Winter has a charm that no other season has. This season's serenity, unique beauty, and spirit are enjoyed mostly by those who embrace it, who get outside and grasp winter for all it has.
Mostly, these winter enthusiasts are those who pursue the silent sports like cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping. Snowmobilers, ice fishermen and downhill skiers are also passionate about winter, but they are more of the thrill-seeking type, while the sole purpose of the silent types is to quietly become part of winter itself.
Perhaps those who experience winter best are winter campers. With the right gear, they can lay out at night and hear the silence, see the fantastic winter starscape in the sky, maybe even hear a timber wolf howl.
The key is the right gear. No matter how stunning a winter night is, it is pure agony if you are cold. You can only enjoy it with the proper clothing, sleeping bag, shelter and ground cover.
For many years, winter trappers and dog sledders survived nights by building a lean to, laying out a balsam bough ground cover, covering up with blankets and building a fire to send heat into the shelter. The fire had to be kept burning all night, so I expect none of these early woodsmen really had a good night's sleep.
Stories have it that in severely cold conditions dog sledders would invite a few of their dogs to cuddle close and share warmth, with one of the coldest nights being a "three dog night." At least one rock and roll band liked the clever name.
Eating in the winter woods is another interesting prospect. During several of our youthful pretenses at being mountain men, we would build a fire in the snow and cook some poor, unfortunate critter we slew. Grouse were the most common fare, but squirrels and rabbits were sometimes eaten. When we were unsuccessful at hunting, we substituted steak or hot dogs, which we imagined to be buffalo, grizzly bear or elk.
If we were patient, we would let the fire burn down and skewer the meat on sticks to hang over the red hot coals. More often, we were too hungry and we'd suspend the meat in a smoky fire that would burn the morsels on the outside, leave it raw on the inside, and cover it all with black soot. Not exactly gourmet, but it worked for us.
Once we had Boy Scout leaders show us that you can actually lay a whole steak right on top of a bed of coals and cook it as nicely as a chef in a restaurant. Very little of the ashes would stick to the meat, and those you could just brush off with a pine bough. That probably doesn't sound appetizing to some, but typical winter activities generate a powerful appetite.
Getting this intimate with winter may not appeal to everyone. But this is true: Sitting around a winter fire or lying in a snug sleeping bag is the best way to enjoy winter for all it's worth.
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