Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snowstorm pending, so an early walk

Haggis and I decided to get a walk in before the snowstorm hits. Aimee and I have a snow day from work, and the storm, a big one by all accounts, was scheduled to hit hard around 9am, although we've had preludes in the form of light snow and spin drift all night.

A little light stuff is no impediment to a walk around here. The deep new powder we will have by this afternoon will certainly slow you down, so sooner was going to be better than later.

Being sociable fellows, we invited Mary-dog on our walk. Mary demurred to begin, but I insisted. She did get off the couch, but hesitated again at the door. Again, I insisted. Mary, a former bear-hunting dog that was kept outside, is perfectly happy to piddle and poop in the house if you don't make her go out.

Once outside, Mary balked at the walk. I kept calling her, but she wouldn't come. She didn't like the 10 F weather, the nasty cold wind, the new snow and the spin-drift, which admittedly was all a good deal worse at her height than mine.

But Haggis and I had a good heart-pumping stomp along the snowmobile trail.

I'm not fond of snowmobiles per se, nor any noisy smelly machine that gets between you and seeing, hearing, and feeling the outdoors, unless it's a Land Rover, or the chainsaw that gets me my winter firewood.

But Aimee and I have lived on the edge of the same snowmobile trail now for over eight years, and we've learned to live with it and even appreciate it.

(We've only been in this house for just under six years, but this trail goes straight to our other house in Monroe.)

The reason is, the snowmobile club grooms the trail, and the packed snow allows you to walk for miles in the woods without skis or snowshoes.

We're perfectly content to both ski and snowshoe our way around, but neither are ideal in Maine conditions. Ski trails here need to be groomed to work properly -- the untreated snow pack is generally either too deep and soft to ski easily, or too hard. As for snoeshoes, they only work well in the early spring after the snow pack has consolidated. There's about a three-four week window each spring where you can snowshoe anywhere you want, as fast as you like, on deep, hard snow pack.

(Sometimes, when conditions are just right, there might even be a week when you can hike anywhere you like on really hard snow, mountaineer's neve snow, really, but that's a little rarer an event. When it occurs, the feeling is a bit like walking on air, and after a whole winter of post-holing, you feel like running around on top of the snow!)

The rest of the winter, snowshoes are better than hiking, but still clunky and uncomfortable and slightly unnatural. Like clown feet.

So the snowmobiles are unpleasant, but their trail is a boon.

Haggis enjoyed his walk. He always does. He's very pleasant to hike with.

Mary refused to come and instead stood outside the front door and howled until Aimee let her back in, and then headed straight back for the couch.

What a wuss! And doesn't she look guilty in this picture?

These Maine woods we live in are mostly second growth agricultural land that was part of the 2,000 acre Great Farm of Israel Thorndike. The biggest ash grove we have used to be called the Hundred Acre Hayfield. These days it's a hundred acres of 90% white ash, all no more than twenty years old -- a great firewood resource. But there are places where the tree cover is more diverse, and individual trees are older, with the ground showing the hummocks left by former fallen trees, and you can guess that although the wood was perhaps harvested, the primeval forest was never cleared.

Haggis and I usually like to hike to the first such place (pictured), about two thirds of a mile there and the same back. The ground is too steep for the plow, and there's a small seasonal brook with a wetland just below, and so this is essentially wilderness. The forest cover is more diverse by far than above on the Hundred Acre Hayfield, and the trees are on the whole larger.

I think it's an acquired taste, to properly appreciate the Maine forest, especially this cut-over or cleared land, and especially in winter snowstorms. The colors are fairly monochrome. We may as well be seeing the world in black-and-white, like an old photo, or on an old black and white TV.

I was watching a PBS show last night on the Klamath country in Oregon, a place I've visited where the redwood and Douglas fir trees can be tens of feet around, and the country is always green and lush: a rain forest. I was happy to see it all on the TV again, and I wouldn't mind another visit one day.

But I was content enough today to take my exercise with my one good dog, in the deep snow, in the deep Maine woods behind my own house.

Oregon can wait. It's not going anywhere.


  1. We're fine. For us this was a routine moderate snowstorm, only a foot of snow. But I do have to get out early today and move the snow with the tractor so normal life can resume.

    I spent most of the day feeling sorry for the Queenslanders.

  2. I agree with the snowmobile bit. Some of the trails are crazy busy, but the ones that are way out in the woods don't see as much traffic and are great for running when the trails are snowed in. I do prefer snowshoeing in the end though. Haggis is a hearty pooch! Maybe you need a coat for Mary; then she would be warm and fuzzy and happy to follow her pops in the deep woods.

  3. She's happy enough to come when the temperatures are a bit higher, 15 or above. It's the 0F and below she hates.

    But even if it's warm, she runs for home as soon as we turn around!


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