Cold, when it finally hits, is pervasive and brutally unforgiving. We're still only in the parking lot, the dogs freed from a tight squeeze in the kennel, and I'm rushing to layer on as much as possible to try and retain any of my rapidly depleting body heat. Once we get going I'm hoping I'll be moving enough that I'll wish for the parking lot, but I have my doubts. Rachelle has come before so she takes the lead, and I trail behind her and my Aunt and Uncle. Dexter and Remi go primal, bounding and leaping through the snow and biting at each other--mostly Dex biting Remi, if we're being honest--and we start our hike into the woods. At first, the world is made anew by the snow, heaps of glimmering white coat the trees and rocks and dirt and make them somehow cleaner and fresher than they were before. We trot along and laugh at the dogs' exuberance, knowing that soon they'll be dragging behind. I feel slightly smug that I have the ability to recognize a need to conserve energy, things are light, and happy and fun. I love snowshoeing!
Soon though we get higher, and as we get higher the weather gets worse. This is relative, of course, but it really gets pretty nasty. The wind picks up and it starts to slush and rain, which turns to ice, and we're all soaked before we're halfway through. This is not good. All the snow-covered limbs seemed to say mighty, mighty, mighty with every twist of the wind, as if the elements themselves were reminding us who's boss. There is no serenity in this snow-covered landscape, I think--although as we continue I find myself envisioning every "next stop" as one that will be peaceful, out of the wind and rain, and more along the lines of what I envisioned for this trip. It isn't, of course--the lake is bitter, icy and impenetrable when we get there, the top of the ridge even worse. The last time my Aunt and Uncle came to this lake, birds came and landed on my Uncle, in a Disney-esque scene of nature and mankind coming together in harmony. This time, we pit ourselves against the elements to try and make hot chocolate, huddling along the lake shore, using a jet boil that rapidly turns our cozy drink into something carcinogenic. Disappointing, to say the least, but at least we're laughing at our really bad beverage luck as we head up our next obstacle, a ridge whose steepness is compounded by the rain, and the wind. But here we are, and the only way out is to keep trudging forward.
Before we stopped for lunch, I was anxious to get where we were going--frustrated by how little ground we were making, frustrated by the turn in the weather. Too much energy was spent on hating the belabored motion of my body, the smash of the shoe against the ice of the slush, hating not knowing where we were or why we hadn't gotten to the lake yet. But after awhile you realize the inevitability of what you have to do--I realized, with a moment of startling clarity, that if I didn't get myself out of there I probably wouldn't.
And this is what I asked for! Here is winter like I want it to be, cold and miserable, mittens full of water and a frozen nose. Give me a season with grit, weather with teeth--the crispness of fall should be followed by the ferocity of winter. In my mind, at least, I want weather that will remind me of the fearsomeness of nature in a way that a sunny day in summer can't. Sun is celebratory, but difficult to appreciate without the starkness of the following dark months to highlight all the decadence of heat.
I'll admit, I come to this conclusion much later, after I've changed out of my wet clothes and I'm surrounded by the relative warmth of my home. There it is though, a reminder of the gift of light, why we all strive for it and seek it out, that's our very lives at stake. The ice age wasn't messing around! After the ridge had been conquered and we started to descend, it was simple to get back to the car. All I had to do, despite wet long underwear and curled frozen fingers, was step directly where Rachelle stepped and it would be fine. Actually I trip twice. My mind could've gone forever; my legs, however, were big sissies. They were also frozen, but that's neither here nor there.
We make it back to the parking lot, a heap of sodden clothing and limbs that don't quite work, and turn the heat up. I appreciate it then, but we all fail to pack dry clothes (who would think we'd get that wet) I am not warm until later, burrowed deep into the flannel sheet lined nest I call my bed. I appreciated it though, I appreciated it so much.