Tag Archive 'winter'

Feb 04 2014

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Winter Walking

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Rail Trail, FebA couple months ago, I started a new job about a mile away from home. I’ve been walking to work since then. It’s a welcome change from commuting. All the same, I get the urge every once in a while to walk in more natural surroundings. That’s when I usher my dog Matika into the car and drive to a trailhead.

The Rail Trail is close to home. Even if I drive to my favorite section of it, I can be there in ten minutes. So that’s where I went yesterday, after a round of writing and running a few errands.

I didn’t need snowshoes. Thanks to manic temperatures, most of the snow that has fallen so far this winter has melted away. But walking through a couple inches of the white stuff is much like walking in sand. No matter. I took my time and the walk was pleasant enough.

Regardless what time of year it is, the fresh air and silence work on me like a tonic. Being among trees helps, too, even if they are naked. As anyone who does it regularly will tell you, walking is good for the soul.

I do my best thinking when I’m walking. My indoor thoughts tend to be stinky, downbeat, myopic. But outdoors, on my feet and moving, my thoughts are fresher, more upbeat, expansive. All that circulating blood helps, I’m sure.

I prefer walking in the warmer seasons, but a winter walk is still better than sitting inside all day. Come spring I’ll head for the hills and really stretch my legs. In the meantime, this will do.

 

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Jan 02 2014

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A Room of My Own

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my roomOne thing leads to another. A month and a half ago, I switched jobs. That put my wife Judy and I on the same schedule, making it difficult for me to do literary work and her to relax at the same time in our common living space downstairs. The solution was simple: move my office upstairs. After all, we have a bedroom up there that is used only a week or two each year. So last week Judy helped me move my furniture. Then I built some more shelves and hauled all my books and papers up the stairs.

Now I have a room of my own where I can close the door and work undisturbed. After spending a little time in this new workspace, I wonder why I didn’t make the move a long time ago.

It’s ten below zero outside this morning. The weather forecasters say it won’t get above zero today. I had planned on going for a hike with my dog this afternoon but I think we’ll stay inside instead. So it goes this time of year.

Funny thing about being an outdoor/nature writer: I do most of my work indoors. Oh sure, I venture into the woods when I can and scribble in a field journal while I’m out there. But the work is done on a computer screen at home. The way I figure it, the cold season is the best time for writing since I prefer being outside the other seven months of the year.

Deep winter. I expect to get a lot of work done during the next few months. Now I have a good space in which to do it. The world will thaw out soon enough. Then there will be plenty of things to draw me outside.

 

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Nov 25 2013

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Long Winter Siege

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winter gardenEven though I’ve been expecting it, the first snowfall of the season always takes me by surprise. It came with a vengeance the night before last: wind howling, sudden whiteout, and the highway home as slick as an ice rink.

I awoke yesterday morning to find a latticework of frost spreading across the window. I went outside before breakfast to feel the arrival of winter. It slapped me in the face the moment I stepped out the door.

The garden in my front yard still has a little color in it. Traces of leafy green and autumnal red linger there. But for the most part, the plants have died back and are hunkered down for the long, cold season. The siege is on.

Here in Vermont, a casual approach to winter simply will not do. I have snow tires on my car now. The storm windows of my old house are down and the leaks around them have been sealed with rope caulk. My plow guy has staked the corners of the driveway in anticipation of the first big dump. Salt and shovels have been moved from storage to the front porch. I am ready.

At midday yesterday, I went for a walk on the Rail Trail with my dog Matika despite temps in the teens. The biting wind gave me an ice cream headache. Matika, with her thick coat of fur, frolicked in the snow. She loves it. But I only tolerate winter, seeing it as an opportunity to get a lot of literary work done since I’ll be inside for the most part. When you live this far north, you find ways to cope with long, cold season. Either that or you go a little stir crazy. Vermont winters are not for the faint of heart.

 

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Dec 18 2012

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Darkness and Light

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We spend half our waking hours in the dark this time of year. Not so much an issue when we’re indoors, but outside we sure notice it. So it’s nice to see the colored lights strung everywhere. They’re festive. More importantly, they diminish the impact of darkness in early winter, making it easier to tolerate.

Even though I’m no big fan of Christmas, I put lights on my house. I like seeing them there when I come home from work late at night. They make me smile no matter what kind of day I’ve had.

