One More Snowshoe

3-18-2017

I brought my gear to go snowshoeing one more time on top of the mountain after work today. I rode the lift up with 3 strangers, and actually held (what I believe to be) a coherent conversation through my nervous fear. It started snowing before we got to the top. Lazy flakes drifting slowly down to settle gently and silently on top of all the other snow still up here.

At the top, I took off into the woods on the mountain bike trails, intending to follow the same route as with the snowshoeing groups I’ve been working all season. Difference today being, I am alone on the trail, I was always in the rear as the sweep guide so I was following the line of people before, and I now am the first one up here so I am (once again) breaking trail and have no foot prints to follow.

This trip is a challenge for me in many ways. Physically, it’s 3 miles long, half of it breaking trail in 3 feet of snow, half of that going uphill. Intellectually, the trails are not well marked in any consistent manner, so I will be relying on my memory and survival skills. Psychologically, getting past the negative self talk that accompanies oneself, when one knows its snowing, getting dark, and one is somewhat lost in the middle of the woods on a deserted mountain top.

It’s actually quite amazing to know prove to myself I have the skills and equipment to get myself safely home. The deep snow was crusted over from a few warm days and freezing nights. The temperature dropped below freezing at some point and the crust got harder and crunchier. I had to stomp my feet down to break through the ice layer and pack the snow underneath. I again had to do that weird combination of high stepping marching baby steps to keep from falling over with every step. Uphill was exhausting, and I stopped for many breathing breaks. Traveling down the saddle there were still people skiing on the slope, but by the time I stared into the unmarked trail territory, the lifts had closed and I was the sole person on the mountain.

The peaceful snow fall quickly covered the landscape in a quiet frozen blanket, coating the tree branches, dampening sounds, and blotting out most of the view down the backside of the mountain into the valley where I live. I could see through the trees the hill I needed to attain, I knew the general direction I needed to travel to get up that hill, so I was following dear paths and my own ideas tromping through the snow. Other than my breathing, and the crunch of my feet, it was silent. The sound of one hand clapping is similar to the sound of snow falling. There wasn’t even the slightest whisper if a breeze, just me, the snow, and the mountain. Three good friends out for an evening walk.

I fell down once, but was able to get up, having learned that trick the other day. I crunched along drifts taller than myself, climbed a narrow path with an edge next to oblivion, and traversed through silent sighing trees standing watch over all, observers of life and death. Think of all the knowledge we could learn from trees if we spoke their whispering leaf language.

It was getting darker by the minute, I was still climbing the second peak, could see basically where I wanted to be, had to circumnavigate the last bulge to find a safe spot to ascend, when behold, I found the trail I was looking for! 10 minutes later I broke free of the woods and walked out onto the top of the peak where the ski trails tumbled down in several directions, highway wide, open, and completely deserted of people.

The fresh snow has hidden all traces of recent use, ski and board tracks, grooming grooves, ice slicks, all gone, replaced by a smooth fluffy accumulating powder. I am the only person here. No night skiing tonight, so there is no other person up here. The peaceful power of knowing it is just you and nature was overwhelming. I stood, watched to snow fall, breathed deeply of the cold air, and soaked in as much mountain serenity as I could get. The trip down was uneventful and it was dark by the time I got to my car in the parking lot. Accomplishment, feels good.

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Epic Snowshoe

This magic moment is long because the moment was several hours long adventure in my own back yard.

3-16-2017

Bright beautiful golden sunshine streaming from a clear cerulean sky. The woods are calling! I bundle up, sit on the bottom step, strap on snowshoes, and start walking up the hill behind the house. Breaking trail, each step is an incredible feat of prowess, as I am sinking knee deep in the fresh powder. I take several steps and stop for a mini break, then several more steps and another mini break. Uphill is physically challenging, every step has to come straight up to clear most of the snow before moving forward. If not the snow bogs down the snowshoes and sinks my feet deeper and tries to pull me over. These are high stepping marching baby steps. Odd movement combination; takes me many near misses of falling down to get the hang of it.

