Winter in the Woods

We got snow. Three or so inches of the lightest, fluffiest snow fell last night and suddenly the world which had been brown and sickly for so long was white and soft. Corners were rounded and in today’s sun it sparkled like infinite diamonds. As the breeze tossed it from the trees, the very air shimmered in the sun.

To honor that great man of peace and justice, Martin Luther King, Jr., my workplace was closed. Rosie’s, unfortunately, was not. As such, Lola and I tagged along with Rainier and Sleepy and their friendly dog Quercus for a hike at Crosby Regional Park along the Mississippi River.

I had never been to the park before, but it is a favorite of theirs. I was very glad to be introduced to it today. When we arrived, there were perhaps 10 or 15 cars in the parking lots, mostly exultant cross-country skiers finally out on their boards on a glorious, bright winter day. Rainier and Sleepy were shocked at the number of cars, though I didn’t think it was that many. Apparently it’s usually much quieter.

With temperatures in the single digits, a distant southern sun in the sky, and the world bursting with pure, sometimes blinding, light, many people were very happy that it finally looked and felt like winter should.

We left the parking lot and walked along a trail with a small lake on our right side and a steep, wooded bluff above us on our left. Once off the leash, Lola was in heaven. She loves the snow. It is great to shove her snout through it, coming up with a muzzle coated in white, her whiskers frozen. And she ran and ran and ran. Up the hillsides, just to see what was up there. Ahead on the trail until I called her name and she would run back, stopping to smell something under the snow, then running ahead again, forging our path.

Our course took us along the lake and then another that adjoined it. The trail which had already been marked by a few cross-country skiers went the other way and we walked on through untracked snow. I took off my hat, my scarf, even my gloves at different times during the hike, it’s amazing what the pumping of the heart can do to keep you warm in cold weather.

Above us, out of sight over the top of the hill, we could hear traffic, but not too loudly. I don’t think I was alone in feeling far-removed from the world of the concrete and steel along our path in the snowy woods.

After a mile or so, we crossed an unplowed park road and went on into a bottomland of beech and cottonwood trees, with as many laying on the ground as standing. It was apparently very swampy under the snow but you wouldn’t know it with everything frozen.

It wasn’t long before we emerged on the banks of the river. To our left was the I-35E bridge, which I have driven across to work every weekday morning for more than two years. Every morning I look down at the river, it is always beautiful, always a different view, and it is always a brief, welcome escape from the artificial world I am driving toward. Every day I wonder what it is like down along the river. I watch as the water levels rise in the spring and reach the edge of the vegetation, as it sinks back down over the summer to expose more and more beach.

Now I was standing on that beach for the first time. I couldn’t believe I’d never come down here before. Again, I felt so very far from that rusing world of the highway. I will definitely have a new perspective on the view when I drive to work tomorrow.

We walked along the beach for quite some time, still not seeing anyone. Lola ran ahead and would disappear into the woods briefly, then come galloping back to my call.

Shortly after we went back up into the woods it transitioned from the big cottonwoods and the such to a tight forest of small pines. It was thick and impenetrable. Out of the tangle of wood a form suddenly emerged, the giant frame of a teepee, dozens of logs leaning into each other in a circle. There was no covering on it and no inner area, just a pyramid of logs.

Sleepy explained that this area had been home to the Dakota American Indians for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years. When the whites came, they eventually made a prison on an island out from us where they imprisoned the Indians before expelling them from the land altogether. How awful, to be prisoner in your own home, then driven from it with no hope of having it back. Neither Sleepy nor Rainier knew anything about the teepees, they said they’d noticed them in various stages of construction, but never seen anyone working on them.

We slowly worked back toward the car, and slowly started to see more people. Never many, but here and there a skier or a couple hikers. We hiked through some more hardwoods and then came to the far side of the lake that we had walked next to on our way in.

Two skiers were crossing the lake length-wise and we watched them and then decided to walk back across it so we could walk out on the trail we’d come in on. Underneath the snow, the ice was hard, solid and perfectly smooth. Rainier and Sleepy said the previous day, before the snow, people had been ice skating on the lake.

It felt good to walk on some hard water. The warm temperatures of this winter have made that impossible before now. Being in the middle of a frozen lake, everything so white and flat, is a good feeling.

It wasn’t long before we were back at the car, having walked about four miles. And it wasn’t long before we were right back in the heart of the city, with bustling traffic and noise. My cheeks were flushed from the cold and the wind and I felt purified by the clean winter air.

I can’t wait to look down on my drive to work tomorrow morning and see my tracks on that snow-covered beach.

[tags]hiking, winter, minnesota, mississippi river[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Winter in the Woods

  1. Randy

    Awesome. I’m glad you got out with the pup to enjoy the winter weather. I think it’s hard to show the same excitement for fresh snow as a dog can.

    I’m diggin’ the new curtains. :)


  2. the dharma bum Post author

    After this winter, I was pretty excited by the snow myself… :) But yeah, Lola outdoes me at showing her enthusiasm. The past couple walks I’ve taken her since the snow, our progress has been seriously impeded by her walking along with her nose shoved into the snow. I’d get frustrated, but all I can do is laugh.

    Glad you like the new look… work in progress, but I’m liking it too. More changes to come!

  3. cK

    I’m jealous of this hike! Early and middle winter can be quite thrilling this way–it’s the late winter that weighs on the conscience. But escaping for a brisk walk in the snow and chill air is wonderful.

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