Monday, December 28, 2009

Yes, it's winter...

There’s enough snow now to make a difference. It’s truly winter, now. It snowed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after and was still snowing lightly today. For about a week now I’ve been doing little but lying around, visiting folks and family and eating and eating all sorts of holiday goodies. The holiday festivities have sort of calmed by now and when I woke this morning and saw that snow drifting down I just had to get outside for some activity.

I figured I could get out for a hike before breakfast while everyone was still asleep but when I stepped into my snowshoes I saw the rawhide was broken on one of the shoes right where the binding attached. Damn! Not ready to give up, though, I went back inside to dig through the pile of snowshoes for another that would suffice. I’m not sure why I’ve kept those old shoes, all made of wood and rawhide, especially the ones with broken frames, but I was happy to find one Ojibwa style that was in good shape and had a binding on it. So I would have my hike after all, with an Ojibwa snowshoe on my left foot and an Alaskan on my right.

My planned route had two purposes; I would get some much needed exercise, and I would get a start at tramping down a ski trail. The scenery and possible wildlife sightings were important bonuses. Jack the setter was eager for the chance so he came along. It only took minutes after entering the woods to feel enveloped in the landscape. Fresh snow clung to every stem of the hazel brush, every limb of the aspen, and every bough of the balsam. The snowshoes pushed muffled into the snow and even Jack busting ahead coursed forward in silence.

I can’t believe there was a better thing to do this morning. Here and there I crossed a deer track, some likely moved by Jack. My route was mostly north over and down the first hill that always is tricky when skied. It’s surprising how fast the brush grows to choke a trail, and some trees where down since the last time I followed this route. I found a new way across a thick creek bottom and when I climbed out the other side I heard a grouse flush. A few yards later I found a snow roost in a bit of a clearing. I might have thought there wasn’t enough snow for the grouse to shelter in, but I learned otherwise this morning. I’m always on the lookout for predator tracks, but the fresh layer of snow revealed nothing of that yet. However, in a day or so I’ll find fox and coyote tracks, fisher and marten, and maybe some wolf tracks.

I stopped on the last high ridge before the country descends into the swampy bottomland south of Big Rice Lake. On many days the lake is visible three quarters of a mile away, but today the light snow obscured the view. On the way back to the house I widened the trail on the hills hopefully to make for easier skiing. Halfway home I saw a grouse had walked out from under thick balsams and into my own tracks, but I never saw or heard the bird. Home and coffee, the usual morning bustle and readying JP for her trip back to school, the early hours were mine – a fine start to the day, and I guess it’s time to learn to fix snowshoes.

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