The Crunch of Now on an Icy Trail
Friday offered heavy rain that turned to sleet and finally snow. With temperatures plummeting, this quickly turned into a frozen mess on the roads. And temperatures stayed well below freezing, guaranteeing that anything frozen was likely to stay that way for a few days. The snow was transformed to rock-hard ice, with a light frosting of granular snow atop it. It was perfect for slipping on boots and micro spikes and heading for the trails.
The same conditions that make roads miserable transform trails into magic carpet rides. Most of the sins of the trail are locked below the frozen hard pack, and with the right gear the trail is a joyful peregrinate through the wonders of the forest. Streams and waterfalls become sculpture. Granite recedes from primary feature to delightful accent locked in the ice blanket. The trail itself offers an entirely different experience than it did just days before when snowshoes were the kit of choice. In winter every day brings something new, should you go out to find it.
Much like the landscape around you, walking alone through the woods on a frozen but brilliant sunny day you become intensely embedded in the moment. You don’t walk with purpose to a destination, the walk is your destination. Every step becomes the point of your being here. With micro spikes announcing their grip on the ice, every step becomes a cry of Now! Here! Now!
I visit a frozen waterfall. I only seem to visit it in winter, when it’s locked away in ice, and each visit I tell myself I ought to stop by in spring when the water is running angry. We all feel locked away ourselves in winter, I suppose the waterfall and I are kindred spirits in this way. My visit becomes a vote of solidarity with the falls behind the ice. I promise once again that I’ll be back, and believe I mean it this time. The frozen waterfall is indifferent to my promises. All that matters is the present for a waterfall. The future lies upstream, waiting for its moment. Whether I’m here for it doesn’t matter to the waterfall.
I come across a few people along the way, couples and dog walkers and snowshoers gamely giving it a go on the ice. Read the room, folks. The trail betrays all who have come before me: fat tire tracks, boots, paw prints and snowshoe tracks. We believe we’re the only people on earth when we’re alone in the frozen woods, yet here was proof of all who came before, with all that you chance upon. You aren’t really alone in the woods, you’re alone in the moment. And there’s a measure of delight that washes over you as you make your way towards your own future.