Eventually, what seems like a hour later I leave our property, climbing higher up the hill. There are four of five ledges where the bed rock is exposed, old and tree covered, but cliff like in their impedance to uphill travel. At each ledge, I follow along the bottom until I find an area eroded enough to gain that ground as well. Soon my legs are physically exhausted, I can feel the muscles tremble with exertion. I take many breathing breaks. The cold air feels good against my sweaty skin. I need to find the delicate balance between covering exposed skin to protect it from the freezing air, and shedding layers so as to not overheat my core with this insane workout. Drinking from my water bottle, I notice the ice crystals forming in the liquid, they slide by my lips and melt in my mouth.

I am standing completely alone, near the top of the ridge. I have to stamp down the snow so I can turn to see where I came from, my snowshoe prints meandering through the trees looking for the easiest way through, and disappearing into the forest. I turn again to see ahead, flat smooth snow, creamy white and striped with blue tree shadows. I scrutinize the cliff ledge I have been following, I see a possible way up, but decide my legs still need to get me back home, so I don’t climb any higher.

Further along there is a hemlock stand, I head for that. Climbing over a down tree, I notice a line of small tracks in the snow, traveling straight through, the prints themselves are unclear, just indentions in the snow where the animals feet sank. I believe it may be a coyote, they like to go in a straight line and often travel alone. I startled a coyote out of a thicket once on a snowshoe walk down in the creek. She took off faster than I could blink, tawny brown and grey, big dog and powerful. In that moment I was astounded by her wild beauty, later I was thankful she decided to run away instead of holding her ground. I would have lost that fight.

I tromp into the group of hemlock trees, shaded area is definitely colder. Tamp down the snow to look around, then gaze upward toward the sky. The dark green black branches of the hemlocks almost shine with glory against the impossible blue sky, most of which isn’t visible through the tall thick evergreen branches.

I take a step forward, loose my balance, try to compensate by shifting weight, feel my ankle and knee start to painfully twist because the snow blocks my feet from moving, so I let go and fall face first flat into the snow. That did not hurt, but now I am practically buried. I try to push myself up but my hands just post hole deeper into the snow. I try pounding the snow to pack it down, but my hands break through again. I try rolling around making my body shaped hole bigger (and deeper), I try sinking my knees in so I get get purchase with my feet but you can’t stand on tip toe with snowshoes on. Eventually I am able to roll completely over onto my back, then sit up. From there, with a great effort of rocking back and forth, I was able to get onto my feet in a squat and promptly fell over forwards… So again I rolled over and repeated the rocking trick, and this time was able to get just enough forward momentum to get on top of my feet but without falling over again. Then I had to stand from the squat, oh my aching leg muscles!

So I march myself over to a tree with a old branch knob in the perfect position to act as a seat and take another break, drink some more actively freezing water, and look up again. These bare branches are black against the brightness of the bluest sky. They make amazing intricate random patterns zig-zaging, criss-crossing, and waving in the blowing wind that is swooshing through the hollow. Snow drifts down dislodged from its height, swirling in the wind and sparkling in the sunlight. Its cold crystals sting as the hit my face and melt. I hear branches rubbing or maybe tree trunks rubbing against each other. It’s a rhythmic moaning creaking sound, soft and subtle, that quietly stops as the wind dies away.

I decide to continue instead of turning back to home. Once I see an easy way down, I can just go down to the road and walk home that way. High stepping stop, stomp, stomp, breaking trail, my tracks behind me fading into the distance. I come upon a giant white pine in the middle of a small clearing. The diameter must be over 4 feet wide. The lower branches in a whirl pattern around the trunk are all dead but bigger around than my body. Up high the branches are alive and reaching for the sky. How does a single tree grow to be this huge? Why wasn’t it cleared when this area was farmland 100 years ago? Fighting the desire to climb, I push on. Maybe I can come back later in the summer to try climbing this giant.

