Tag Archive 'nature in winter'

Jan 12 2015

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The Depths of Winter

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rock.iceWhen the holidays are in the rear view mirror and it’s too soon to dream about spring, a walk through the woods is just an excuse to get out of the house and blow off those stinky thoughts. I try to do it at least once a week despite whatever’s luring me to my writing desk. It’s simply a matter of good health.

A snowstorm is coming but I can’t wait for it to turn this grey of mine world into a wonderland. I have to get out now. So off I go with my dog Matika to commune with frigid nature.

Entering the woods, I am surprised to find not one or two but three downy woodpeckers hard at work, trying to extract whatever sustenance they can from dead trees. They telegraph survival through the quiet woods. I wish I could direct them somehow to the fatty suet that’s dangling outside my kitchen window.

There is a stark beauty to the winter forest, even when hardly any snow covers the ground. It is the same kind of beauty one finds in the desert or at sea year round. Not all beauty is lush and vibrant.

The rivulets that spring from the rocks are suspended in time. They won’t run again until temps get above freezing again. God only knows when that will be. But the dangling icicles are magnificent all the same. I revel in it because, well, that’s all I have right now – that, the woodpeckers, and the creaky trunks of leafless trees all around me.

Not all the trees are naked. A copse of young beeches still sport hundreds of dry, ochre leaves that rattle in the wind. They sound like the ghosts of last summer. “This too shall pass,” they say to me. Yes, I am listening. And with each icy step I take, I move closer to the next warm season.

I am accustomed to winter now, expecting the cold to sting my cheeks and the rime to gather on my beard as I finish my walk. I return home soon enough. A day later, while writing this, I sip tea while watching the snow fall outside. Strangely enough, I prefer this to living in Florida. Go figure.

 

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Dec 15 2014

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Snow-laden Boughs

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snowladentreesA Nor’easter struck New England last week, leaving over a foot of snow here in the Champlain Valley. The rest of Vermont got a whole lot more. For four days I shoveled and roof-raked it – when I wasn’t working, that is. Then yesterday I tramped through nearby fields, finally looking up to see the boughs of trees heavily laden with snow. A winter wonderland to be sure, and well before Christmas. This is the Vermont that skiers and sentimental songsters dream about.

Yeah, I can appreciate it, even though I’m more of a green forest kind of guy. Back in Ohio, where I grew up, my mother reports that the landscape is typically dreary. I remember it well: various shades of brown and endless grey skies. No, I don’t miss that. Though much longer and colder, Vermont winters are more aesthetically pleasing.

This much snow this early in the season is an ominous sign. Climate change has made recent winters rather erratic. A good, old-fashioned Vermont winter with blue skies and plenty of snow would be nice, but fluctuating temperatures could make a sloppy mess of things again. That’s what happened last winter, as well as in years past.

I try not to think about climate change, mostly because there isn’t much that I can do about it. Oh sure, we could in theory shift the global economy away from fossil fuels before things get way out of hand, but how realistic is that?  This morning I read that 196 nations signed an agreement to start setting limits by 2020. Hmm… I can’t help but think that it’s going to be too little too late, especially in countries where folks are just now moving out of abject poverty. Then there are those who still say that climate change is an elaborate hoax. No, it doesn’t do me any good to think about it at all.

And yet the boughs of trees are heavily laden with snow. It is both beautiful yet deeply concerning, especially since the temps are supposed to get well above freezing tomorrow. Did I say beautiful? Yes, let’s focus on that, and let the politicians deal with the rest of it, at least until someone comes up with a viable alternative to what passes for environmental concern in these days. It’s not good to be always focusing on the negative.

 

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Nov 17 2014

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Winter Begins

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SnowTreeAfter a pleasant weekend spent with visiting friends, my restless dog and I head for the woods. A wet snow falls from a grey sky but we don’t care. We need to spend some time outside.

