Thursday, January 27, 2011

Walking This Afternoon

January 23, 2011
Otter Point, Moreau Lake State Park

Henry Thoreau and I both went walking this afternoon - only not together:

(from Thoreau’s Journal:)
Jan. 23 1857 –
The coldest day that I remember recording, clear and bright …
Ink froze.

Had to break the ice in my pail with a hammer.
Thermometer at 6:45 am, -18 degrees;
at 10:30, -14 degrees
(Smith’s, –20; Wilds’ –7, the last being in a more sheltered place);

at 12:45, -9 degrees;
at 4 pm, -5 1/2 degrees;
at 7:30 pm, -8 degrees.

Walking this afternoon, I notice that the face inclines to stiffen,
and the hands and feet get cold soon.
On first coming out in very cold weather,
I find that I breathe fast,

though without walking faster or exerting myself
any more than usual.

It seems that eons have passed since the long, leisurely walks of summer. Instead, when I do get outdoors these days, it’s hurried and quick, face bundled, eyes down, choosing my steps with care.
The weather has been unpleasant for many days in a row, and I've fallen into Hibernation Mode --preferring to remain in my warm cave if given a choice.

So of course, when Jackie suggested we meet to walk this weekend, I was already mentally setting some conditions on my participation.
“If it’s not snowing”
“if it’s not too cold”
“if my car starts”
“if my little toe gets better” (yes, I bashed it again a few days ago – you’ve done it too : at first you see stars, and then cautiously look down, but it’s always still hanging on somehow).

All in all, some pretty lame excuses.

No matter that I knew that Henry Thoreau, plagued his whole short life with tuberculosis, had been out walking on this very same day 154 years ago, loping around Concord to get those temperature readings from his neighbors …

And though I was looking forward to much-needed fresh air, I was also prepared to cancel on a moment’s notice, if Jackie called.

No call came.

I wondered whether to make the call myself, when my eye fell on today's horoscope:

How could I resist such poetic advice?
Smiling at the summons to spend "more time than usual" outdoors,
I loaded the snowshoes into the car, and drove to our meeting-place at the trailhead.

As I drove southward, the sunny sky dimmed like a cataract, and the distant grey haze became tiny snowflakes falling all around.

Excuse Number One was here!

I arrived first at the trailhead and sat in the car, watching the windshield whiten. Moments later, Jackie’s car pulled up, and  just as I was about to say, “well, let’s just go for coffee” – she was already putting on her snowshoes.

That’s the value of a good friend, they get you to go outside your
self-imposed limits.

As if to reward us, no sooner did we enter the woods, than the snow stopped and dim sunlight appeared.
We ended up having a splendid walk. I struggled a bit with the deepness of the snow – even with snowshoes, if the snow if fluffy enough, you sink down quite a ways. We took turns breaking trail, and Jackie had lots more energy than I.

Excuse Number Two was still a possibility. It was about 9 degrees.
I’ve been out on short walks in that temperature, but we stayed out for about an hour and a half. Ironically, we were more concerned with getting overheated from exertion, which is a real danger in those conditions.

After the initial coldness in fingers and toes, just a few minutes of tromping through deep snow soon gets you feeling toasty warm all over.

My hat was flaps-down, and eliminated most peripheral vision. A scarf helped keep my nose from going numb, but also helped to royally fog up my glasses. Then there was no vision at all. At times I was walking by feel alone, literally in a haze. It was good just to be outside and moving.

There were some tracks and trails everywhere, but all seemed made hours ago – except for the stitchery of mouse-tracks that went on for great mouse-distances, betraying their recent epic voyages from tree to tree.

In a way, we were like those mice, only our tracks were bigger.

The woods were very still and beautiful, and we sloped down to the coves along the river.
At the edge, you can look out across the river – a marvelous sight even on a grey day.

One pauses at coming upon such frozen serenity.

Good friend or no, I stubbornly stayed ashore while Jackie fearlessly walked out on the cove ice. She wanted to check the deer carcass, which was put there by park personnel as a sort of enticement for the wintering bald eagles.

So far, they haven’t seen any eagles during the official Friday Eagle Watches at the Park, which take place only a few miles upriver from where we now stood.

Jackie came back after a few minutes, and we just stood there, looking at the sun peek out behind Three Brother Island.

Suddenly, in the air off to the left – big wings !

and it was a bald eagle, who casually flapped his way past us,
past the deer, past the Island, in a matter of moments.

I barely had time to raise the camera with clumsy cold hands.

Sure, maybe if we hadn’t been right out where he could see us, or hear us, that eagle might have come down for a landing in that cove, but it was still treat enough for us.

We walked out to the point of land that Jackie calls Rippled Rocks. Even covered with snow, they live up to their name.

It was by no means a long walk, in time or distance, but one filled with wonderful things that made it seem a grand excursion.


  1. I hear you on those self-imposed restrictions! And it does feel so good to break through them, doesn't it? Whenever I get out on an outing such as yours, I always wonder whatever it was that could possibly have kept me away. The reward of just being there is so great, it out-distances any possible complaint. Hope to get together and share one of these jaunts with you ladies soon!

  2. Didn't seeing that eagle make it all worth while? I just love your photo of it. I'm delighted you decided to come out, because now I get to enjoy your blog about it, which is as gorgeous as ever. I'm so glad you are my nature buddy.