I dare say that we have not had winter here in the northeastern US. It seems more like an extension of spring. Some parts of the region did see a few snowstorms, but temperatures throughout have fluctuated quite dramatically, up and down, and mostly up. This has impacted the wildlife and flora noticeably. In mid January, when temperatures reached as high as 70 F/21 C, black bears awoke from their hibernation to stroll about the local woodlands. I found evidence of their activity whilst working at Weir Farm National Historic Site. And just when people thought winter was over (even though I contest it hadn’t really started), temps dipped low at random intervals. In February we had a hard freeze on the 13th, when the mercury dipped down to a chilly -10 F/-23 C. Of course, the next day the temperature soared up to 60 F/15 C.
This, ladies and gentleman, is what New England weather is like. Contrary to what outsiders from the area might have heard, we don’t normally get “harsh” winters, though 4 inches of snow one given day with temperatures consistently below freezing for 2 months might be harsh enough for some people. Having grown up here, I can tell you that our seasons are unpredictable, and the winter months are no exception. You might get truck-loads of snow like last winter of 2014-2015, or you might end up with hardly anything to call winter, such as this past season. There is no “normal” here. And if you live here long enough, you learn to expect the unexpected.
That said, I still find it rather amusing to see temperatures continue to fluctuate. Even though we are approaching mid-April, we have had several recent freeze warnings – usually to alert gardeners and landscapers that more sensitive plants such as magnolias, forsythias, basil, and rosemary, will suffer at the sudden drop in temperature. And that is what this post is going to be about….admiring the unexpected weather changes that have shaped and continue to shape this region and its people, as well as reflecting on why I practice bushcraft and explore the outdoors.
So it was on an earlier day in April, that I watched a passing rain shower gradually become an ice storm, finishing with a light dusting of snow. Everything was coated in about 1/2 inch of ice. I guess Loki’s frost giants walked through.
Such a dangerous beauty, ice is. It can cause horrific traffic accidents, and yet it can coat a landscape in a frosty quilt of dazzling artistry.
Ice and snow came again on a different day, and I decided to take full advantage of it.
Nobody on the Ives’ trail but me :).
Salix bebbiana, or Long-Beaked Willow, with blossoming catkins that resemble those on its close relative, S. discolor, Cat Willow.
I followed the frost-crusted trail up Black Oak Ridge, slipping every now and then on iced-over rocks. I took a risk not bringing my ice-trekkers – for more confidence in my footing I should have brought them.
About 700 ft/213 m above sea level here. Quite a nice view, and the perfect place for a brew-stop.
Because temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark, I brought my DIY esbit stove. The tea pot was a hand-me-down from my brother’s godfather, something I hadn’t taken with me in a few years. It is made of aluminum, but for boiling water to make tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and freeze-dried meals, it is all I really need – simple and lightweight.
And here is the view close to the summit (938 ft/286 m). For me, this is what it’s all about….you can’t get views like this through a plasma TV or a fancy computer. You have to travel to these wonderful spots on your own, a sort of personal pilgrimage through Nature’s vast temple to arrive at the altar of personal philosophy and self-understanding.
Here’s the view further down the path looking northwest at Hemlock Heights, summit 971 ft/296 m.
Heading back down the ridge was easier than the ascent, mostly because that part of the trail was constructed better. There was also much less icy rocks to worry about. At the bottom, I turned south and followed the path as it meandered around the southern shore of a beautiful pond.
On the left is Laurel Hill, and on the right is Black Oak Ridge. The positioning of this valley creates an area of heightened acoustics, and sound travels surprisingly well. The trail continues on the right side of the photo, towards the centre, and then up Laurel Hill.
Frosted Ramps, anyone? 🙂
Perhaps some ice-chilled Spearmint on the side? 😀
I followed the Ives’ Trail up and over Laurel Hill, crossing over to Town Hill. I wasn’t taking any chances here, since the trail was littered with iced-over rocks, so I hand-railed the path off to the side. I stopped at about the 700 ft/213 m mark amongst a grove of tall Norway Spruces, Canada Hemlocks, and Eastern White Pines. The wind had picked up, and most of the trees had broken-free from their crystal-like coating of ice, waving heavy branches in the gusts like a freed man lifting his arms to the sky in a moment of euphoria and exultation.
It was at this time that I turned back to head home. This was only a 6 mile hike hike, but I took a leisurely pace, and this was my own pilgrimage. I think we all need trips like this, where we can laugh at the clock and distance ourselves from the routines and chaos of modern society, to walk among old friends and ancient companions who have been with us for thousands of years, reminding and humbling us that we are all human at our roots.