Snowfall clings to rocks and trees. It also covers the ground. This is the first of it here in the Champlain Valley, really.  Last week a few flurries came down at midday and a dusting of the white stuff appeared on the grass before the sun got to it. But this snow is accumulating.

Winters are a challenge here in the North Country. You don’t want to live here if you can’t handle the cold, long dark nights, or the ground covered with snow for months on end. Although tomorrow afternoon’s temperature could melt off the snow now landing, it could easily stay with us for the next four or five months. It’s happened before.

I’m not big fan of winter and all it entails, but it’s good for literary work. If I lived in California I’d probably do a lot more hiking and a lot less writing. Sunshine and warmth have that effect on me. As things are, though, my life is more balanced. The seasons suit me.

During my first winter walk, I place my feet carefully so that I don’t fall. I go down once all the same, slipping on a slanting, snow-covered rock. While getting back to my feet, I laugh knowingly while saying, “There it is.” It begins.

The season of slip-sliding around is upon us. So is shoveling, treacherous roads, getting up in the dark, and frigid walks. But those crisp, blue-sky days when snowshoeing is such a delight are also coming. So are the many pleasures of indoor life.

Yeah, bring it on. I’m ready. I love Vermont year around. If I didn’t I would have moved away a long time ago.

 

 

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Jan 15 2014

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Icy Hike

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winter hike at duskBecause of the thick coat of ice covering everything during the past few weeks, my dog Matika and I haven’t been outdoors much. Restless and feeling pent up, we went out Monday in spite of it.

A January thaw had melted off most of the ice and snow. All the same, the trail was difficult to negotiate. Good thing I was wearing Yaktrax rubber and wire traction devices on my boots. Without them I would have been sliding all over the place. As things were, I did better than Matika.

I was busy doing literary work most of the day so we didn’t leave the house until late in the afternoon. That put us on the trail just before dusk. We did a short loop that only took an hour. I had stashed a headlamp in a jacket pocket before leaving the house, but I really didn’t want to use it.

A little exercise, fresh air, and the sound of wind whispering through the trees. These are reasons enough to go for a hike no matter what the conditions are, even in the dead of winter. Matika is always ready when I am. The hardest part is getting out of the house.

From an icy ledge, I enjoyed a good view of Mount Mansfield all blue and frigid-looking in the distance. A short while later, a swath of pink streaked across the sky. I caught glimpses of it through the barren trees.

In winter, when the flora and fauna are dormant, the elemental aspects of the natural world are more pronounced. Every time I witness it, I resolve to get out more this time of year. But the dire warnings of weather forecasters keep me hunkered down at home more often than not. My mistake.

 

 

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Feb 21 2013

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Reboot

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snowy treesIt’s amazing how a good walk alone in the woods can clean out the corners of one’s mind, cluttered as they might be with the petty frustrations of daily life. I hadn’t expected as much. I knew only that I had to jump off the merry-go-round for a while.

After driving an hour into the mountains, I left my car at the bottom of an unimproved road then followed a set of truck tracks back to a favorite jump off point. I stepped into the trackless snow beyond a closed gate, following an overgrown logging trail down to the iced-over brook.

A lone chickadee welcomed me. My dog Matika ran ahead, sniffing out wild animal sign. I tamped down four inches of heavy wet snow with each step I took, glad to have left my snowshoes behind. They weren’t made for these conditions.

The brook gurgled beneath the ice. That and the sound of trees creaking in an occasional gust of wind was all that broke the silence. Snow clung to tree branches, whitening the world all around me. I prefer being immersed in a green forest, but a white one will do in a pinch. The stark beauty of it worked its magic on my frayed nerves.

I stopped after bushwhacking for a mile and a half and turned my foam pad into a makeshift seat. Then I sat down. A strong gust of wind shook snow from the trees, chilling me to the bone. That cut my lunch break short. No matter. I sat there long enough to reboot.

