Yesterday evening. My husband and I escape the pre-dinner chaos of the house. We put on our mukluks, traditional Native slipper boots made of rawhide, leather, and canvas, with wool liners. We tie on our snowshoes and climb over a steep snowbank to head straight off-road, into the bush. He’s a bit suspicious. Do I know where I’m going? Of course, I tell him. This is where I grew up!
We start walking, safely secure on the crusty surface of the deep snow as we tramp our way around fallen logs, past snow-laden evergreens, over rises and falls in the ground. Without the snowshoes, we would fall knee-deep into the white powder. Every step would be slow and exhausting. It would be a long trek back home!
“The Natives were inspired by the snowshoe hare when they invented these,” he tells me. I don’t know the history of snowshoes, but they did enable Natives, trappers, and rangers in snowy regions to travel long distances in wintertime. Incredible, I think, that today in 2012 I can feel the same sense of freedom in the forest that they have for so many centuries, maybe even millennia, by using exactly the same technology.
The very snowshoes I’m wearing were even made by an old Native guy my parents met a few years back. He sells and makes snowshoes and mukluks for a living. These are no aluminum-framed, fancy modern knock-offs; these things stank to high heaven when they were first brought in the house! The fresh new hide, the glue on the wood, the special protective wax that had to get rubbed into the mukluks all combined to fill the house with a strongly unique smell that didn’t go away for days! The more we snowshoed, though, the more they aired out. Talk about motivation for getting outside…
The forest is perfectly still in winter. There are no smells, except for the occasional snowmobile that roars by, leaving its cloud of blue gasoline fumes lingering among the trees for far too long. There are almost no sounds, either, other than the aforementioned snowmobile, the odd chickadee, or creaking ice on the lake.
The sun is setting and I want to see the light on the lake. I keep catching glimpses of it through the trees and it’s summoning me. We head downhill, trespassing over private properties that are closed for the season, and out into the frozen expanse of snow-covered ice. No one else lives on this lake year-round, except for my parents. It’s our kingdom, our playground – the place I grew up and love above all else. We arrive just in time to see the tops of the trees turn gold, like spiky paintbrushes dipped into paint and stood on end.
I can’t resist it. This is winter at its most glorious, pristine perfection. No one could be here and say they do not like winter. This is a season totally unrelated to the slushy gray mess called winter in the city. I fling myself down on the snow and convince him to do the same. We lie in silence, staring into a sky so deeply blue that it’s dizzying. Too soon, the distant roar of an approaching snowmobile breaks me out of my reverie and we stand up, laughing at our silliness and brushing snow from our clothes.
We head home toward the yellow lights that glitter through the darkening trees. I know there’s a fire in the fireplace because I can smell the wood smoke. We fumble with the snow-filled knots and take off our snowshoes, shaking them clean. Tucked away in the basement, they’ll be ready for the next time I need to commune with nature.