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Good day for snowshoes

January 30, 2011

I got down to the farm this morning and found a lot of snow. It was also warmer then I expected (perhaps the mid 30’s.) I began my day by putting a short back on the sled. I did this because the twigs I hauled in the past seemed to drag and I thought that this might fix that. [Note picture below] Today was the first time I ever used snowshoes. Unfortunately, they were not mine, but I used them and they did make walking easier, that is after I got them to stop slipping off my right boot. The binding had been put on backward. I discovered this after I was out for about half and hour and they had slipped off three times. I couldn’t fix the binding in the field, but I was able to crank them down tight enough that they stayed on most of the rest of the walk.

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For most of the walk, I saw no other human tracks. But I did see plenty of deer tracks, various bird tracks, and rabbit tracks. If you look carefully at the picture of the sled, you can also see a great many feathers where some poor bird met it’s demise. I have never been out in the woods with quite this much snow. It may be beautiful there at other times of year, but it was other-worldly today. The snow muffled sound, so that when I stopped to listen, there were times when I had to strain to hear any man made noise. That is not the case most of the time. But one could really imagine one was far, far, away.
I went out to collect wood, but also to see what snowshoes were like.
My book shelf is filled with crafts books and books about antarctic exploration, men at war, whaling, T.E. Lawrence, etc. I have tried to figure out the unifying theme, and I have come to the conclusion that it is, “What can a man do?” What can he build, what can he withstand, what can overcome? I have a pretty cushy life. I believe that was true of the British explorers of the late 19th century as well. Life had gotten cushy, and so they had to seek out adventures. That was certainly not the case with sailors, and whalers in particular. It wasn’t true for soldiers in WWI, however there was certainly belief, which transcended borders, that the modern man was getting a bit soft, and perhaps it would be good for men to get to experience a little dust-up (as if they were talking about a rugby or football tournament.) Well, I have no illusions that my escapades are anything of sort I read about. But I suppose I am trying to create, in micro scale, my own adventure. And in that regard, today was not bad. First I must make a confession. After 45 years or so of hiking around in the woods at Holly Hill, I can and do get lost. Lately, I have been getting lost less. I had almost begun to believe that it was no longer possible. But today I got utterly and totally lost. (I suppose, following my description of my failed attempt to find the coal seller the reader may not be so surprised.) But I continue to be surprised. Perhaps it was the snow. Perhaps it was the quiet. Perhaps it was concentrating on not tripping on the snowshoes. But I was very lost. In fact, on three occasions I ran into the sign denoting the border of the property, twice from the rear (indicating I had been off the property and was walking back on to it.) There were so many trees bent over by the weight of the snow that it put me in mind of a mosque at evening prayers. The genuflecting trees often obscured the path.
The temperature, as I mentioned was in the thirties, so, huffing and puffing along, I was working up a pretty good sweat, and a pretty good thirst. I often bring water, but not this time, so I was thinking about water a lot. I was also, as I dragged my sled with the twigs snagging and dragging, thinking about the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage. One thing I remember about that expedition, and R.F. Scott’s trip to the South Pole for that matter, was that they dragged along an incredible amount of useless stuff. Even when their lives were in the balance, Franklin held on to china tea set and leather bound volumes. Scott kept scientific instruments long beyond the time they could do him any good. And this load of twigs kept scooping up loads of snow and catching on our endless supply of horse brier. At one point I fell down. I had tripped before, but this time I fell forward, downhill and my arms, thrown out in front of me to brace my fall sank above my elbows in snow. I was covered in snow, my feet were uphill and my head was downhill. It took several minutes to slowly back up and get my weight back onto the shoes. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t make it. But it briefly crossed my mind to wonder if I should be.
When, after an hour or so of tramping cluelessly around the woods, I finally recognized a crucial landmark. I was on a path which had a stream running right down the middle of it. I slipped out of the snowshoes and struggled up the path hauling the sled (man-hauling, as they are constantly doing in the tales of the Antarctic – although in their case it was because they’d eaten their dogs.) At the top of the path I looked back to see that I had lost two of the twigs. I was not going back to look for them. I did put the shoes back on after going about ten yards without. The snow was a good twenty inches and walking without the snowshoes was brutal. I was in the long field now. Even though I was headed downhill the snow had softened in the sun and the sled and I began to sink in. So snow was piling up in front of the sled. In case you have not used snowshoes, with each step a certain amount of snow goes through the webbing and rests on top of the shoe when you take your next step. While the snow is light and fluffy, this is barely noticeable. However, when the snow grows heavy, so do one’s steps, and this was the case for me at the end of my two hours in the woods. By this point, I was thinking about Amudsen, Scott, Shackleton, and the rest. Mostly I was thinking, “I’ve been out here for two hours, they were out there for days or weeks”. So, I had my micro-adventure. It was not “life and death”, but it pushed me and gave me just a taste of hardship. That’s enough for me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2011 1:35 pm

    way glad it wasn’t life or death.

  2. February 4, 2011 6:54 am

    Dear Malcolm, In my unhumble opinion, this is beautiful writing. love, Ma

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