For someone who hates being cold, I love winter hiking. There are no ticks or mosquitoes to contend with, no vicious horse flies, no gasping for air in the humid New England summer. Often, particularly if the weather is unpleasant, the Slobbering Beast and I can go for miles without seeing another human soul.
There’s a short hike I love to do in the winter. In summer, the trail runs alongside a narrow, muddy stream. Clouds of insects buzz about it, extracting bits of flesh in exchange for passage. In warm weather we go early and quick or we don’t go at all.
But in winter, the scene is completely different. There’s no rush, no hurry, so long as we’re out of the woods by dark. The downside, of course, is that this is New England, and the same weather that keeps the blood-sucking pests away has its own hazards. Ice and snow, sleet and cold, can make for treacherous footing. The most challenging section of the trail winds upward, through the pines and the birch, and runs along a small cliff. At the top, it weaves between two large boulders, skittering down among rocks and tree stumps until it meets level ground.
In summer, the path is a fun challenge, requiring just enough effort to make my heart race pleasantly. But in winter, the way is harder. What looks like secure ground is often no more than dried leaves covered with a dusting of snow. Step too hard, put too much weight in the wrong spot, and you’ll find your feet flying out from underneath you. Going uphill, a fall may bruise your pride. Downhill, the stakes are a little higher.
There’s an alternative, of course. I could not hike at all, could traipse about my neighborhood, doing laps and logging miles. Or I could take a different path, a safer one, a path that has neither the highs nor the lows of this one. But the view from the top feeds my soul with joy, and the view from the bottom reminds me of my accomplishment, my tenacity and my strength. And so there is no other choice, not really, but to kick the toe of my 10-year-old hiking boots into the soft snow, scrape out a foothold, and hope that it holds.
For me, writing is like that these days. I’m not a ‘baby’ writer, not just starting out anymore. I know how high the hills are. My time might be better spent, more profitably spent, finding another type of writing. There are other calls on my time — family and friends, jobs and responsibilities, any one of which has more ‘real’ claim to how I spend my hours. There are book stores closing, publishers merging, a once staid landscape turning unstable. Step wrong, and who knows what will come plunging down next?
But just as nothing else gives me the same joy as tromping through the woods on a snowy afternoon, nothing else feeds my soul like writing. When it goes well, when the black lines on the page turn into words that turn into sentences that turn into a real, true story, there’s nothing else quite like it. And so, even though the path is no longer smooth, even though it’s turning cold, I’ll keep kicking into the snow for a toehold, no matter how small, I’ll keep climbing upwards, one step at a time.
There is a Swedish Bakery just up the nearest main road. They make wonderful stuff and they have great coffee. On winter weekends I often see the tourist walking on the plowed county road, heading there, particularly when the weather is bad. I guess it’s good that they’re out walking. But Belle and I prefer to head for the trails that lead to the frozen lake. Every day. No matter the weather. Most days when we crest that last dune, the blast of cold air is shocking, but exhilarating. The ice, the stormy skies, the water beyond–I wouldn’t miss it. Sometimes people ask me why I go down there every day. “Isn’t it freezing down there this time of year,” they ask.
“Yep,” I answer. If they’ve got to ask me why I go, they’ll never get it. They can enjoy their Danish and coffee. We’ll take the cold blast and the view every time. Then, come Monday, they can go back to their offices in the city and their Starbucks on every corner. I’ll be up in my office hoping to string together enough words to make some magic. It can be frustrating, but it’s exhilarating as a frozen wind off an icy lake on those occasions when it works.
Gorgeous post and great reminder! Thanks, Liz!
My best hikes have been in snow and rain storms, Vaughn. You are so right — there’s something about challenging the elements that sharpens my mind and helps me think more clearly later. (And tires out the dog enough so that the house is quiet enough to write!)
Lovely post, Liz. I applaud your choices, and the wonder & well-being they bring. When we stop forging and take refuge in only safe places, we lose something vital in our lives. Here’s to the adventure!
Reading your post this morning (which came to me via Vaughn Roycroft) was like finding an oasis in the desert.
I think that’s true mentally as well as physically, Denise. Adventures keep us from becoming static. Thanks for pointing that out.
I’m glad you found the post helpful, Sevigne, and thank you for stopping by my blog!
This is really beautiful, Liz. The lyricism and sentiment remind me of Barbara O’Neal, even as I know it’s wholly you.
I wonder if solitary winter jaunts are a favorite introvert pastime.
Thanks, Jan, and I really think they must be. As nice as it is to hike with friends, there is something lovely about having the woods to ourselves.
Thanks for reading, Bernadette.