On a Winter Evening – Life Comes Full Circle

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LIFE COMES FULL CIRCLE
I’m walking south across the frozen pond at dusk, the tracks of my snowshoes trailing behind me on the wind carved snow like some meandering and fading allegory for my life. The moon is rising in the east, and beside it there is a star, or planet, one that I have been told is not Venus. Too bad, because Venus is a fine idea to contemplate on a cold winter night, as the moonlight takes over from the sun now lost behind the stark tree line of the pond’s western shore.

It occurs to me that I was in almost this same spot at almost the same time last year, except that last year I was on skis.

On this night I’m walking on my 40 year old ash, Michigan style snowshoes made by Snocraft of Norway, Maine. The webbing of the old shoes is rawhide that I have to protect with a coating of spar varnish from time to time. The snowshoes are 4 feet from tail to tip and 14” wide. The white ash is bent into graceful curves that flow back to the narrow tails. They are slightly upturned at the fronts, just enough to keep the shoes riding over the snow with each forward step. The bindings are leather. One can see why the French Canadians called them racquets. These old ash racquets are made for travel in trail-less country, unlike the narrow aluminum and plastic shoes that many people hike with today. Their broad surface will carry you and a heavy winter backpack across several feet of fresh powder. I know this from experience, having used them to break trails into wild country in the dead of winter.

Until the blizzard came earlier in the week, the winter had been a long, monochromatic state of depression. The ice fishermen were happy because it had been cold. But cold without snow is visually dreary, and as hard as the shoveling is getting for me as I get older, I found myself actually looking forward to the storm. One problem that any big winter storm presents is the possible loss of power, and the best way to cope with this, other than a generator, is to have a wood stove and a supply of dry firewood. I had the stove, but not the fire wood. Buying firewood has become outrageously expensive where I live, enough so that it is no longer competitive with oil. I did have some wood, much of it old lumber left over from past carpentry jobs. The day before the storm I began cutting it into stove lengths. Then, as the storm approached, I cut up deadwood lying around my property and drove over to the log cabin of my friends, Randy and Mary. The first snow was bleaching the forest around Randy’s cabin in a haze of white flakes when I pulled into his yard. We loaded the saw and gas into the back of Randy’s truck and he brought me to some wind downed oaks where his land fronts a small river. Later, with darkness descending into the snowy woods, Randy brought the lengths of oak that I had cut, up from the river in his pick up, and helped load them into the capacious trunk of my old Buick. With some help from my friends, I now had enough dry red oak to last a couple of weeks if need be.

The blizzard of 2015 howled for more than a day and left over two feet of snow drifted around the house and barn. I had spent much of the storm resting and reading Jim Harrison’s novellas, “The Land of Unlikeness,” and, “The River Swimmer,” both a welcome diversion because the stories are set in the summer season.

I never did lose power, but burned some of Randy’s oak anyway to beat back the sub zero wind chill that crept into the old house as the storm rattled the storm windows and turned the air outside into a horizontal river of snow flowing out of the north.

The Sunday before the storm I received an e mail from John Kokoszka informing me that he’d been to Red Brook and had seen the year’s first trout fry nonchalantly feeding on micro-organisms as they hovered above a submerged log. Last year we had seen several brook trout fry during a visit to Red Brook on February first. And just as I had done last year at about this time, I marveled that brook trout fry would leave the safety of the stream’s gravel womb to range the brook in the midst of the frigid winter. Last winter I worried about the tiny fry, less than a quarter inch in length, wondering how such seemingly small and frail creatures could survive the winter’s cold storms and tide surges. When it finally became time to survey the brook’s trout population in late June, I was amazed at the number of young of the year brook trout that were found in Red Brook’s lower reach. The spawn of the year before had been a success, and the brook trout fry that had emerged, in the storm blasted midst of a very cold winter, had defied my concern and had survived the cold very nicely. I suppose that I should have expected this brook trout tolerance of cold beginnings. They are after all cold water creatures, charr, an ancient salmonid race that has thrived for far longer than we have in the shadows of glaciers.

I’ve been told that in a past life I must have been a trout, and while I don’t believe in reincarnation, I do feel that it may be in some ways an apt metaphor. We ignore the life that we share with all other creatures at our peril. We are all made of the sun, and the soil, water and the wind of our planet. And call it what you will, we all share the same origin.

Trudging down the length of the frozen pond beneath the winter moon, I’m beginning to understand why I need the snow. It brings with it a resurrection of wildness, if not actual wilderness. The pond beneath my snowshoes groans with the cracking growth of its ice, while above the pond the universe arches across this winter sky, a mysterious and glorious wilderness of fire and infinite cold. It feels good to be humbled – to be loose in this vast beauty.

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