Winter in the Woods

It’s snowing lightly, and I just got back from a walk through the birch and spruce woods behind the B&B. It’s a still, grey day, very calm. Everything has a powdered-sugar cast of flakes on it.

Little Girl had been on my case to go for this walk. I’ve been chained to my computer for several hours this morning, and my head was starting to ache. It was the perfect half-hour stroll. The snow on the ground is a perfect consistency for walking. It crunches and smooshes a bit, the six inches or so that were on the trails in the woods. We could see the outlines under the fresh snow of where moose, our neighbor Lenny and her dog, bunnies and birds had gone before us.

Little Girl gets just silly on the trails–it’s her favorite place to play. She races out in front of me at top sled dog speed for about 200 yards, then races back straight at me in a game of husky “chicken.” I love to see her run. I love her stride, probably eight feet, that she gets from front paw print to front paw print one leap ahead. It’s cool to watch her engineering, how huskies double up, then spring, then dig in with their powerful front-end-drive to zoom forward again.

She pointed out about six moose beds that I wouldn’t have seen. She runs along sniffing, then turns and races into what is clearly a moose bed after you recognize it, to inhale deeply of those enticing stinky moose scents. Lucky for me, she saves rolling for times of retribution. Next she bolts off through the underbrush following a scent trail or just purely for the joy of running.

Fallen or leaning trees make for interesting shapes and constructions in the woods. I need to really get out there this spring and clear a lot of dead trees off the paths. It’s a pain to have to sit on the branchy spruces or large birches and fend your way through and over it. I haven’t ever run a chain saw by myself, but I there’s a first time for everything. I did take down three birches that were obcuring my view this past spring. I used my two-foot hand saw. Each tree was about eight inches in diameter–not that huge of a task, but I was very proud to say that I had sawed down a tree by myself. Now I must surely be a real Alaskan!

Today, in the dull, flat light, things stood out in ways I rarely see. There was a moss or lichen on the north side of some spruce which looked like freshly zested lemon rind stuck on in a patch. Upon closer examination, I could see it was just bright greenish, but in that light it nearly glowed. We saw spots where bunnies had dug. I saw one white ptarmigan, off a ways, sitting quietly and undetected by the dog. The plants look neat in their winter hulls. Devils Club loses its folliage down to a stub about two feet tall, all spines. A glen of those make their own interesting little mini-forest. Many wild rose branches still hold a hip, orangy-red, the reason first humans could exist this far north. If not for wild rose hips and seal meat, both of which are very high in Vitamin C, humans couldn’t live in the arctic without supplements or brought-in foods like citrus.

Also in this light, back in the house now, I see that my red currant bush outside the kitchen window recently got “whacked.” It’s a large, mature bush that routinely gets munched back to about three feet high, each branch cut off squarely even by a good set of moose choppers. It’s nice to have the time in the quieter winters to just see what’s around me.

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