May I die in the spring
after one last winter’s storm
The first flakes fell yesterday morning. My wife, son, and I were returning from our daily walk and discussing the upcoming storm. The walk was uneventful other than the anticipation we both felt about the imminent arrival of Winter Storm Jonas. Throughout our walk through the forest, we debated how long until the snow began. Just as we stepped from a trail that circles a valley and into a large field, a few flakes fell from the sky. Before we crossed the field, snow had collected on our hats and on my ruck sack. “I guess this is it.”
Within twenty minutes we were back to the comfort of our house, watching as more and more flakes fell. Our local news channel broadcast throughout the entire day so we alternated between watching the snow collect on our property and watching the talking heads on the television tell us about the snow collecting on other people’s properties. As darkness approached, we measured 12” of snow on our back deck. Later in the evening, just before bed, we measured 14 inches.
This morning I awoke to a cup of coffee and a juxtaposition of excitement and dread. Even if Misti and Turtle could avoid walking today, my commitment wouldn’t allow me to stay home. We measured 16” of snow before I began my morning ritual of dressing for the occasion: moisture–wicking Army T–shirt tucked into thermal pants which are tucked into thick wool socks, jeans, Army wool sweater, work jacket, neck gaiter, toboggan, and fingerless gloves inside of insulated work gloves before donning my Sorel winter boots (Click here to read my review of these boots) just before stepping out the door. After fully dressed for the upcoming hike, I opened the side door of my house and stepped into winter. Real winter. Not this 60 degree December nonsense. Real winter with over a foot of snow and freezing temperatures!
My first stop was the building adjacent to our house where I keep my ruck sack. Opening the door proved problematic but after some effort, I moved enough snow to allow just enough of an opening for me to step inside and carry my ruck back outside. Misti took a moment to take a few photos of her mountain man as he braved the winter storm before I started the arduous task of walking through the mountains.
The snow continued to fall as I began walking from our property towards the trail leading me through the forest. After only a few hundred feet, I could sense the difficulty of lifting my feet over the snow, but I continued to walk.
I passed the first set of deer tracks just before leaving my property. Throughout my trek, I only crossed three or four tracks instead of the typical thirty or forty. Other than these few tracks, I was the first to break this virgin snow, leaving my footprints and two troughs behind.
The snow was a fine and dry snow that accumulated on the trees and branches as well as the ground. The entire forest seemed covered with white powder. Pine trees collected the most. Each cluster of needles were white balls with green points protruding in various directions from the center. The weight of these clusters pulled each branch toward the ground shaping each pine tree to that of an arrowhead. Occasionally as I walked, I’d glimpse movement to my left or right as a cluster of snow near the top of one of these pines would fall, causing a chain reaction of falling snow and a cloud of fine white powder to expand into the air.
As I climbed the first significant hill, I moved to the right of the trail to avoid the overhanging branches covered in snow. The barrel of my rifle grazed one of the branches, causing a miniature avalanche to fall onto my head, onto my ruck sack, and into the back of my coat and down my neck.
By the top of the hill, my legs began to ache. For the first time in twenty–one straight days, I questioned my decision to walk. I couldn’t quit though.
I steadily crept up through the field and onto the next trail. From here onward, I was immersed in typical West Virginia forest. The trail follows a shelf along a mountainside over small spurs and draws. On either side of the trail stands massive oak trees, smaller hickories and poplars, and sporadic evergreens. The majority of the snow had fallen and aside from me, the first to explore the winter wonderland were the birds. I’m no bird expert and can only identify a few species, but this morning, I didn’t concern myself with identification. I just listened and watched. They chirped. They squawked. A few even seemed to laugh at me as I trudged through the snow.
My trek follows a pattern where I walk along a trail, make a small circle at the end, and then follow the same trail to return home. The furthest section away requires that I climb straight up a steep incline to the top of a ridge, follow the ridge for several hundred yards, then climb my way back down a taller and steeper hill to return to the original trail. As I climbed toward the top of the ridge, the incline was so steep and the snow was so deep that my knees drug through the snow, forcing me to lift my feet well above the snow line to move forward. Each step was excruciating! I considered skipping the circle stretch of the trail and just walking back, but I couldn’t. Visions of Hudson Bay mountain men crossed my mind, reminding me that men have endured much worse than this and persevered. So could I.
I reached the top and stood motionless except for my exaggerated respirations. I looked down and saw the snow frozen onto my jeans and onto my gloves and coat sleeves. I could feel the melted snow slowly wicking its way down the inner liners of my boots, and I knew that no matter how warm I felt while climbing up and down a mountain, when my feet got wet, I’d feel the true cold of the winter.
I followed the ridge until I reached the mountainside I would climb down toward the trail. Each step was only inches in length as I crept downward. A slip here could easily leave me injured and stranded. My steps kicked small clumps of snow down the mountainside, and I couldn’t resist watching them as they rolled like miniature avalanches to the bottom of the hill.
As I reentered the field on my return trip home, I first noticed the stinging of my feet. Just as I had predicted, the melted snow had finally reached the bottoms of my boot liners and my feet were now freezing. Even with the insulated winter boots, the thick wool socks, and the strenuous effort required to navigate through the snow, my entire body quickly changed from sweating hot to bitter cold.
When I finally returned home, all I could think of was doffing my soaking wet clothing and frozen boots and drinking a cup of coffee. I sat on my back porch and tried to untie my shoes. I typically tuck in my bootlaces, but early in my walk the snow had exposed them. Now they were frozen solid. I tried untying them but found no success until I wrapped each knot with my hands and held them until they thawed enough to untie.
After walking through the snow all morning, I am now relaxing in my warm house with a hot cup of coffee. I’m exhausted and have little intention of doing anything else for the rest of the day. Even though my walk was difficult, I am still thankful that I had the opportunity to enjoy the weather. Winter is my favorite time of year. It toughens us, makes us stronger. And anytime I have an opportunity to test myself in a winter storm, I take it. Like a child excited about a snow day from school, I look forward to these storms. They provide me with the opportunity to explore a frozen forest and they provide me with an opportunity to explore myself. Without testing myself, without challenging my endurance and my willpower, and without testing the boundaries of my personal tenacity, how else will I know who I am and why I am here?
How about you? Were you in Winter Storm Jonas’ path? Do you enjoy snowstorms? Do you ever feel that childlike excitement about having a snow day? If so, I’d love to hear about it!