The women in our (new to us) church meet every Sunday for this doing winter thing, followed by coffee somewhere close afterward. Only two of us were snowshoeing this week, the other four people walked their own route, because snowshoeing is slow, but it was cold enough that a walker would need to hustle to stay warm.
We left the duck pond shelter and headed straight to the Small River, heading east under the foot bridge, toward downtown. We walked - stomped- on crusty icy snow, punch punch punch. It felt powerful, it felt like rising above survival, it felt like conquering the snow. When we navigated the sleek steep bank down to the river, I may have declared we were the masters of winter. I may have declared it with more glee and volume than my companion expected.
We were walking into the sun, mid morning in the sky, the perfect forty five degree angle to slant through the black branches of the riparian forest up there on the bank. It hit the pools of fresh crystal snow drifted into the pits left by previous travelers, and the river was awash in diamonds. It cast lacy shadows of branches and thin trees, tired trees, clinging there through flood and frost; cast them large, fireworks on the ground. It back lit every dried leaf and grass, turning them gold and fire-edged. The light was perfect, and my fingers twitched in my gloves, taking pictures with the camera I hadn't brought. And I reminded myself to see with my eyes, that it is enough to see with my eyes, that I can remember with my eyes, it is enough.
The light was perfect.
The traipsing was so loud -scrapepunch, scrapepunch. But I wanted to talk! I wanted to say look at that, look at this, look at beauty, look at nature, my God, look. at. nature. I felt the elf spirit bubbling up. PB will confirm I get a bit weird in the woods - a bit eight years old, a bit sparkly eyed, a bit wonder drunk. I spend too much time exclaiming over animal tracks, or dead bits of plants, or creature poop. Nature for me is very much a Fantasy of Reality - like the life I live in the "real world" is actually just the false human veneer we've cast onto everything, but Nature is the actual reality, that is so wonderful, it's just a dream. Sorrynotsorry. I'm one of the least hippie dippy INFJs in the world, but it's there. I'm a faerie child after all.
Imagine if you will, a freshly-turned-34-year-old mother of two scampering across the snow to point at a piece of ice, or stopping dead in her tracks to stare four seconds too long at the tiniest most perfect squirrel tracks in the new snow.
We turned back and clambered up the bank at a low point, following the packed monkey trails the fatbikers use. Here I could test out my new shoes on a bit of terrain, some ups and down, some trunks across the path, some deeper hollows that required exploration. Scampering. You know. It was colder going west, into the slight wind, so the shelter of the trees was welcome, and we made better time on the groomed trail. It has snowed so little this winter, there was bare mud under the footbridge. We had time to continue west on the monkey trails, climbing over a larger tree that had stymied our progress the previous week. The hollowed end of another fallen tree held someone's collection of seeds and pods. I showed my friend the husk of a wild cucumber; their vines overtake the forest each summer. It is otherworldly walking under clouds of greenery raining down these spiky fruit; another planet, fantasy-but-real. They are an invasive species, alien by definition indeed, but. still.
We climbed back down to the river at the pump house that pulls water from the Small River up to the Moses pond in the sculpture garden. I don't know that I'd have felt comfortable, with a larger group, insisting on that route. I didn't feel entirely comfortable, but she was game? or nice enough to do it anyway? too nice to say no to this strange overly-enthusiastic woman? Regardless.
Fewer people have walked west of the footbridge, so it was a harder slog to get back to the bridge, and up to the duck pond shelter to join our group. It was a workout, anyway. The water level has gone down since the freeze, so it has cracked at the banks, and huge sharp edges of ice are barefaced. If I'd been alone, I would have stared at that ice a full ten minutes, tracing the paths the bubbles forged. Conflicting powers, the urge of air to escape, the strength of water turning itself to stone.
Here is the treat of the whole outing: I think I found the beaver dam! We had swapped stories earlier of people we'd recently brought (on)to their first frozen river. When JCM went biking with PB, it completely tripped him out to be on a frozen river. Something we'd never think twice about, I mean, we drive trucks on the lake out to the fishing huts! It was also new for JCM to see trees beavers had chewed down, I'm not sure he believed us at first that we could recognize the distinctive teeth marks and pyramidal cutting pattern. The cutting we saw was still clean white heartwood, so it was recent activity, but I couldn't see where they would/could have built their den. The Small River is not actually Small (just smaller than the Big River) so they were not damming it. But the wide bank represents a sort of secondary creek bed, flooding every spring, lasting well into summer during wet years, so that the monkey trails are often underwater or unrideably muddy. I wondered it perhaps this made the lip of land between the river proper and the muddy creek a sort of island, and they dug/built into that.
I came up from the river over a relatively smooth hump of ice, snow and brush. The sun perfectly highlighted a six or eight inch crack in the snow crust, lined by an inch or so of delicate frost feathers. Something under that fissure was releasing heat and moisture - beaver breath!- through this vent, where it immediately crystallized in the cold air. I wish I had a picture of the joy on my face at the discovery :D I'm going to go back with my camera and find it again; although I had my phone with me, I sensed my companion had run out of energy and/or patience. I hope I see the beavers in Spring, too!
I'm hoping to head out again on Thursday morning.