Monday, November 16, 2009

Winter's Noon

The dawn today showed up cold and clear. The thermometer on the back deck read a robust -15F but the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun broke the horizon (admittedly at 10am...) and gave the frozen world a cheery pastel pink and orange glow. The air had a crystal clear and rarefied quality I've only experienced during Interior winters when you can feel your breath steaming in your throat even prior to exhale. The sun, now in its winters arc that only climbs halfway to apex, would soon be on its descent to the horizon. The day however beautiful would be brief.

I thought for a moment and quickly concocted some rather obtuse chore that had to be done in the back country centering around a buddy's fledgling trap line and within a few moments I was astride the machine and breaking trail on the 10" of fresh snow we had received over the last two days. I left the pup lounging in his kennel; although normally keen to go, he had vomited up the neighbor's cell phone the day prior and had felt poorly ever since. I left the beast sleeping quietly and zipped out of the drive- his penance for rooting out a misplaced cell phone and ensuring it never returned to service.

I could feel the cold air invading my face mask, pushing its way through the fibers of the fabric and attacking my moisture laden mouth and chin. I burrowed my head further down in the tunnel of my parka and eased back on the throttle to reduce the breeze. The trees held the wonderful postcard look of the winter trail- every branch and leaf crystallized and covered in rime or snow. The world looked absolutely still but it wasn't.

I let off the throttle and let the machine slow to a stop and I dismounted to check some fresh tracks in the snow that had been paralleling the trail and crossed it several times. I looked at the loping gait- almost like a North American jackal, it could only be a coyote. I looked up and not 50 yards ahead on the trail the coyote leaped from the brush into the trail and gave me a long look back over his shoulder without breaking stride as he steadily pulled away. He calmly broke right and almost noiselessly vanished in the brush and the forest beyond.

I maneuvered the sled around a few more twists and turns and hung a hard left to take me on the upper bluff trail. A simple bluff about 200 feet high jutted up from the lowland morass and dominated the local landscape. I planned to sit up there for a short while and scan with binoculars for any more creatures roaming the countryside. As I'm wont to do, my attention shifted from the lower expanse below to the forested area behind me. I could smell a peculiar odor that I had only recently became acquainted with- Labrador tea.

I quickly located a small patch of the coniferous plant and threw a couple of old dried rose hips I also found in the pot for good measure. I had the brew boiled up in a few moments on my portable stove. A shot of sugar to make the potent tea palatable and I was counting my blessings. To be here on the bluff, in the frozen sunshine with a cup of steaming tea while I watched the lone coyote lope his way unconcernedly along the packed snow machine trail was a wonderful moment and for a short moment at least all was right with the world.

Well at least my small, beautiful and unforgiving corner of it anyway.

More to come.


Holly Heyser said...


My California friends wondered how I could love the Minnesota winter during my two-year stint there. So many people don't realize that every climate has its charms if you open your eyes to them.

me said...

Another great story.

I received your email a while back but have had internet probs lately.

Still doing well in Wrangell.

Take care.

hodgeman said...

I've never been to Minnesota but I've got good friends from there- pictures I've seen make it look wonderful.

Glad you're doing well in Wrangell. Good to hear back from you- hope you get your 'puter problems fixed.