By Anthony Emerson December is here, and soon the snow will fall and accumulate in amounts which must be measured in feet. There will be days when chunks of frozen rain shoot from the blackened clouds and strike the frozen faces of the fearless Mainers in a blustery torrent of snow, ice and rain.
By Anthony Emerson
December is here, and soon the snow will fall and accumulate in quantities which must be measured in feet. There will be days when chunks of frozen rain shoot from the blackened clouds and strike the frozen faces of the fearless Mainers in a blustery torrent of snow, ice and rain.
For hikers, snowshoers and intrepid winter campers, February, with its hail stinging our rosy cheeks like a frozen bird shot, is not a month to binge on prestige television or do puzzles at side of a window with desperate eyes languishing for the green and bloom of spring. My seasonal slump is more acute and frustrating as I search for a place to park on the shoulder of Acadia’s winding roads while watching barely visible human spots skirt the trail of beehives like ants on a watermelon.
During the summer months, the Maine coast is bombarded with millions of tourists looking to take a sightseeing look and satiate their appetites with Maine’s signature crustacean. They can have it.
In November, the northern woods are the scene of modern bloodthirsty sports where the ancient rite of killing one’s own food is crowned with nights at camp accompanied by light beer, playing cards, and flavored chewing tobacco. I firmly believe that the typical hunter is an ideal steward of the land. I know they have affection and pride in the wilderness – it’s part of the ethics of culture.
But I prefer the quiet ambience of the northern woods in season following that of blazing orange and mossy oak. When the freezers are full and the anxious ungulates have retreated into the depths of nature, and most of the evidence of man or beast has been covered by the December snowfall, that’s when I leave on the trails. And if I like the time of sweaters, puffy cardigans and the cornucopia of autumn leaves splashing the backcountry, I prefer the cold, the whiteness and the solitude of the winter forests.
If you, like me, are not a trained naturalist and do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of flora, fauna and fungi or rivers, lakes and various coastal wilderness areas, then the stimuli of the forest can be overwhelming, especially in fertile areas. the summer months when the liveliness of the woods is palpable in the wild. Sometimes the hiking trails around my favorite woods can feel like a classroom, a lab where I’m over my head and behind on my homework.
In the snowy minimalism of a winter hike, my zen opportunity is more accessible. I am often alone, but for the creatures who move invisibly behind curtains of conifers and snowdrifts. Their stories that I glean mainly from the tracks left in the soft snow; turbulent nightlife events are sprawled across the pathways in elegant prints and tell tabloid-worthy dramas and life and death issues. I follow the prints of raccoon paws on the oak trees by the paths, the chaotic rabbit tracks in the brambles and the slightest flap of an owl on the powdery snow, and I know the night before was lively by the theater of wild nature.
On days when the weather has been brutal and made the forest terrain impossible to cross, I like to find a small road with little traffic and walk the steep dirt corridor along the walls of snow that isolate the space from sound and wind. . A pair of old boots, ice crampons, a balaclava, plenty of water, and a plan that includes telling a friend where you will be and when you plan to return, that’s all you need.
I know I don’t need to tell a Mainer how to stay warm or find joy in almost pain – so I won’t. I only wish to remind them of the opportunity of adventure and communion with nature, even during the dark and bitter months of January, February and March.
Editor’s Note: Emerson, originally from Millinocket, lives and writes on the edge of the woods of Maine. His essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Appalachia Journal, Northern New England Review, and Tiny Seed Journal. The Bangor resident enjoys hiking, camping and kayaking with his grandmother. He is a regular contributor to The Dillydoun Review.