Now I am seriously looking for a way down, I have been traversing at a downhill angle searching for a less steep area to descend. I see a red house and the road and am completely surprised to realize I have gone half a mile and am at the new bridge. Wow! I though I had traveled about half that distance. It is late afternoon now and the sun is headed toward setting, the temperature already dropping. The tree branches loudly crack menacingly as another gust of wind blows through. Finally, a slope I can safely descend. Still I end up sliding (kind of like skiing) down a significant portion of the descent. Back on the road. Pull the snowshoes off and head home. Exhausted, elated, enchanted, my ephemeral spirit continues to fly through the snowy forest.

Big Snow

3-14-2017

Biggest snowstorm of the year! Biggest snowstorm in several years! They are calling it a blizzard, but from here its just snow falling peacefully and piling up quickly, no crazy wind at all. I have a blazing fire in the wood stove and didn’t bother to get out of my pajamas until I decided to clear the driveway before the sun went down, not that the sun made an appearance today. I worked on relaxing, napping, reading, knitting, coloring, and snuggling with cats as the hours passed by. The snow worked on accumulating more than 3 feet high. I had to put snowshoes on to get to the basement when I wanted to feed the birds. When I did get around to snow blowing the driveway, it took my over 2 hours to clear enough of it for parking two cars. My husband is the snow blowing expert in this household, but he is in Brooklyn, so its up to me, and I have to go to work tomorrow, so the driveway must get cleared. It took 15 minutes and 2 phone calls to get the silly thing started…

For most of the day, it didn’t worry about it, just watched the natural snow globe phenomenon unfold out the window. The birds were crazy. I filled all the feeders in the front yard, and spread some birdseed on the porch for the birds who like eating off the ground. Any bird seed on the ground is covered in moments, so the porch offers a convenient alternative. The cats spend most of the day glued to the front picture window watching the show. Everybody who is anybody in the early spring bird world made an appearance, and having seed right under the picture window made the party a great one. I enjoyed standing with the cats watching our feathered friends feast on the cornucopia I have left for them. Tiny chick-a-dees and juncos, mid sized cardinal and doves, large blue jays and grackles. Many new comers too: chipping sparrows, house finches, and gold finches.

The little gold finches have not changed color yet so are still a drab olive green, with the hint of a glowing yellow just waiting to uncover itself. One female stayed on the porch long enough for me to closely examine her from 4 feet away. I had to stand perfectly still, they can see the movement beyond the window, it startles them into flight, but the seed drays them back. She was a dusty brown green color and so tiny she could have fit in the palm of my hand, even though she was fluffed up to stay warm. She hopped around in the slightly snow covered piles of seed, flinging them to and fro looking for the choice tastiest ones. Her feathers looked like velvet. I imagined her in my hand, her soft warm body quivering, heart beating furiously. I wondered how they stay warm at night when everything is so deeply buried with snow. This tiny gold finch flitting around on the porch in a snow storm is the epitome of life and death, spring trying to be reborn out of winter’s cold grip. Something so small and fragile yet has the tenacity to survive a nor’easter without even thinking about it. You Go Girl!

The View

2-25-2017

Being a snowshoe guide this winter has been amazing. Now I have a reason to enjoy winter and get paid doing so! Although I long for spring and the whitewater season, I am looking forward to next winter when I can experience being at the top of the mountain while the view is spectacular in the crystal clear winter air. I even don’t mind riding the chair lift so much now. It still makes me nervous, but not so that it’s a problem! Hiking through the woods with groups of people who like things in life a little quieter and slower, and then tromping down empty ski trails at sunset has been worth every minute.

