Last weekend, I was on a solo writing retreat in the Berkshires.
Monday, March 4th
After six inches of snow last night, I worked in the morning then midday tested out my new snowshoes, plus accompanying “gators” designed to keep my calves dry and a water supply tucked into a backpack to keep my body hydrated. Rather than drive somewhere, I decided to trek around the immediate area of where I’m staying. There are several buildings on this timeshare plot of land, and around the perimeter, trees are dripping with snow.
Putting snowshoes on feels like tying narrow tennis rackets to the bottoms of my feet. My normal stride needs to widen to make room for the wider-than-my-feet snowshoes. After twenty steps, my subconscious spoke, “Howdy, partner!” The gait I’ve fallen into is reminiscent of a slightly bow-legged cowboy.
My wander around the backyard is not a race. I step slowly and methodically through the white canvas. Whether dropping backwards into the snow to make a snow angel or writing in the snow by shuffling snow boots to draw a letter then taking a giant hop in order to start the next letter, I find the same giddiness in tableau blanc snow as I do in a new journal, an iced-over mud puddle, or a plate of Christmas dinner. The perfect beginnings of those things tickle me, but once written in, broken through, or bitten into – respectively, they lose their clean, magical awe.
Following the edge of the property, a hill appears to my right. In no hurry, I march up the hill and the steel grips on the bottom of the shoes hold tight. Once on top, I see that to continue on my perimeter walk, I need to go down the other side of the hill. And down looks longer and more challenging than the upward trek had been. Remembering Bill’s first downhill ski lesson, I called forth his advice: Don’t ski down the mountain. Ski across it. Traverse.
I completed a three-point snowshoe turn by planting each foot heavily. My eyes drew lines like that on a protractor from the point of origin to the arc. If I made a traverse about ten degrees down the hill from my original path, I wouldn’t make much progress down the incline. I sighted a thirty degree line that was doable. Slow, marked steps took this sloth-like winter human down the other side of the hill. At one of the turns, I had a pang of anxiety that I occasionally have while downhill skiing. But it was fleeting because I can turn much easier on an incline with grippy snowshoes than I can with slick boards attached to my feet.
My turn was as tight as that I make at the end of a row of crocheting, where I have to pay attention to which hole I pull that anchoring yarn through – the one that will make for a perfect turn, matching the one before it; that sets me up for gliding, traverse stitches back across the length of a blanket. In four traverses, I’m at the bottom of the hill standing in a parking lot. I hear water flowing in front of me and remember that there is a creek along one side of the property.
The juxtaposition of wide frozen chunks hanging over a noisy rippling stream is eye candy to me. After I absorb it for a couple minutes, I step down to the stream’s frozen edge, tightly hugging the embankment. I can’t really tell where the creek starts and the land ends. The hollowness underfoot makes me think that I’m walking on a frozen, perhaps twelve-inch thick, bank of ice. It’s wide enough that I don’t worry about it breaking; I stay close to the bank’s edge and do not venture out onto the chunk hanging over the mid-stream flowing water.
I won’t string along the wondering mind; while navigating along a narrow eighteen-inch section of the bank — I fell in. Although it wasn’t so much a fall as an immediate lowering of my body by a few inches when an edge of ice broke under me. I heard a splash into the six-inch deep water and immediately pulled that foot up, reached for a tree, and pulled my weight off of the crumbling edge. I scrambled up the bank – a relative term given I was wearing tennis racquets – and was surprised that my feet weren’t soaked. The loud splash must have been made by the twenty-five-inch long snowshoe quickly dipping into the water.
Like following huge Hansel and Gretel crumbs, I turned to backtrack my own footprints and went up onto terra firma. Once on solid ground, I looked up and discovered that the most scenic part of this walk was actually at my back where the sun’s winter rays lit the trees and the stream.