Crunch, crunch, crunch ... and for a moment, we synced the rhythms of our footfalls.
But as we were wearing snowshoes it wasn’t the normal heel-to-toe sound of a human through the woods. Rather, our sound was a sharp crunch through the rind of ice on the snow.
Conversation was futile, only stopping made hearing one another possible. Snowshoeing is a workout and pauses for conversation were welcome, if not necessary.
The winter woods exposes harsh things in life. Like a powerful lens, it can blur the background of life and reveal stark contrasts.
Our little winter’s hike did just that.
My fingertips complained. Jabs of pain, little needles of cold attacked my naked right hand. The touch I needed to work my camera came at a price. Early in the walk, my body wasn’t heated up yet, and my ambition to take pictures in the remaining light came with a toll.
Fresh cold can be so very cold.
A Honey Locust caught my attention first. Its dark spines looked fierce against a snow covered backdrop. A photonegative of barred fangs.
Next, a great vine of ivy taunted me. My problems with poison ivy rash are well documented. The fuzzy rope stretched high up a tree. It appeared in the cold to have the tree in a ghastly squeeze, something like a boa would apply to a deer.
Our tromp passed many patches of blackberry canes. The brambles, devoid of leaves, were austere. Their thorns can be overlooked in the summer when the fruit is ripe. But now, they were stiff and in no mood for sharing. Trespassers, save Cottontail rabbits, shall be punished.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
I crouched to examine a thicket. Worn trails on the crusted snow were just disenable. Here and there a toilet, here and there a chewed stem. Theirs appeared to be a codependent relationship, and I for one will let them be.
The Gooseberry can’t hide in the winter. The prickly bodies of these small shrubs make them just as identifiable as their leaves or fruit. It will be many months until they are in a giving mood again.
Old cold by the end of the hike was easy to conquer. It was no match for the heat generating exertion of snowshoeing, especially in ascending the last hill. Both hands were now bare, jacket opened and my cap loosened to just sit on my head. Another pause was necessary.
I look forward to the frozen walks of winter. The sting of the cold, the snap of the crusted snow underfoot, the defensive weapons “en garde” from so many plants drew contrasts to my own living warmth, the kindness in society, and the comfort that this too shall pass.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
l John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.