It is an early January day at about 8:30 in the morning and the temperature is climbing. I am just a little frustrated as I try to jam the small metal bar on the bottom of my Nordic ski boot into the locking mechanism on my backcountry skis. On a good day I can slide right into the ski bindings, but for some unknown reason they do not like warm temperatures and getting them to lock is always a chore. Those who know me well will tell you that there are days when I am not as patient as I should be, and this is one of them. Finally, the second ski boot snaps into the binding and I can slide off down the snowmobile trail into the woods. A late morning storm is forecast for this day and I want to get a few miles in while the getting is good!
As I glide along there is a horse pasture to my right hand side where two Appaloosa horses are dining on a recently placed pile of hay. Their mottled black on white coat appears as camouflage against the snowy field, and they only glance my way briefly as I ski on by. The trail ahead is wooded for quite a ways and I look forward to the quiet solitude. I learned long ago that most snowmobilers are not early morning people and I anticipate a quiet journey along this often well used route.
The branches are still weighted down with snow from the last storm. Dobs of snow cling to the spruce branches and appear as little islands on the branch tips. I have to dodge some of the lower branches at head height along the route. The skiing is fairly fast today and I realize that time will not be much of an issue so I slow my pace. I don’t mind going slow, it allows me to think and ski at the same time.
I notice snow shoe hare tracks crossing the trail where the spruce branches are low and thick. I also notice some fox tracks only a few feet further away, running parallel to the hare tracks. On another day, and with snow shoes, I might investigate this situation, but today I am here for the ski and I do not want to get side tracked. I consider the outcome of the fox and the hare and I’m guessing it didn’t turn out too well for the rabbit.
Not too far down the trail there are deer tracks. The tracks are following a section of Kinsman Brook that is narrow, sinuous, and works hard to find its way through a forested swamp. Deer tracks are scarce this time of year. Most deer have headed downhill to areas with less snow and easier navigation. I like this particular deer; he seems stubborn and not willing to follow the crowd or easy course. Like me he seems to enjoy swimming upstream. He will not travel too far or too fast in this deep snow. Energy conservation is the name of survival for these large mammals and I’m thinking he knows a hemlock grove nearby where the snow is shallow and the food adequate.
Ahead there is a large hay field that leads to a long stretch of power line corridor. The electrical transmission line, seen as a landscape blight by some, is actually a veritable wildlife sanctuary. Hundreds of fruit and nut bearing shrubs found on the power line will yield food well into the winter for birds, coyotes, fox, rabbits, and their predators. The edge between the surrounding forest and field and the shrubby corridor provide shelter, cover, escape habitat, and nesting habitat for many area wildlife species. This power line has a wide access road that bisects the Right of Way and makes for a good snowmobile and ski trail. It is full of ups and downs and, as such, provides me with ample opportunity to herring bone up steep slopes, and glide (slowly) down steep hills. There are too many animal tracks to count, but I am impressed with the great numbers of coyote and fox tracks that I see on this day.
A few snow flakes are starting to fall from the darkening sky, and the wind is blowing from the northwest. I am not quite halfway done on my route so I continue on.
I come to a section where the snowmobile trail continues in a direction that I do not wish to travel. There is a snow covered trail to the south that circles around back to the trail on which I began my journey. I am initially surprised by the difficultly of moving through the ungroomed snow. Now I must switch tactics as I become a cross country walker rather than a cross country skier. Nordic skis, like snow shoes, will keep you, more or less, on top of the snow, but don’t expect to travel too quickly in the deep snow cover. This really slows my pace, and allows me to appreciate my surroundings. I am travelling through a mixed deciduous/conifer forest. The leafless hardwood branches allow all of the snow to reach the ground, and here I travel slowly. When I encounter conifers and the thick needle cover that does not allow all of the snow to reach the ground, my pace is much faster. I come across a very wet area that is not yet frozen. I know better than to get my skis wet. Wet skis equal skis with a thousand pounds of snow stuck to them. Wet skis equal a long walk out. I take off my skis and hop from hummock to hummock with the skis and poles balanced on my right shoulder until I find the dry hardwoods about 100 feet down the trail.
Surprisingly my skis snap right back into their bindings and I do not have to concern myself with my lack of patience for mechanical objects.
Ahead I see a lone raven. He sits on the tippity top of a white pine tree taking in the oncoming storm. The snow is now coming down at a modest pace and my vision of the bird is somewhat obscured. As I approach the raven he notices me and flies off making a croaking and klinking noise as only ravens can do! Ravens have a funny way of flying; their long wings sweep at the air pushing the large black bird along, and suddenly they do a half roll for no apparent reason, appearing as if they are falling from the sky before they resume the long strokes with their powerful wings. This particular raven did the half roll, and looks back over his shoulder. He croaks and klinks at me, seemingly scolding me for disturbing his moment of solitude, as he disappears into the snowy horizon.
I intersect the trail that would take me back to the road. The snow falling from the sky is serious now covering my tracks as quickly as I make them. As I approach the road I, once again, see the two Appaloosa horses; now on my left hand side. They have finished with their gourmet meal and are rolling and frolicking on their backs in the snow. The smaller of the two jumps up when I get to my nearest point. She looks directly at me and snorts and shakes her head, the snow flying from her mane and steam spouting from her nostrils.
I believe she is agreeing that it is a fine day, indeed.
Originally written in January 2008.