We hadn't yet explored the woods this winter, so Saturday we put on our snowsuits and Sorels and headed out the back door. After the first few steps on well-trodden snow, we stepped in where no dog or man had yet ventured -- up past our knees.
OK, so it was going to be slow going. We trudged onward anyway, toward the edge of the woods, with cameras in tow, waiting to see what we would see.
About 20 feet into the woods I realized I wouldn't be seeing much while I watched every step and grabbed every tree to steady myself. Where there was just brush too delicate and unstable to be of any help, my arms went out tightrope style to try to keep from falling.
After a light snow Friday night, there was little evidence that this was an often-used deer path. With each clumsy step the white ground gave way beneath me, with my ankles and knees twisting and turning unpredictably.
Four-year-old Bonney rested briefly in the deep snow before taking another series of leap-frog bounds across the yard. (Photos by Diane McCormack)
We walked for an hour, and I stopped to rest for a few minutes now and then. At one point I made the mistake of sitting down and letting the snow form a custom made chair just for me. It was comfortable while I was resting, but there was no graceful -- or snow-free -- way to get up.
I wriggled and turned. My hands just kept sinking below me. My black mittens came up covered in white. I didn't need to see them to know, however, because my wrists and arms were cold and dripping wet. Finally I managed to kneel and slowly find my way back to my feet.
At long last I went inside, dripping with sweat from the unexpected workout and too exhausted to move.
Then the snow came. There were flurries on and off Saturday, but Sunday morning everything we could see was covered with another foot of clean, fresh snow. Doors were snowed shut. Plans were called off. Snowblowers and snowplows went into action.
I watched the birds flying around the yard, trying to find the feeders buried under the snow. I knew that when they found them, some of them would be empty -- their brave efforts to find a meal would be in vain.
What a great opportunity to try our snowshoes, at last! They were given to us a year or two ago, but there hadn't been much opportunity to try them. They're elongated oval molded plastic with a yellow nylon web below the fittings.
I strapped the odd looking shoes to the toes of my boots and took a few uncertain steps. I learned quickly to lift my feet up and place them flatly down again. Another key seemed to be to keep moving forward. Like with summer flip-flops -- called thongs at my house until "thong" took on new meaning -- backward steps meant walking out of the shoes or at least flipping the back end toward the front; a sure way to land on anything but my feet.
Pretty soon I was clearing a nice wide path and staying basically on top of the snow. My ankles and knees were moving the way they should; this time I felt the movement in my hips. Though I was slowly getting the hang of it, I certainly was not yet obstacle free.
The four dogs were thrilled that I was outside with them on this exciting new day filled with lots of new snow. They all liked the path I was creating, but the two young and active dogs were frustrated that I moved so slowly. Instead they bounded around me and leap-frogged over the new snow ahead. They leapt through the deep snow like white-tailed deer jumping hurdles over a series of tall fences.
The two older and slower dogs stuck close to me and required nudging to keep moving. It's not that I didn't want them around, but when they were glued to me, they invariably stepped on my huge "feet" or those "feet" stepped on them. I knew we'd eventually all go down and there'd be a lot of whining and complaining -- mostly by me.
I paved a path to all of the bird feeders, both in front and in back of the house. I also shoed my way to my office and back to replace the previous path that was completely obliterated by the night's storm.
I wasn't out long Sunday, but the walking was so much easier with the snowshoes than it had been the day before. I couldn't help but marvel at what a great invention these things were. I'm sure there are some turning and backing-up techniques I still need to master, but I felt I'd taken some very successful first steps.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Daily Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Send comments or feedback to email@example.com.)
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