunday but had no luck. I had school so I couldn’t run traps on Monday, but when I came home Dad told me to go look in the cellar. There in the cellar was my first honest fox. It was an average sized male fox, still in the #2 Victor (which had a perfect pad catch). Pop had it mounted for me and I had it for thirteen years till it was destroyed in a house fire.

I hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of rock being walked on. Pop and I are walking down a long railroad track to check some coon sets, our breath billowing out of us like smokestacks into the freezing air. There was a heavy hoar frost on the railroad tracks and ties. About halfway down the line we had to cross over a trestle. There on the wood planks I saw a set of fox tracks melted into the frost that covered the boards. I pointed it out to Pop, and he told me that those tracks were almost always there. I asked him “Did you ever try to catch that fox?” “No,” he said. “Why not?” I asked. He looked at me, sort of grinned and said “Hopefully you’ll understand someday.” I didn’t understand him then, but I think I do now. He believed then, as I do now that those fox tracks across that trestle every morning were a reminder that foxes had walked down those tracks long before either of us and would be there long after we are gone.  And that disturbing the fox that made those tracks would somehow upset the balance of things. (The tracks always ran north to south, and I bet if you went to that trestle on a frosty morning they are still there!)

I was roused out of my peace and quiet when the kids came back out ready to wax the traps. I showed them how to dip the traps in and wait till the wax stopped crackling before they took them out, shake them to remove excess wax, and hang them to dry. I wondered if someday they would sit in their backyards with their children, dying and waxing traps for the season and think of things we had done. I sure hoped so. I looked forward to the season ahead and of unknown tomorrows, but like Ms. Joplin, sometimes I wish there were a way to trade a couple of new tomorrows for a few old yesterdays.