That Ol’ Rustling Wind

By Reader and Contributor : Bill Hall

Following the last two stories by the Robinson brothers sharing with us their great experiences discovered hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with Nathan’s request for others to share their stories, I decided some of you may enjoy one of my experiences on-the-job as an Illinois Professional Land Surveyor.

Back in the late ‘80’s, our company was hired to survey some farmland near the Village of Sugar Grove, about 50 miles west of downtown Chicago, in rural Kane County. Our client was informed by his accountant in London that he needed to start spending more money, even at a business loss for tax purposes. Our client had increased his wealth significantly with a new invention. This person did not create the devices we see used every time we go to a grocery store, but he is responsible for the technology that made that laser-scanning device possible for checking out our grocery items, one-by-one, so quickly and accurately.

Anyway, after meeting with our client and his Grounds Foreman, my rodman, Dave, and I set about our work to survey two adjacent farms being purchased that winter bringing the total holdings to more than 18,000 acres. The day was overcast, frigid and had a howling wind blowing hard and steady, straight out of the west. The parcel we were to do monument search on was bounded on the south by a gravel road with farms on the other three sides, no trees, and about six inches of new snow. Unfortunately, we could not drive over the land to reach the north property corners or the section corner, because the ground had not frozen before the snowfall, which insulated the soft ground underneath and would have gotten our four-wheel drive work truck miserably stuck and no way to get any help.

Monument search requires the use of a metal detector to hopefully locate an iron pipe driven into the ground to mark the corner of a property. I say hopefully, because not all farm property had been previously surveyed at this time and marked with an iron pipe. Once the metal detector sings out from an iron signal, you then need to dig through the snow and the soil to uncover the iron pipe marking the property corner… or fence wire or an old beer can made before the use of aluminum, or a discarded piece of broken farm implement.

Dave and I were fortunate to be able to drive up a farm lane about a quarter of a mile to the farmstead, gather the metal detector and shovel, then leave the truck to walk another quarter of a mile north to the fence line marking the north boundary and head west, directly into the wind. The temperature was about 10 degrees and the westerly winds were a steady 20 miles per hour with nothing blocking or diverting it for about 2 miles. Therefore, the wind chill gave us a feel-like temp of -9 degrees while dragging our feet through half a foot of fresh snow. This also meant ice crystals were battering our face and causing a constant drone of background noise as they got picked up and bounced across the blanket of snow.

In the Midwest, whether there is still an ancient barbed wire fence separating one farm field from another or not, there would still be a grass strip of land 4 – 6 feet wide where the fence is or was. This strip usually has weeds within it also. Over the decades, the tilled ground will be somewhat lower than this grass/weed strip. Now in the winter, the grass, of course had turned brown and stiff. Likewise, the weeds had dried out and stiffened where it poked out above the snow. In this wind, the weeds banging against one another created an additional clattering noise as we made our way west directly into the biting wind. Except for my face, I was starting to raise a sweat within my one-piece snowmobile suit, Sorel Pac Boots, and fur-lined Mad Bomber hat.

As the trek to our first property corner to search was another eighth of a mile or more west, Dave and I really did not converse, because besides the strenuous walk, the strength of the wind made it almost impossible to hear one another. We continued walking side-by-side, or sometimes in line due to the effort of breaking a trail through the snow next to the grass strip.

Suddenly, I heard a rustling in the weeds on my right. It sounded different from the clattering of weeds I had been hearing constantly for quite a while. Turning towards the grass strip I saw a blur about 10 feet behind me and called out to Dave, “Did you see that?”

We both turned around and stared at the receding shape running away. “Is that a dog?” asked Dave. Every farm has a dog or several dogs that live and sleep outside, but we both observed this dog had very long legs. That was no dog, but a coyote! We both stopped to watch this wild animal we had been within 3 feet of.

The coyote ran away from us for a quarter of a mile before it turned its head to look back at us over its shoulder while continuing to run. The land was rising as it continued to run east of us, so we could see the coyote very clearly on the open farm land. It did not stop until it had run about a half mile from us. The coyote stopped briefly at the top of the rise, turned sideways to us to see if we were chasing it, then continued to lope away and out of our sight. Next to us, in the snowy weeds of the grass strip, there was a perfect oval-shaped impression where the coyote had curled itself up for protection from the nagging wind.

A very unusual event I thoroughly enjoyed and recall fondly. Sugar Grove had about 2000 people at that time and now has 10,000. We were standing in a field with no road or house of any kind closer than a half mile away. Coyotes in Illinois’ rural areas are very skittish of humans and have a generational instinct to avoid us at all costs after 200 years of being hunted. Dave and I got the experience of a lifetime because we approached this coyote from downwind in a very stiff breeze that erased any chance of being identified by our scent. The wind clattering the weeds gave a cover for any sound we made, as well as, carrying our soundwaves away from its hearing. Oh, that ol’ rustling wind!