The afternoon walk that followed was effortless – one slow step at a time. Not so much hiking as simply meandering through the woods, marveling at the silence and stillness of nature in winter.

Eventually I tagged the unimproved road and hiked out. But I was not the same man who had entered the woods a few hours earlier. I had reverted to my old, wild self and was happy for it. Too bad this frame of mind can’t be bottled.

 

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Feb 06 2013

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Winter Walk

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You know you have a touch of cabin fever when you need to get outside no matter what the weather is doing. That is why I donned my thermals and wools even as a snowstorm was brewing. But it turned out to be a passing squall. By the time I reached the Rail Trail, the snowfall had diminished to a few scattered flakes and the sky was breaking open.

With each step I kicked up a couple inches of the fluffy white stuff. My dog Matika ran ahead, stopped to sniff until I caught up with her then took off again.  She was as happy as I was to be outdoors.

A lone chickadee called from the woods, reminding me of other walks deeper into the wild, and the great calm that comes over me whenever I’m back in my element. Even on the relatively tame Rail Trail only a few miles from home, I could feel it. Funny how it always comes as something of a surprise. Amazing how little it takes these days to trigger the feeling. Apparently I’m predisposed to it now.

A mile or so down the trail, I stopped to groove on the snowy woods all around me, letting my hungry eyes feast on the February sun as it cleared a remnant patch of clouds high overhead. The small stream nearby was frozen over. Animal tracks were few and far between. No matter. Even as she sleeps, Mother Nature is beautiful.

When I turned around and headed back towards the car, a wicked wind blew out of the west slapping me across the face. Just a reminder that we’re still in the thick of it, I suppose. Fine by me. Let the wind blow, bringing with it whatever travails it can brew up. I’m not so easily daunted these days. Like a gnarled old oak, I’ve learned how to weather the seasons. Growing older has that advantage, anyhow.

 

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Jan 30 2013

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January Thaw

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A five-day stint of subzero weather broke over the weekend with a little snowstorm. Then the wind picked up, blowing in unseasonably warm air. This morning, I couldn’t resist. After a short round of writing, I pulled on my hiking boots, put Matika in the car and headed for Aldis Hill.

The trail underfoot was half-frozen earth in places and soft mud in others. I knew it was going to be a messy walk but I didn’t care. I badly needed what John Burroughs once called, “Wordless intercourse with rude nature.” In other words, it was time to get out of the house.

The wind roared overhead, knocking dead limbs out of the trees. I tried not to think about climate change even though the ground was nearly clear of snow. This is the second big thaw we’ve seen this month, following the second significant cold snap. Crazy weather. Whatever. For an hour, I shrugged off the implications and simply enjoyed it.

Halfway up the hill, I took off my hat and gloves.  A little later I left the beaten path. Matika ran ahead of me until she found something to sniff, giving me time enough to catch up with her. Together we tramped aimlessly through the woods, grooving on the stark, wild beauty of it all. Soon we tagged a trail again, completing the loop back to the car. A large patch moss clinging to rock caught my eye. Its brilliant, lively hue made me think of spring even though I know better. I reveled in it. Green is green.

Back home again, it has taken me a while to clean up my dirty dog. No matter. I feel pretty good now, and will be able to focus better on my literary work because of that walk. I just hope I don’t start daydreaming about the coming warm season. It’s way too early for that.

 

 

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Dec 31 2012

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Cutting Tracks in the Snow

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“Let me know when you are ready,” I said to Judy as we lounged in our living room reading the Sunday newspaper online. The wind was howling in the distance. I was hellbent upon going out and cutting fresh tracks in the snow but Judy was balking. So I was surprised when she came down the stairs all dressed to go before I had even moved from my chair.

Our dog Matika didn’t hesitate. She jumped into the car the second I opened the door. She didn’t care that the thermometer registered twenty degrees below freezing. “Let’s go!” her body language said as she flashed a big, canine smile.