Pagans dragged trees into their houses and celebrated the Winter Solstice with light long before Christians hijacked the holiday. It makes sense, really. Why not light a candle on the darkest day of the year? No sense sitting in the dark and whining about it.

Winter is just beginning. There’s a month lag between the shortest day of the year and the meteorological middle of this season. Yeah, that means the temperatures drop even as the days lengthen in January. Then it’s another two-month crawl out of winter – here in northern New England, anyhow. That’s a dismal prospect for those of us who neither ski nor snowmobile. Oh sure, I’ve polyurethaned my snowshoes and will break them out when the first big dump of the white stuff occurs. But I do so reluctantly. I much prefer the greener half of the year.

Forget about summertime. The Winter Solstice is upon us. Boil up water for tea or hot chocolate, revel in the indoor warmth and light, and surround your self with friends and loved ones. Plenty of time for dark thoughts later. ‘Tis the season. What the hell, why not take whatever pleasure you can from it?

 

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Dec 20 2011

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The Dark Season

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I can’t help but think of the holiday hoopla as a distraction from the dark season. With the days brutally short, temperatures dropping and all the green gone, this is a tough time of year. So we drag evergreens into our houses, put up colorful lights, then engage in a series of elaborate rituals that keep us busy until we can get used to winter. I do it and I’m not even a Christian. Many of my nature-loving friends aren’t Christians either, yet we exchange greeting cards. Write it off to cultural pressure if you want, but the truth is that we all welcome the distraction. The days surrounding the Winter Solstice are hard to take.

There wasn’t time enough to get into the woods yesterday so my dog Matika and I did the next best thing. We went for a long walk on a nearby section of the Rail Trail. The naked trees clattered in a fierce wind. The ground underfoot was frozen solid, and the endlessly grey sky overhead provided no solace. Yet it felt good to get out and stretch the legs. Properly dressed, the chill wasn’t too bad.

From Ebeneser Scrooge to the Grinch, those who don’t embrace the holidays are held in low regard. And rightly so. It’s hard enough getting through these dark days without the extra negativity. There are frigid months ahead, so break out the sweets, strong spirits and good cheer. Whatever gets us through this darkness is a good thing.

Oh sure, there’s the hyper commercialism of Christmas to criticize, but what’s the difference between December and the rest of the year? Only the intensity. Fact is, we live in a consumer culture. Christmas is merely the grand finale – the climax to an orgy of spending that begins anew every January. Complaining about that is like complaining about sunlight . . . or the lack thereof.

No doubt I’ll be taking more winter walks in the weeks ahead. No doubt I’ll be daydreaming about the greener season while I’m slogging across snow and ice. But I wouldn’t want to live in the southern latitudes where the darkness is much less pronounced. This way I don’t take anything for granted, not even the sun rising.

 

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Feb 24 2011

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February Sun

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The bright February sun burns through a cloudless sky as I don a pair of Yaktrax and start hiking around Indian Brook Reservoir.  The last time I was here, a couple weeks ago, I needed snowshoes to negotiate the deep powder.  Now it’s a different story.  Now the trail is hard-packed snow, covered with ice in places.  Traction is what is needed today, and traction is what the rubber-and-steel-coil contraptions that I’ve slipped onto my boots provide.

When I let my dog out to pee this morning, a blast of single-digit air greeted me.  But the February sun has been burning bright since then, so now the temps are in the high twenties.  When I’m standing in the open, it feels much warmer.  I welcome the change.

The day is relatively long in late February – a few minutes shy of eleven hours at these latitudes.  Gone are the short days of December and its distant, indifferent sun.  Now the dazzling yellow orb overhead is both forceful and inviting.  A few hours of it on a day like this and snow piles whither.  At least half of the snow covering the ground has melted away already, and in a few places here and there the ground actually shows itself.  Surely the sap of maple trees is starting to flow.  One doesn’t need to be a syrup producer to sense that.

My dog Matika is busy sniffing.  There are fresh tracks everywhere, crisscrossing the trail.  Many of the smaller woodland creatures are scurrying about now, looking for food to get them through the rest of winter.  There are more dog and people tracks, as well.  Yeah, everyone is restless.

Beneath a stand of mature hemlocks, I pluck small, half-buried cones from the snow.  I gather up a dozen and squirrel them away in a side pocket of my jacket.  When I get home, I’ll pile the cones on my desk where the indoor heat will open them.  And there they will stay until the first real signs of spring appear.  This little ritual keeps me going this time of year, when ice clings stubbornly to roof edges and snow is still everywhere.  I am heartened by the tiny cones, and the bright light that’s slowly melting away these last few cold, winter days.  It won’t be long now.

