Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Brief Winter Wonderland

On Saturday, I felt like hiking again. It was still a cold day but the little snow from the day before had melted and even though it was still too cold for cycling, I wanted to be outdoors. so I looked at my Shenandoah Hikes book and saw Fort Windham Rocks which appealed to me. The hike was very short though but I did discover that the rocks could be accessed from Rte 522 instead, so I set off in the car. I was amazed as I drove up the hill to see small areas of snow still clutching onto the sheltered nooks under tress and hedges and behind shadowed barns, but as I stopped the car at the start of the trail the whole ground was covered.
I felt a little daunted by this and for a brief moment considered staying in the warm car and going elsewhere but hard, cold sense grabbed me, shaking my lapse of weakness to the muddy ground and I started stomping towards the woods. I could smell wood smoke from a nearby house, beckoning me back to the warmth, but I stuffed my hands deeper into my pockets and looked ahead.
I had the woods to myself, the quiet peacefulness only broken by a single crow cawing his displeasure high above me as I encroached further into his territory.
I spotted a ribbon of snow clinging to a branch, and marveled at its translucent thinness. How much longer would it hang there?
The snow highlighted the shapes of the logs that it fallen on, accenting all the ridges, twists and gnarled bumps that would so easily have been overlooked before.The green of the lichens on rocks popped against the white snow and brown leaves
The park marker on the trail. If I had started from the Skyline Drive, it would only have been about a half mile on flat ground to here so I was glad I'd taken the longer route with some elevation. I turned, continuing towards the rocks and as I climbed a small ridge I saw the first outcrop.
I wanted to climb up to the top so walked in towards them. I thought I saw a kind of trail going round the back so trod carefully between the boulders. I couldn't believe that I was the first one walking here since yesterday; not even squirrel paws had marred the smooth white snow.
Once at the top I looked down on the trail below, marveling that I had this place all to myself. I stood listening to the silence, hearing only a woodpecker tapping and hammering, the hollow knocks reverberating through the trees. I occasionally saw a flash of red from his head and white feathers as he flew between the trunks to find more grubs and beetles. An occasional soft thud could be heard as melting clumps of snow gently fell from branches to the ground.
I stood relishing my moments of tranquility atop my rock castle, surveying the ground below, and then slowly made my way down again, wanting to leave before any other people came crashing and shouting into my peaceful domain.
A brand new crop of chives pushing up on the side of the trail. Spring is coming!
I started walking back, my hands cold from standing still up on the rock so, while holding my hiking poles, I tucked my hands into my pockets, forcing the poles to stick out at the sides making me look like I was skiing. I soon warmed up as I marched briskly and then started to jog along the trail.
I was really surprised as I got further down the hill that the snow had been rapidly melting. I had left my car on a snowy verge and trekked up a snow covered path but as I neared Stuart there was little left, only soft orange mud. I had really timed my morning well to enjoy such a magical hike.
I drove back towards home, noting there was no evidence of snow anywhere on the lower ground. I stopped by the side of a flooded field where some cattle were drinking from the water. It's not too often you see cows taking a paddle and they were quite accommodating as they watched me climb out of the car and slowly approach, trying to keep my feet dry as the grass verge on my side of the fence was flooded too. They stood while I took some photos and then once they felt I'd taken enough, they slowly started picking their way back to dryer turf to rejoin the rest of the herd. It was time for me to rejoin my furry friends waiting at home too.

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