Monday, December 21, 2009

A White Winter Day

The woods are white with snow -- soft, sugar-white snow. Bella and I set off on this first day of winter for a mid-morning hike on the Sweet Trail. A coyote trotted ahead of us, a few hours earlier. Fresh deer tracks crossed our path, their trail lead from the wetland up the slope into the oaks. Atop Jeff's Hill the wind rushed through the canopy and swirled down around us. We dipped down behind the hill and into a hemlock glade. The wind now thwarted by the thick hemlock boughs.

The woods are still. We pass more fresh animal trails. A female fisher surely bounded up and over this large boulder not long before we passed by.

She was looking for one of the red squirrels that scampered among the hemlock or the white-footed mice, now snug in their burrows. These woodland mice, crossed from stone outcrop to stone outcrop, tree trunk to tree trunk, fallen limb to fallen limb. Their passing noted only by the tracks: two small prints bisected by the long thin tail drag.

An unseen, lone coyote wandered around wetland edges and large boulders, under fallen trees, and out to a silent beaver lodge. Back in the solitude of the hemlock forest, I pause to absorb the quiet. A small flock of chickadees flits overhead, gleaning hemlock seeds and overwintering insects. I hear their thin chips as they communicate something to each other. Small bird tracks -- the chickadees? -- leave an artistic impression beneath the high bush blueberries at the marsh edge.

Winter arrived several weeks ago, long before its proclaimed day. Freezing temperatures and cold arctic winds have been with us for days. A layer of ice lies beneath the fresh layer of powdery snow. Bella is sure-footed bounding through the forest on her four legs. I am more tentative on my two, but stable in my yak-trax-clad boots.

Getting outdoors, bundled against the wind, is the only way to enjoy winter. And knowing that spring is already on its way -- tomorrow will be two seconds longer and there is only 89 days until the Spring Equinox. A long winter is still the shortest of the four seasons.

A Merry Winter Solstice to All!

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