On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

A Walk in Winter Woods

I took a long walk in the woods the other day. The sun was shining with an irresistible invitation. Unseasonably warm weather made gloves optional (of course I brought them as well as a spare pair of mitts) and the lack of snow made me feel that skis (which I own and love) or snow-shoes (which I unfortunately don’t own) would not be worth the necessity of packing them across the open spaces. I have not been out in the woods as much as usual this winter and, well, I was wrong about the snow.

It would have been fine had I stuck to the sun-baked, wind-swept south side of the coulee I chose to follow. Snow has barely accumulated to my knees in the open, moss-covered under-story beneath towering conifers, where the first of two ruffed grouse that day startled me when it broke its “I’m a stump” cover and thundered high up into the sheltering branches of an old spruce tree.

But an old trail tempted me down into the deep, familiar place where hare hide under drooping boughs and tangled willow and alder entwine their branches to build protective arbors over tiny waterways, that in spring carve their courses with melted snow, deep into the soft and giving ravine floor.

There, after making my way down the overgrown trail, steeply into the flat-bottomed defile, where the bordering slopes capture the snow and tame the wind, and the blizzard is broken and forced to unload its arsenal, I found myself negotiating the tangled maze in a thigh-deep layer. In such a place, each step must be taken with great care in summer; water carves beneath deceptively solid moss ceilings and covers suspended branches. So much more hidden are these treacherous obstacles in the winter under the serene, pristine quilt.

I had three choices once I realized that this part of my hike was going to be more challenging than usual and possibly somewhat unsafe. After all, if I did not sprain an ankle (or have a heart attack from the physical effort), I was more vulnerable than usual to any predator that happened to be close by and hungry. I could return up the trail I came down on, or make my way the short distance across the ravine and climb a steeper and more deeply laden hill on the far side, or I could follow the curving wash to a snowmobile trail that I knew cut across it perhaps a quarter of a kilometer away. I chose the last option because I love this place.

I could worry about wolves, cougar, lynx and even black and grizzly bears, although bears are unlikely to be straying very far from their dens this time of year. I could even worry about coyotes but I think they would have to be extremely hungry before attacking a human. They are too smart. They have learned about people and big sticks. I don’t worry though. Not usually. I see their tracks and I beg to get a glimpse of their lives of basic survival that I can only imagine. I know well that they avoid me. I am the enemy. I am the creature to avoid.

Deep in the ravine, slowly lifting one foot high after the other like a stalking lizard, making my way over and under grasping branches, I would be easy prey. It was very unlikely, however that any large predator would be nearby. I was not far from the industrial part of town; occasionally the echoes of heedless grumbling and gnashing sounds reached down into the hollow. I could tell by the tracks, that ungulates, the more likely prey, were no longer attempting to use the little valley as a path, the snow was much more dense and shallow on the open plateaus and hillsides. My more likely companions there were the masters of the snow. Snowshoe hare and their nemesis, the lynx are night creatures though; their dramas written on the landscape for me to read in the sunshine.

For much of an hour then, I plunged each heavy boot onto unknown footing; one careful probing through powdery drift after the other. It was not a hardship. Time was suspended and for long moments, I stopped to take in the beauty around me. Snow cloaked the landscape, pillowing on branches and wrapping around boughs. Dainty footprints of birds and rodents marked the fragile surface with staccato landings and percussive marches. Golden swaths of sunlight streamed across the gully in broken ribbons, gilding the suspended skeletons of alder leaves and setting the pine aglow. Chickadees chirped and a pine grosbeak softly sang; no, it was no hardship, just a long-overdue reminder that I am alive and living is grand.

*Please forgive the run-on sentences, but I’ve been reading Dickens again…
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17 comments on “A Walk in Winter Woods

  1. Heather
    February 19, 2012

    This is lovely, Cindy and makes me wish I was up in my north woods. I can relate to your adventures. We’ve had precious little snow this year, so when I took reporters up to see the bog a month ago, I wasn’t prepared for the snowy blanket to be as deep as it was. It’s slow going, but worth is and the best way to notice all the signs and details we tend to miss when we’re moving more quickly. Something, I know you know well and which comes through in your brilliant photos.

    I don’t think you’ll ever have to worry too much about being some predator’s lunch. As I’m sure you know, they hear you long before you’re ever upon them and it’s only the very curious that stick around long enough to make their presence known. People always ask me if I’m scared walking alone through the forest and I’m not, even when I’ve had a few close encounters. I think it’s because you start to feel part of the landscape and there’s a sense of belonging that comes with that. You’re much more likely to get hit by a car than eaten by a wolf ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing your rambles. It’s always such a pleasure to read.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      February 19, 2012

      Thank you, Heather for your thoughtful comment. It is good to go slow and I seldom do go slow except when I’m in the woods. There is just so much to see, and hear, and smell, and I want to be part of it instead of just crashing through. I really don’t worry about predators, but concerned family and friends often make me feel like I’m being naive. I feel the odds are as you say and if my fate is to be an animal’s dinner, then I guess that’s just the way it is. I love to drive too, but am much more aware of stacked odds when behind the wheel, especially in the city and at night, on the long, lonely highway home, in a snowstorm… ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. pixilated2
    February 19, 2012

    Delicious! I have missed your photographs and your musings along the trails. I think you are brave to take that path knowing that such danger could be waiting at each footfall.. So scary, and yet, I am glad that you knew your way and brought back such loveliness to share.
    ~ Lynda

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      February 20, 2012

      There really is no danger, Lynda. It’s more the voices of friends and family who think there is, playing in my mind. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and stopped by to say so!

  3. From Moments to Memories
    February 19, 2012

    Beautiful photos and love the story. It’s like I was on the walk with you. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      February 20, 2012

      I’m glad you could come along. I love the solitude, but sometimes it’s nice to have company. Thank you for stopping in.

  4. Roberta
    February 19, 2012

    I enjoyed every step of the way! (:

  5. Rose
    February 20, 2012

    Such a beautiful weather you have there, I love the snow. We’re under piles of it also here in Bucharest, and I love it. Missed your walk, I am glad you are back on my blogroll with these amazing photos.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      February 20, 2012

      Thank you, Rose. I always have to neglect one thing to do another and I just haven’t been able to get photography & writing to the top of the pile lately, yet it is one of my favourite things. I will stop by and do some vicarious wandering in Bucharest very soon.

  6. Pat Boomer
    February 20, 2012

    Thanks for the walk Cindy, that was nice ๐Ÿ™‚
    Only weeks now till the landscape wakes up!

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      February 21, 2012

      Thanks, Pat. Weeks, you say? Except for pussy-willows, I’m giving it a couple of months before I start getting excited. ๐Ÿ™‚ Or do you know something you’re not telling? I’m definitely watching for your predictions.

  7. Jim Rook
    February 27, 2012

    Cindy, Thanks for breaking the trail and taking us all on this winter walk with you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The soft lighting and focus on the contrasting fallen branch drew me in to your first picture and from their the journey was on.

  8. Kia and Zeno
    March 1, 2012

    Pure, candid snow and a peaceful walk… winter at its best! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks for taking us on a beautiful walk with you, Cindy!

  9. B.Held
    March 23, 2012

    What a magical walk it was!

  10. Deb Weyrich-Cody
    April 14, 2012

    Thanks for taking the path less travelled; for sharing the winter I (almost; ) wish we had and filling my heart with the quiet beauty you so obviously adore.

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2012 by in The Journey and tagged , , , , , , .
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