As I stood at the top gazing up, down, and across the valley, I realize this is the million dollar view I will remember until next year when I can see it again. The Catskills are piled up all around, 3,000 foot tall bumps and lumps, snow covered blue, purple, and white, steeply tiered and terraced with cliffs, rock ledges, dense black hemlock trees, and open leafless deciduous trees. Houses dot the mountain sides with warm yellow lights aglow in the distance, and the post card perfect northern town on the valley floor, street light, shop windows, and houses glowing welcomingly.

A chill whips through my hair blowing it in my face, making my eyes water. I inhale deeply, using belly breath. The frigid air in my lungs makes me feel ALIVE! I don’t want to come down off this mountain. Just leave me here to soak into ground, to blow away in the breeze, to blend into the still and sleeping forest, to melt into the sunset and become a permanent part of the this endless purple mountain view! My breath will be rustling leaves on a hot summer night, my laughter the roaring of rapids in the rivers and streams. My song will be the calling of birds returning in the spring and leaving again in the fall, my heartbeat the same as every newborn creature nestled close and suckling at its mothers bosom. My tears will be the rain and snow, and my blood will be the earth where everything eventually returns to be reborn. I am these mountains.

Snowflakes

2-16-2017

This afternoon, my husband and I went on a short snow shoe hike together in the field across the creek from our house. We followed the edge of the creek where I showed him the beaver oasis where they have made several cascading ponds, then climbed a hill up to the forest line. Another partly sunny day, it was actually peaceful and romantic, doing outdoorsy stuff together. We found a small bird nest in a bush near the ground, still perfectly formed, and with some undisturbed fall leaves resting inside. We also discovered a small paper wasp nest starting to disintegrate in the punishing winter weather. There were all sorts of tracks, none really identifiable from the distortion of repeated melting and freezing and wind blowing more snow into their indentions. We stood on an eroding bluff above the creek and contemplated the beauty of the narrow hollow we live in, admiring the mountains that close in either end. But the thing that intrigued me the most on this pleasant meander were the lazy snowflakes. They were just floating around, not falling, just hanging out and meandering like we were. These snowflakes were slowly dancing in the air, not to many, because it wasn’t actually snowing, but throughout the whole walk if you looked up into the air you could see these happy little snowflakes flitting around without a care in the world. How joyous!

Crows

2-13-2017

Two days of snow fall, swirling, heavy flakes pilling up by the billions, inches upon inches, grey sky, grey clouds, grey days, grey snow mounds covering everything. Two dark cats silhouetted in the window, one large, fat and spread out on the windowsill, the other small, lithe, and prancing, both riveted on a shivering fluffy red squirrel perched on the railing. Blue Jays, Chickadees, Mourning Doves, and Juncos crowd the feeder, a flurry of wings and blowing snowflakes. Two large jet black crows drop down out of the trees across the road, strut over the plowed street, hop up the plowed snow lump, and start traversing the yard toward the commotion. Their feet sink into the thick snow blanket, tails leaving waggely drag marks behind them. The the feeder is instantly deserted as a gust of fierce wind tears down the hollow, pulling blinding snow streaking into the faces of the crows. They lean in, close their eyes, as wind whips their feathers. They struggle a few moments then in unison, lift their wings, let the wind pull them up and out of the biting streaming snow. They coast, glide, dip and wobble on the gale, then alight in a tree top as if it were the simplest thing. For them it is. Even in a winter storm, the crows have an elegant majesty, the secret of effortless flight.

All Caught Up!

1-29-2017

Driving through a snow shower, along a state highway, following a wide, shallow, fast flowing large creek/small river, winding through mountains along the valley floor. The sun breaks through cold grey lazy clouds shining down with dazzling sliver sunlight. The flurry of flakes disappears and the mountains are strong solid majestic and in shadow. Monochromatic dark blue to black, snow covered, layered rock ledges, bare trees, and evergreens. The mountain top is cirque like, convex, creating the shadow that covers it down to the valley floor. Swirling, blowing, boiling clouds of snowflakes shroud the ridge, translucent, vaporous. The lavender grey squall line clearly visible as it engulfs the darker mountain top, roiling along the ridge line out of sight behind me.

