So when does winter begin? Technically, astronomically it arrives on December 21st. But, if you ask several different people I’m sure you would get several different answers. Some might say when we get our first snowfall, or our first significant snowfall. Well then we have to define what a significant snowfall is; 2 inches, 4 inches, shovellable, plowable snow, or maybe 8-10 inches. I would guess that those who dislike any temperature below 32 degrees would lean toward the 2-4 inch amount while those who like winter would vote for the 8-10 inch candidate.
Others might say winter doesn’t arrive till the temps dip into single digits for a length of time, or maybe drop below zero for the first time. A few might insist it’s not winter until you can drive a truck on the ice. Some may even say that it’s not winter till after the first of the year. And yet others might say winter arrives when there is enough snow for skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling, regardless of the date.
Where ever you may fall into the above categories I think most would agree that this year winter arrived for good in early December with decent snow and temperatures that have been well below average; the final weekend of the MN muzzleloader deer season the temps kept dropping, finally bottoming out at 8 below on the last morning which was the 15th. The rest of the month it seemed like the mercury was too weak to get into double digits. If you like to be outside, conditions like this can challenge your ability to stay comfortable, but doing so can be rewarding. That final morning of the muzzleloader season when it was minus 8 three of us had worked our way half a mile through 11 inches of snow to our chosen spot up in the hills and were witness to a beautiful sunrise that was not visible from the warm cozy cabin. Our youngest in the group at age 15 got a little chilly up in the tree stand, but otherwise we remained comfortable enough to keep hunting.
So what else can you do when it’s chilly out there? Of course the couch is always there beckoning. It’s warm and soft. But what if you are getting bored and stir crazy, the first symptoms of cabin fever? I’m sure the mall will be open but the holidays seem to leave many of us weary of sales and hordes of humanity. We want quiet.
Well there’s ice fishing which can be a lot of fun, often involves much quiet sitting and without a warm house can be challenging. Downhill skiing? Lots of people. Expensive. Snowmobiling? Fast fun, solitude, but there’s that engine noise and exhaust. Cross country skiing is great, one of my favorites. Solitude, quiet gliding, and great exercise. But for many it’s a bit challenging to master and too strenuous for some. Plus groomed trails are nice but not necessary. So aside from just walking there’s one of the oldest ways to get about the countryside in the winter: snowshoes. These allow you to go just about anywhere you can walk. And if you can walk you should be able to snowshoe. You can make it what you want: a hard workout, a leisurely hike or anything in between. It’s quiet, which makes it relaxing, and at the pace most of us traipse about there’s good opportunity to observe wildlife and the landscape more intimately. Following animal tracks is fun, trying to determine what they are up to. Sometimes you come across tracks that end rather abruptly at a set of widespread wing marks, marking the end of one life and the continuation of another. In winter food is survival.
Snow does beautiful things when it’s deep. Deep powder is fun to navigate on snowshoes, and at times can be challenging. Snow covered tree branches and conifers are great therapy. And I’m always on the lookout for snow constrictors, which like to hang out on larger horizontal branches. Shadows late in the day can be beautiful in the winter landscape, and the sunset can mark the end of a good day.
If this sounds like something you would like to know more about you’re in luck. On January 18th at the Tree House Studio in Avon there will be an Intro to Snowshoeing class. If you’re new to snowshoeing or just want to learn a bit more this is a good place to be. We will discuss snowshoe history, development, snowshoe styles, and materials. A good way to learn about anything is to try it out and so we will go outside and try different ‘shoes. Finally, since it is winter we will look at several examples of winter clothing and discuss how to dress for snowshoeing and cold weather in general. If you have a hard time staying warm in the winter you don’t want to miss this.
Author Elliot Merrick wrote this in True North in 1933 about his life in Labrador: A snowshoe trail on a sunny day after a light fall of snow is a lovelier thing than I can describe. I often look back at it streaming from our heels, flowing back astern like the wake of a ship, a long winding track that scars the lonely limitless snow as a ship’s track might scar the Pacific. Over glistening white hills and marshes and lakes it winds, a darker serpentine ribbon, scallop-edged, filled with tumbled blue shadow markings. And every individual print is a beautiful thing. It is like sculptor and like a painting, endless impressions of an Indian craftsman’s masterpiece. Here is the broader webbed babische of the close knit middles, here the finer-knit tibische of the heads and tails, molded into the snow, perfect in every finest line; there the round-curved frame of strong white birch and the lip of a tail, the head bar and the tail bar, the toe hole and a little cup, scooped out of the snow where the toes pushed through the hole at the end of the step; the blurred mark of the dragging tail, then another perfect, grace-lined pattern printed in blue-white marble. The concave curve of a right tail nestles round the convex bulge of a left head, and the purple ribbon is only a little wider than one snowshoe.
For details about the Intro to Snowshoeing class click on the Classes by BPB page above.