Yesterday – a mid March yesterday in New Hampshire – I planned to make my (semi) regular morning walk. Usually I walk along the road and back, a distance of 2 miles. but yesterday I decided to put on the spikes and tramp through the snow we’d had a few days earlier up to the Hedgehog Mountain Overlook.
The day started out cold, near 25 degrees. The surface of the snow had frozen overnight creating a shining crust and an audible crunch as I walked.Shards of crust, dislodged by my size 14’s, skittered along in front of me. While, because of the depth of the snow, snowshoes might have been the preferred footwear, the back edge of the snowshoes was likely to have caught on the crust, causing me to tip forward onto my face. If you have ever tried to right yourself after falling while wearing snowshoes you might understand that I was just as happy not to be wearing them.
The forest was quiet. I was alone. A perfect combination. The bright sun cast long shadows of trees and their branches on the smooth white crusty surface of the snow: intersecting black lines, crossed without any obvious design or purpose but from pure joy of a glorious day. Animal tracks, made a day or so earlier, had been dimmed by melting but the game of guessing which animal had passed that way was fun. The display was all mine.
The trail to the overlook first crosses Manselville Brook which, following the recent snow, was completely hidden by snow. Just last year, during the early drought, water was barely passing along on its way to the Contoocook river to the north. Now I knew that there was a steady flow beneath the snow and, hopefully, we will have a good soaking to keep the Manselville flowing through the year.
Further along, the trail crosses a small, unnamed stream that also flows to the Contoocook. The little stream was running quite happily, and I could imagine that even now, with the cold, ‘things’ were happening in the soil through which the stream flows.
The trail to the Overlook is not very long, but it is, in part, steep and follows through a stream bed. When there is no snow, going is slowed a bit because of the need to pick one’s way over the rocks in the steam bed. But, yesterday all this was filled in with snow, and I could follow in the old footsteps without worrying about tripping over boulders.
I have walked on this trail many times over the past several years. It is a part of my ‘backyard,’ so close is it to home. This year, though, I have slowed. It is no longer as easy to climb up there as a few years ago. Could I be ageing? What I do know is that now while hiking, I set goals: that tree, a trail marker, something 20 or 30 yards uphill. Just get to that point, and maybe a little beyond, and I can take a breather. Lean on my stick and take stock of where I am. I hope this is transient, this weakness, this being out of breath-ness. What I do know is that even though I know that the climb will be taxing, the payoff of being on the summit, at the outlook, makes all the puffing and associated butt-dragging worthwhile.
I love to sit on the rocks at the overlook and – – look over. It is peaceful there.
The view is grand.
Cars beetle along Rt 9, across the Contoocook River, and along airport road. Sometimes one can see a small plane taking off or landing at our airport. Whatever their goal or task, or business it is not mine. Whether the drivers are crabby or grim, it is not my worry. I am on my own time and that is time under the sun, sitting on a rock and being perfectly happy.
Just below the summit is the McAlister conservation easesment. A large block of land set aside for conservation — perpetual protection — by the McAlister family several years ago. A large part of the easement comprises a working farm bounded by the Contoocook River, where beef cattle graze. I know the farmer a bit and I respect him and his farming. No cows grazing now. The pasture is covered by snow and as the season advances, the snow melts and the river rises, part of the farm will become a lake. Part of the cycle. It comforts me to know that this working farm is preserved and I am thankful for those folks who made the conservation of this, and other lands in our town, possible.
Further, to the southwest, stands Mt Monadnock — our own monadnock, the original monadnock that gave its name to those isolated mountains that so strongly influences local weather, wherever they might be. Mt Monadnock dominates our southwestern sky line, a sign of home.
By the time I began my descent, the day had progressed. It was nearly eleven and the temperature had climbed. Still skittles of icy crust raced before me as I moved down the trail, but snow had softened. It was clumping on the spikes making my feet heavy, each step more difficult. Footing was more difficult and at times I walked with my legs spread widely, a drunken sailor dance – – or the lurch of the subway rider. Might have made an amusing show from behind. But, there was nobody to record it.
The trail dropped below in front of me. Carefully, step by step downward. Through – or over – the stream bed. Still my tracks the only recent ones but leading me home. I suppose this will be the last snow hike of the season. I hope so. Soon the evergreen ferns will emerge from the snow, then tree buds. And then the full-on craziness of Spring.