No question about it, it had to be today.
It’s been windy and in the teens for two weeks, we’re expecting snow tonight and tomorrow, and then even more frigid temperatures to follow.
This afternoon, however, was a balmy 33 degrees with gentle breezes that kept the “feels like” temp in the upper 20s. For a gal still learning to be “weatherproof” today was the day to get out for a hike.
Or, rather, a walk in the woods. Hiking, to me, carries a connotation of physical exercise. This makes me feel obligated to move quickly along the trails, keeping up my pace and heart rate. Walking quickly on the trails is also a great way to miss everything going on in the woods that I came out to see in the first place. So, my “resolution” for this year is to quit hiking and just walk (slowly, pausing often) in the woods.
(Exercise will have to be accomplished at home on my NordicTrac elliptical machine. I call it “Hellga” for obvious reasons.)
It was a good choice. Nature never disappoints.
I started the trail walking way too fast. Three weeks of holiday preparation and family visits, the last two of which I was basically stuck indoors, had me in my head. And my head up my backside. (I could tell because my thoughts were all crappy.)
All I heard was the crunch of leaves and the rustling of my many layers against the extra blubber I’d built up over the holidays (warm, but bad for my self-esteem) as I barged down the trail.
Luckily, I ran into another woods-walker, an ACLT volunteer who was out to bow hunt the evening hours in order to check the local white-tailed deer population. He didn’t know me. He didn’t care about my holidays. He was just glad to be in the woods, and glad for me that I was there, too. We chatted for a minute about the beautiful lacy leaves still decorating the beech trees, about how Parker’s Creek had frozen solid and so the raft crossing is closed, about how some unwise soul would probably try to cross it on foot anyway and be sorry for it.
I thanked him for his good trailwork – the ACLT trails impress me more on every visit – and wished him luck in his hunting, eager to move on now that our chat had stopped my inner monologue and successfully removed my head from my rump. (I kept that last part to myself.)
That’s maybe the best part of the woods; once you wake up and tune in, the sights and sounds overtake the tempest-in-a-teapot of human thought and push it aside. The questions the woods ask are so much more interesting that anything I already know.
Still, as long as I was moving, the forest remained silent. Strange. Or not. If I were a critter in the winter woods and a nosy human was clomping through, I’d save my warm breath and enjoy my hiding space until the clumsy clomper had passed.
It is counter-intuitive to pause in the wilderness when the weather is cold. There’s some mammalian drive that wants your feet to keep moving until you reach warm cabin or safe car. Today I fought that urge, and nature rewarded me.
Just as I rounded a corner, I saw on the bridge over the valley stream a cat-sized bit of furry, rusty-red motion. As the creature in question trotted away I caught sight of four black paws and snow-white tipped tail. A red fox (Vulpes vulpes)! My first trail-sighting!
I’ve seen many furry friends from the driver’s seat of car as they dashed away from the road (and a few that didn’t make it across), plenty of orange-red eyes glowing in the night at the edge of the field, but I’d never seen one on a trail until today. Though the normally nocturnal fox was likely out hunting early to avoid the coldest hours of night, its appearance was full-on magical to me. Worth the whole trip. But the walk wasn’t even half over yet, and the pictures below reveal some of the questions and answers the woods gave me.
Tomorrow I’ll snuggle in under the blanket of snow and research more answers. . .and more questions to ask on my next walk.