An overnight storm had added another four inches to the foot of snow dumped a few days earlier. Conditions haven’t been this good for snowshoeing in nearly two years.

We cut tracks in virgin snow while enjoying the peace and quiet of the wintry woods. Conifers heavily laden with white stuff provided ample cover from the wind. Our morning trek couldn’t have been more delightful. The energy we burned while tamping down the deep powder kept us warm enough.

Matika made us laugh as she romped through the snow. She buried her head in it whenever she caught the scent of some passing creature. Judy and I stopped several times to catch our breath and marvel at the simple beauty of the white world all around us. Even to a lover of green things like myself, nature in winter has its appeal.

By the time we got back to the car, Judy’s toes were half numb, I had rime in my beard, and Matika’s paws had iced up. Still it was fun. Hot chocolate and a warm bath took the chill away. And we thoroughly enjoyed being indoors for the rest of the day.

 

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Dec 04 2012

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Evergreen

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Shortly after Thanksgiving, I shoveled snow from my driveway for the first time this year. That was something of a surprise. But the snow that fell a couple days ago came with ample warning. I went out to Indian Brook Reservoir to greet it. Some things are best tackled head on.

In winter mode now, I wear hat, gloves and several layers of thermals and wools when I go into the woods. The days of t-shirt hiking are gone, along with all the fresh vegetation. That’s okay. I still have fresh air and the evergreens to sustain me.

With few exceptions, conifers keep their color during the winter. To eyes as hungry for green as mine are, that is no small matter. I find myself gravitating to them even though they block out much-needed daylight. I find myself drawn to their natural beauty, especially when they are highlighted by snow. Clearly I’m not alone in this sentiment. Even those who aren’t devout Christians are dragging evergreen trees into their homes. Their evergreen-ness consoles us.

Turning a corner at Indian Brook Reservoir, I caught a copse of conifers backlit by grey light as the snow fell. It took my breath away. There is the invigorating joy of the first lily in the spring, the lush happiness of full summer, and the burnt orange delight of autumn, but the snow-laced evergreens of early winter are something else. A walk through them and suddenly I am contemplating the mystical. The interplay of green and white – of shadow and light – excites my imagination, making me wonder how this world came to be. The earth tilted on its axis and circling the sun isn’t the whole story. Surely something else is at work here.

 

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Dec 29 2011

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End Year Hike

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Despite the fact that I was still tired from a tough shift at the hotel the evening before, I donned thermals and wools yesterday morning and went for a hike. Falling temps and a winter storm were in the forecast, so I figured this was my last chance to tramp around for a while. Besides, holiday hoopla had kept me indoors for the past couple weeks. I desperately needed to get outside.

I didn’t wander far from home. I’ve been spending too much time in the car lately so I drove no farther than necessary to reach the woods. A small patch of wild country only ten minutes away did the trick.

What started as a hike quickly turned into a bushwhack. I followed a logging trail to a yard full of lopped off tree limbs then stepped into trackless forest. Fine by me. Meandering about aimlessly suited my mood. I tramped through the snow-covered woods, stopping every once in a while to look around. I marveled at the way new fallen snow clung to tree branches. I saw some kind of weasel slip into the remnants of an old stone wall – a black flash against white. My dog Matika sniffed at fresh squirrel tracks. None appeared.

Just to stay oriented, I kept my eye on a large beaver pond clearly visible through the trees. Consequently, I ended up circumnavigating it. On the far side of it, I encountered a smaller beaver pond apparently blocking my path. It’s dam provided an easy way to the other bank, though. I like this about bushwhacking. The landscape tells you where to go.

During the rest of my walk I followed a soft, muddy logging trail covered by several inches of heavy, wet snow. More like early spring than early winter. I didn’t mind it. Breathing hard is good sometimes – a reminder that existence is fundamentally organic despite all abstract thought. There’s more to life than working, eating and indoor entertainment. That’s a good thing to keep in mind this time of year.

 

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