Winter Magic

While the winter does tend to keep me inside more than I like, there are times when I just have to escape - even if it does not look too inviting outside. Like the other day. The wind was blowing (at hurricane force it seemed) from the south. However, I was determined to do my four mile ski. So, off I went headed into a wind which, literally at times, pushed me to a near standstill and kept me from looking up for more than brief glimpses. Those first two miles were HARD work. However, the same wind which hindered my progress heading south, aided it greatly heading north. Let's put it this way - my big hiking buddy had to trot rapidly to keep up with my wind-enhanced pace. And, as if in apology for making the southern journey so difficult, I even enjoyed a brief 'kite ski' (without the kite) as the wind sent me flying down the trail, arms outstretched and grinning from ear to ear.

Most days, however, the trip is a little more tame. Cold. Sure, sometimes it is cold. However it is surprising how warm one can feel when exercising, even at 5 to 10 below zero. In fact, as long as I dress for the temperature, I rarely feel the cold.

As in summer, one of my favorite winter hikes / skis is up Narrows Creek. I have yet to make it past the rocky scree (about 1 1/2 miles up). The snow piled in too deep and too fast. Before I knew it I was sinking to well past my knees - sometimes to my hips! - in snow. Even with snowshoes or skies.

As you can see, even with a packed trail (this part was actually packed by a snowmobile although that was done after I packed it with snowshoes), things aren't staying open very long! Obviously this has been a wonderful snow year.

In fact - even a close look shows no sign of the snowmobile tracks left just weeks earlier. That suits me just fine. After all - while I'm no glutton for punishment (and believe me, wading through waste deep snows with 30-inch snowshoes strapped to one's feet is nothing short of Chinese torture :-), I still enjoy the feeling I've entered a world untouched by time, a feeling I enjoy every time I head up this way.

Obviously I'm not the only one who enjoys a 'hike' through these woods. While much of the snow is pristine white, apparently undisturbed since time began, there to my right I spy a trail winding up the hill. I suspect these tracks were left by our local fox - the one who walked, bold as a lion, across the hillside above the dog's kennel. Talk about funny!

Alerted by the dog's bark, I looked out the window this morning to see what the dogs were fussing about. Then I saw him. A fox, calm as could be, strolling across the hillside with an ease I envied. Was he concerned about the proximity of the dogs? Obviously not! To show his complete disdain (and to reinforce who 'really' owns these hills and dales) he stopped, not once but twice, to deposit his 'leavings'. As if to say, "Lest you think you scare me - watch this." What a hoot!

The fox wasn't the only one leaving his 'tracks' in the snow up Narrows Creek that day. While the lighting did not allow for a good image, I couldn't resist snaping a picture of these prints - all grouped together as this little critter pounced or bounded or traveled in some other way which caused all four feet to hit the ground in virtually the same spot.

Then there were these tracks headed up the hill. I've seen these kind of tracks before. I think they are weasel tracks - or some little animal of this family. I really do need to research this as the tracks are very distinct and can not be confused with the other 'critter' tracks seen along this trail.

One thing about my 'treks' in the Centennial. The beauty and intrigue is never limited to one thing. Tracks. Shadows. Scenic Vistas. Wildlife. They all catch my eye (and my breath at times) and add to the pure joy I find in my own backyard.

What could be more awe-inspring than Narrows Creek, surrounded by deep pillows of snow, criss-crossed by old critter trails, bordered by pristine hillsides, backdroped of the majestic Centennial Mountains, and resting peacefully under the incomparable Montana blue skies?

"And there I was. Munching on my power bar. Minding my own business. Enjoying the quiet. Not bothering anybody. And along came - a DOG! A human! What???"

No - I did not see another person up the trail. However, I suspect this is what the moose thought when I rounded the corner and entered his world! This is only the second time this winter I've seen the moose up Narrows Creek - although I have seen his tracks on every excursion up that direction.

Of course animals and their tracks aren't the only things I notice on my excursions. While some might think I've gone off my rocker, I see nothing wrong with slowing down and noticing the simple things - like snowball trails coming down the hillside.

I don't know what important questions you've faced of late, but I recently found myself contemplating the question: "Do snowballs always roll straight down a hill?" And, for that matter, "Are all snowballs round?"

Recently I ran across a snowball which looked more like the Michelin Tire Man than any snowball one might expect to see. Yet, until this walk, I'd never noticed that snowballs do NOT always roll in a straight line. In fact, after hitting a tree further up the hill, this one rolled (or waddled or swaggered) down the hill like a staggering drunk! However, no drunk I've ever watched left such a beautiful pattern in his wake.

In fact, on closer inspection I find most snowballs seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to 'where' they are going and 'how' they'll make the trip. Some prefer to hop along. Others roll down in a neat and straight line. Others curve. Others 'wiggle' their way along. And others seem to zig and zag this way and that. I guess it shouldn't come as surprise. Obviously snowballs are individuals too!

They say, "All good things must come to an end." And thus it did. I came to the end of the trail without enough steam to forge ahead into the un-tamped snow. Thus my hiking buddy and I turned back - leaving behind us a re-packed trail which know we won't stay that way long.

Back toward the setting sun. Back through the willows. Back past the snowball trails. Back past the silent pond which, before I know it, will be home to mamma ducks and papa ducks and baby ducks. Yet for now everything rests, quiet and peaceful under its downy snow blanket. Ahhh! What an incredible place to live!

Lady of the Lake

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