Archive for February, 2011

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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Feb 17 2011

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Alaska Photos

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When I was in the Alaskan bush, I took something like a hundred and forty pictures.  Most of them were either not that interesting or of such poor quality that they’re not worth showing.  But I do have half a dozen gems, like the photo shown here.

I added eight more to those – pictures worth a thousand words, as they say – then had them all digitized.  One became the cover of my Alaska narrative, Arguing with the Wind, in its latest incarnation.  The rest can be found at a photo website called  Check them out.

Those of you who have access to my wife’s Facebook page already know about these pics.  I’m simply making them available to everyone else – publishing them, you could say.  I do not do this lightly.  It’s bad enough that I bare my soul with my written words.  Is it really necessary to do so with my images as well?

Alaska is one of those places that you either love or hate.  I never got over my brief sojourn there, and to great extent it made me the philosophizing, woods-wandering wordsmith I am today.  Once the wild gets in your system it stays there.  So I offer no further excuses for who/what I am.

Check out these photos and see if you can relate.  If so, then you are in more trouble than you realize, for the wild and the world that most of people inhabit are two entirely different things.  Which do you prefer?  Careful now.  Think long and hard before you answer that question.

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Feb 10 2011

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Heavy Snow

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Last weekend half a foot of heavy, wet snow fell, compacting the deep powder already on the ground.  I spent the better part of two days shoveling it, then shoveled a few more inches of lighter stuff that followed until the piles around my driveway were six feet high.  All the while I daydreamed about snowshoeing.  I knew the conditions in the woods would be ideal.

Yesterday I drove to Indian Brook Reservoir with snowshoes at hand and an excited dog pacing in the back seat of my car.  We hit the trail around noon.  The temps had climbed into the high teens by then.  I tramped a well-beaten path for the first half mile, then veered away from it following a side trail that hadn’t been traveled in a while.  There I left a nice, tidy set of tracks across the snow.  I stopped frequently to look back and admire my work.

Returning to the main trail, the going was much easier.  Matika ran up and down the trail like a dog possessed, while I ambled along admiring the heavily laden branches all around me.  Several trees had fallen since I had last visited the reservoir, making the trail through the woods more interesting than usual – all twists and turns.  A strong wind brewed up, shaking the boughs overhead.  Snow came showering down.

There is something about laying tracks through snowy woods that soothes the soul.  Given a choice, I would take hiking a muddy trail over ‘shoeing a snow covered one every time, but I’m always glad to be immersed in Vermont’s “winter wonderland” when cabin fever forces me to it.  Snowshoeing is clean, quiet, and incredibly calming.

Nature in winter is subdued, yet it is still nature.  It is good to be reminded of that, especially late in the season when people start complaining about winter as if it’s some kind of scourge.  In February the light returns, illuminating the white world, putting to rest the darkest thoughts.  Then melt water drips from icicles and I sense that spring isn’t that far away.  More importantly, I understand that the seasons cycle around with dramatic flair at these northern latitudes as they have for centuries.  And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Here in Vermont, we’ve already received our average winter allotment of 80 inches.  From now until spring, the rest is extra.  And while the snow shoveler in me dreads the prospect, I look forward to more white woods wanderings.  The heavier and deeper the snow gets the better.  My snowshoes are parked next to the door and there they will stay until it all melts away.

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Feb 03 2011

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Snow Day

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Over a foot of snow fell on northern Vermont yesterday – the tail end of the big storm that rocked half the country.  I spent a good part of the day shoveling it, and there was still plenty more to tackle this morning.

After three more hours of shoveling, you’d think I’d seen enough snow.  But the sky broke open around midday, temps climbed into the high teens and, well, I had a hankering to go snowshoeing.  So that’s what I did.

Vermonters aren’t easily shaken by the white stuff.  Most of the driveways that I passed on the way to the trailhead had been plowed out, and everyone was pretty much going about their business as usual.  If you can’t handle a little snow, then you shouldn’t live in Vermont.  So I’ve learned to adapt.  I take to the woods with my trusty pair of Green Mountain Bear Paws whenever the snow gets knee deep or better.

I started out on a well-groomed snowmobile trail so I really didn’t need the snowshoes at first.  But half a mile into the walk, I got a powerful urge to cut fresh tracks across the pristine snow.  Every snowshoeing fool knows that urge well.  I stepped off trail and felt the difference immediately.  My heart was pounding hard five minutes into it.  My dog Matika was delighted by the detour. She leapt through the powder, leaving chest-deep holes in her wake.

Eventually we stumbled upon a fresh deer trail and the going was a little easier.  Until we veered away from it.  When the deer trail headed for a marsh, we opted for higher ground.  We followed a small ridge taking us back the way we came.  And forty minutes after leaving the snowmobile trail, we tagged it again.  A short but sweet excursion.  Just enough clear my head.

Back home now, the sun is setting in a cloudless sky.  Wow.   I haven’t done a damned thing all day – nothing that qualifies as productive work, that is.  But snow days are like that.  When a big dump comes, you can either complain about it or embrace it.  Today I chose the latter and thoroughly enjoyed the diversion.  What the heck, I’ll get back to work tomorrow.

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