Monday, January 16, 2012

Long Routes

Preceding wanderers.
I took advantage of a beautiful Wisconsin winter day today by going on a long hike through my backyard and onto the trails of my local county park.  It seems that we have only a tenth of the snow we usually have at this time of year.  The six inches of fluffy powder was not enough to make an adequate base layer for cross country skiing, nor was it enough snow to warrant snowshoes.  It WAS enough snow to soften the sharp edges of the landscape, brighten up the shaded culverts, and muffle the sounds as I followed the tracks of boots, hooves, and paws that came before me.

I really enjoy winter in Wisconsin and await the first snowfall eagerly like a child waiting for Christmas.  I love how the landscape is suddenly altered over night.  Plants in the garden that were looking worn out and dead suddenly are given new life.  The nocturnal wanderings of wildlife become apparent in the fresh white carpet.  The sunshine seems brighter and the sky bluer. Sounds seem to carry further across the landscape, and I cherish the feel of the crisp air against my cheeks.
Skeletons of echinacea.

I feel sorry for people who lament the coming of winter and focus only on the problems it can create with shoveling or hazardous driving conditions. If they took the time to get outdoors and open up their senses to the new smells, sounds, sights, and feelings that winter brings with it, maybe they'd dread winter less.  Though the trails were laden with prints, I only crossed paths with three other individuals during this particular hike. One couple was at a trail map kiosk looking for the quickest way to the parking lot.  The kickoff times of Packer games have a heavy influence on the Sunday schedules of most Wisconsinites--especially playoff games. The third individual was an older gentleman coming down a side trail wearing leather chaps, a hardhat, smoking a cigarillo, and carrying a chainsaw.   He quickly informed me that he was cutting snowshoe paths--not coming to cut me into little pieces. That was a relief. Nothing puts a damper on a nice hike like a rampaging chainsaw murderer.

The area of Wisconsin I reside in is known for its hilly topography.  The biking portion of the Iron Man actually passes through my community each summer as a result of the challenging peaks and valleys.  These peaks and valleys also provide a nice challenge to my hikes, as well as intimidating challenges to those learning to drive their husband's manual transmission pickup.  (Don't even get me started on the five roundabouts in town!)  The path I chose through the park today provided several steep ascents that got my heart rate elevated and my legs burning.  At the top of an open vista, amidst steady clouds of exhales, I mused about the benefits of winter hiking and how people unexposed to this pasttime are really missing out.  I wasn't just out for a walk.  I was getting in the day's workout, absorbing sunshine for my body's vitamin D production, clearing my mind,  relieving stress, and appreciating the nature around me.  It felt fantastic!

As the sun began to dip below the canopy, I heard the punctual melody from the church bells on Main Street traveling across the snow covered hills, indicating that three o’clock had just arrived.  I was presented with a choice:  the short route or long route.

I tend to take the long route on hikes as well as in life.  The long route allows you to appreciate the journey.  The long route makes you appreciate how far you traveled to reach your goal.  The long route usually requires hard work.  I guess I'm a huge advocate of delayed gratification.  My preference for the long route often becomes apparent in my trout fishing.  When I see a rise at the head of a riffle, instead of casting immediately to the rise, I begin casting my fly to the bottom and sides of the riffle, working my way carefully to where the trout in question lies.  I may hook a smaller fish before making my way to the head of the riffle and spook the pool, but I may also reach the top of the riffle, hook the riser, and end up appreciating it all the more.  It drives some of my fishing partners crazy, but when it works, the delayed gratification is worth it to me.

I'm looking forward to more snowfalls this winter so I can get out the cross country skis and snowshoes I enjoy, but until then I'll keep my boots and gators handy for more winter hikes.  There's nothing like the quiet, crisp air and blue shadows falling in the woods to decompress one's mind and open one's thoughts to the smallness of mankind and the grandeur of nature.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully, beautifully done. Like you, I love winter...for showing who has gone before us, "wandering."