1-30-2017

Riding in the passenger seat motoring down the mountain on a state highway, one side of the road a steep rocky and tree covered cliff up out of sight, the other side a opens out onto a deep wide bowl valley. We are headed to friend’s house for dinner, heading north east, sun behind us somewhere obscured by the mountain, shadows thickening into darkness. Through the leafless tree branches that whiz by at 55 miles per hour, I get a quick glimpse of the thinnest sliver of a crescent moon shining silver in an indigo sky, all that’s left of the laughing disappeared Cheshire Cat. One star glimmers above the moon, shimmering in perfect harmony with the darkening expanse, last rays of sunshine fading behind the earth. I crane my neck, twisting in my seat against the seat belt, to have another vision of this glowing sliver moon and glistening sliver star before they are hidden from view as we glide around another curve headed down into the valley.

1-31-2017

Indulgence! One caffeine free Pepsi, one bag of Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues (made with non GMO organic blue corn), one toasty glowing fire in the wood stove, four sleeping cats, one lap-top computer sitting, of all places, in my lap, and all the time in the world at my fingertips! Life is good on this frosty, frigid, overcast, snowy winter morning in our little cabin in the mountains!

February 2017

2-1-2017

Slowly backing into the icy snow lumped driveway in the dark, I look over at the day lily garden that surrounds a drainage trench in the front yard. There are a couple of metal wire (tomato) circle stands haphazardly leaning where I never bothered to remove them from the flower bed last fall. They look neglected and dejected, reminders of dead plants in a cold dark season. The snow has completely covered the mulch and dead leaves of last summer’s lilies, smoothed over the evidence of winters harsh killing frost. The snow itself is frozen over solid on top, ice blanket covering the earth. In my mind’s eye I see this bed in full bloom in July and August, lilies standing taller then me and covered in tubular flowers bigger than my head. A smile crosses my face as I realize the sleeping potential of rebirth laying in wait beneath this frozen landscape. Hibernating, resting, saving up its energy, waiting patiently for next spring.

2-2-2017

Swirling snowflakes, light, fluffy, flitting, flurrying, drifting around on minuscule air currents. Bright sunshine pouring down from the open bright pale expanse of sky, setting each flake ablaze with silver white sparkling frozen fire. Glistening, and glittering snowflakes from nowhere, takes my breath away.

2-3-2017

Lounging on the sofa, drowsy and daydreaming, warm fire and a softly snoring large cat sprawled on the back of the couch behind my head. Deceptively warm yellow sunlight shines through a window, sun low just above the horizon. A drifting light catches my attention, drawing my eyes to the wall across the room, many tiny bright concise rainbows swing back and forth across the area, thrown by the late afternoon sunshine hitting the prisms hanging on the porch for this mesmerizing yet short lived effect. Fill the house with delicate spinning rainbows and its hard not to smile.

2-4-2017

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, 10 people tromping, stomping, through the icy crusty snow, up a tree covered hill in a single file line. Snowshoes making teeth marks, ski poles making holes as we push ourselves through the bare forest up the narrow bike path. Heart pounding, breathing heavy, head sweaty, feeling overheated even though the temperature is less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit We are following the top of the ridge line, looking down the back side of the mountain through the leafless ash and maple trees. My house is somewhere down there in that valley, but I know its hidden by a hill. Up we climb, dragging, puffing, crunching, up, up, some more up. Steps slow as legs tire, arms work harder with the poles to pull ourselves up. We break through the tree line at the top to an open flat area on top of the world. The view is spectacular. Mountains all around, topped with golden sunlight shimmering from the setting sun. Valley in purple shadow, snow tinted blue, dark roads snake through the town below, windows glowing warmly, tiny figures moving far below. The climb was completely worth every step!