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Jan 27 2011

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Surviving the Cold

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Monday morning we awoke to frigid temperatures here in the North Country.  Thermometers registered seventeen below zero in Saint Albans, and even colder in outlying towns.  That’s the coldest it has been in years.  That’s cold enough for spit to freeze seconds after hitting the ground.  Furnaces worked overtime, everyone bundled up, and some cars wouldn’t start.  No one went anywhere they didn’t have to go.

The cold snap lasted three days.  Now we’re back to normal temps – back to days with 20-25 degree highs, that is.  Yet people complain.  It’s midwinter, the snow is piled high and sub-freezing temps continue unabated.

I’m just about to start complaining myself, then I look out my kitchen window.  A few feet away from the warmth that I enjoy, a dozen birds are fighting for survival.  Literally.

Sparrows, finches, juncos and chickadees – they all take what they can from the bird feeders dangling from the naked branches of an old lilac bush before some other bird beaks them away.  Others vie for the seeds that have fallen to the ground.  Still others peck at the suet.

They all look fat and healthy, but looks can be deceiving.  Their feathers are puffed up, providing maximum insulation against the cold.  Most of their kind flew south for the winter, but these few decided to winter over.  Why?  Judy and I put up our feeders late last month, long after the migration ended.  What would become of these birds if there weren’t any feeders?  I shudder to think.

Like most people who spend their hard-earned money feeding wild birds, we enjoy seeing some sign of life out our kitchen window.  We especially enjoy the bright red cardinals and charming woodpeckers, but any bird will do.  Seeing them makes winter seem temporary.  The snow will melt and the grass will green again, no doubt.  It’s just a matter of time.

That said, I can’t help but wonder how a winged creature weighing only a few ounces can survive the punishing cold, day after day for months on end.  It seems highly unlikely that any of them will make it through.    Yet somehow most of them do.

Some wild animals can survive the worst conditions – conditions that would make the healthiest of domestic creatures keel over in a matter of days.  I can’t help but admire scrappy birds even while watching them fight over crumbs.  Then I turn away from the window, sip my hot tea, and return to my indoor work happy that I’m not one of them.  As long as my furnace keeps working and my cupboards are full, I’ve got it made.

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Jan 07 2011

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Deep In It

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My dog Matika was restless so we had to do something.  Okay, maybe I was a little restless, too, having stayed indoors doing literary work for a week or more.  At any rate, we headed for Aldis Hill the other day despite the weather.

I had hoped for a daylong excursion in the mountains but a morning snow shower nixed that.  The prospect of a forty-minute, white-knuckle drive each way along greasy roads did not appeal to me.  Better to stay close to home and leave the bigger outing for a sunny day.  So I headed for the hill.

We hiked up Aldis Hill as a light snow shower tapered off to the occasional flurry.  Almost immediately I regretted not having a pair of Yaktrax with me –  a simple device that slips over each boot, providing traction on icy surfaces.  A couple inches of fresh snow concealed the hazardous conditions underfoot.  Last weekend’s melt-off had turned the hill into a great mound of ice.  Oh well.

Matika didn’t care.  She ran through the woods all smiles, as sure-footed as a mountain goat.  I hobbled along, paying more attention to where I stepped than to the surrounding snow-covered woods.  Near the top of the hill, I stopped long enough to enjoy the view eastward towards French Hill.  And that’s when it struck with full force:  deep in it now.  Deep into winter and there’s nothing to do now but endure.  A fortnight past the Solstice, the days are getting longer, yes, but it’ll be another month before that’s noticeable.  Until then it’s the deep freeze with long dark evenings, a lot of shoveling, and difficult driving.

Descending the hill was even more treacherous than ascending it.  I caught myself wishing for a lot more snow so that I could break out my snowshoes.  That’s how woods walkers like me embrace winter.  Those whose moods run closer to the surface glide down slopes on skis, but some of us would rather slog along, sinking half a foot into the white stuff with each step.    What the hell, if it’s going to be winter we might as well be waist-deep in it.

Matika doesn’t care.  Winter, spring, summer or fall, it’s all good to her.  Dogs are even better than children at being in the moment.  But I am more than half a century old, think too much, and am always looking ahead.  So I dream of warmer, sunnier days even as the cool, fresh air fills my lungs.

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