There is a great dividing line in the outdoors world, a boundary that separates the conditional participants from those that consider this relationship a year-round thing.
It's weather. Weather creates the seasonal divide. We won't say it separates the men from the boys, since there is no age or gender factor involved here. The "right stuff" to confront weather at its worst comes in many different forms.
It does not take an excess of courage or mettle to fish Lake Erie in mid-July, with temperatures in the upper 80s, a light breeze at your back, and shorts and a tank top the recommended garb.
The folks that take on the lake's challenges in early winter, however, are a different breed altogether. They know the fish are always there - that is the great lake's one constant. They also know the battle of wits with Erie's walleye takes place on a different type of playing field when December wraps its grip around our over-sized amusement park that is the outdoors.
The overwhelming majority of Erie's fishermen have the boat shrink-wrapped and tucked away in storage, the gear stashed in the top of the garage and no plans for fishing until at least April. But there are still those who never surrender. They are aware of the elements, not restricted by them.
A few of these souls have been out on the lake in recent weeks, not scared off by the gray skies or the sharp bite of the wind. They know it is mandatory to proceed with extreme caution, given the unforgiving conditions and the harshness of the surroundings, so good sense accompanies them on every trip.
The hardiest of the fishing lot have been bundling up, wearing good waterproof gloves and taking big walleye at night. This is clearly not for the faint of heart, but for those that are prepared and face the darkness and the cold with a smile, there are significant rewards.
The hunters who walked the woods only in September and October when the mornings were comfortably cool are not cut from the same cloth as those who will lace up the boots, tuck some jerky and energy bars in their jacket pocket and trudge through six inches of snow a half hour before the first thread of light spears its way through the eastern horizon.
Taking on the increasingly wily white-tailed deer in their arena is a difficult test, no matter what the calendar reads. But spending four hours in a tree stand early in the fall is essentially a walk in the park when compared to completing the same exercise in the often ornery climate of mid-winter. The cold throws a thousand darts at you every second, with each one well-armed and relentless in its pursuit of any route to reach flesh and magnify discomfort.
Our favorite hiking trails are often busy and well-worn when shirtsleeves and sneakers are the preferred garb, but the foot traffic is much thinner and infrequent if crunchy, ice-bracketed mud and tufts of snow line the route.
The visibility along these paths improves a hundredfold once winter arrives and the trees and bushes surrender their foliage. The wildlife in these parts are also much more easily detected when significant snowfall puts their coats in stark contrast to the surroundings.
There's a tiny minority, including some brave scouts and their group leaders, who will camp year-round. They know that with the proper preparation and appropriate equipment, a winter campout is an adventure worth taking. Anyone who has pulled up close to a winter campfire knows the appreciation you have for it as an oasis of soothing warmth in that vast ocean of cold.
The weather is always a factor in the outdoors. The two are married, with no chance of there ever being a separation. The weather has considerable power, but it does not own the exclusive rights to the outdoors. Aware and prepared, we have our place in that union.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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