Lots to see in the woods during ‘snowpocalypse’

A frozen creek winds through snowy woods.

“Whose woods these are I think I know.   

“His house is in the village though;   

“He will not see me stopping here   

“To watch his woods fill up with snow.”  

—Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

                                                                 

Day one of the “snowpocalypse:” sleet and freezing rain (there’s a difference?) arrive with a blast of arctic air Sunday. Tiny pellets hit the ground and freeze over, slick.

Snowpocalypse is what a friend called the winter storm that hit this week. What’s routine to our northern friends is an apocalypse down here.

Day two, Monday morning, wake to a blanket of snow.

This isn’t the soft fluffy stuff that poet Robert Frost watched fill up the woods. It’s a hard white crust over a sheet of ice: too granular for snowballs, snowmen or the snow ice cream we made when I was a kid by stirring in milk, sugar and vanilla flavoring.

Time to hit the Outback. I bundle up in flannel-lined jeans (I highly recommend them), long-sleeved T-shirt, insulated shirt-jacket, jean jacket, wool socks, rubber boots and cap.

A Minnesota friend told me one time: If you’re cold, it means you’re inadequately dressed. Time and experience have proven him right.

I marvel at frontiersmen who lived out-of-doors in much colder climes with buckskins and maybe a wool blanket. Of course, they grew up in log cabins with, at most, a primitive fireplace.

If you’ve ever tried to warm up in front of a fireplace in an old drafty house with no other heat, you know how inefficient it is. Most of the heat vanishes up the chimney. That’s why people invented cast-iron stoves and wing-back chairs.

It’s slippery going as I make my way through the woods. Usually after a snow I love to look for tracks, but this snow is so firm it barely shows the marks of my boots.

I tread carefully down the lanes, marveling at the snow. But it’s mainly on the ground, not the trees, so it’s not as scenic as it could be—though the pine needles are encased in ice.

I walk along crunchy lanes, across snow-covered food plots. No critters are stirring. I don’t blame them.

n n n

Day two, Tuesday, is even colder, as in the teens. I swap my jean jacket for a wool coat (red and black checked, of course). The snow is so slick I find myself downhill skiing at times, albeit in rubber boots.

A few deer tracks puncture the snow, nothing else.

There are birds, however. One flies out of a thicket and flutters down the road in front of me, decoying me away from its nest.

When I was younger I imagined living in a northern wilderness, like Manitoba or Wyoming. Then I went camping at Big Bend National Park in November and liked to froze to death. And that was one of the southernmost points in the United States, not even winter yet. That disabused me of northern fantasies.

My ancestry goes back to England—Angles, Saxons, Nordic seagoers. How soft we’ve become!

Nevertheless, I went on to make many camping, backpacking, even canoe trips in wintry conditions and loved it. Not enough to live in it, though.

n n n

Day three, Wednesday. Not quite so cold. I leave off the wool coat.

It’s sunny. Though it’s still below freezing, snow is disappearing off the food plots. A mockingbird trills a brief, hopeful tune. Then clouds start to roll in.

The snow has softened enough to show tracks. And hunger has no doubt driven some critters out of hiding.

I come upon bobcat tracks and a tiny pile of small animal intestines. No blood, bone or hair. I figure the cat caught a rat in a thicket, ate it, then regurgitated the intestines — same as my porch cats do, only they throw up on the porch, usually a welcome mat.

Farther along, on a narrow trail, I notice prints the size of my hand. At first I dismiss them as multiple overlaid deer tracks, but then I find one that looks solid. It’s indistinct in the hard snow, however. It’ll take more than this to convince me it’s a bear.

Unfortunately I forgot to put the card in my game camera, so I missed any good wildlife-in-snow photos.

n n n

Wednesday afternoon, it starts to rain. The temperature has crawled to 32 and rising. There are reports of a coming thaw, though the road in front of my house is still frozen solid.

I’ll bet Jeep sales go up. Four-wheel-drive, knobby tires, maybe a winch. I could use one.

Though the paved road is slick, the lanes are showing signs of thawing. Ice turning into slush. There’s hope.

I make my soggy way around in a slow rain that soaks through my wool coat and blue jeans. That’s OK. Unlike the frontiersmen, I have a warm house waiting.

n n n

Day five. After yesterday’s rain, with temperatures creeping above 32, this is supposed to be the thaw day. Maybe in towns and on state highways. Where I live, you could ice skate on the road.

“In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines, and we’ll shiver when the cold wind blows.”

Out here we have to pipe in daylight.

There are signs of thaw in the woods, though. The food plots are free of snow. Birds scour them for food.

Small animal prints appear in the snow. Coming out to eat, I guess.

A hawk screams — the same white hawk I’ve been seeing for years (a leucistic redtail). It’s my new spirit animal. It tends to show up at auspicious moments. The last time I saw it, I was recovering from coronavirus at my “Covid camp.” This time it’s near the end of a snowpocalypse.

I suspect it’s scolding me for interrupting its hunt.

n n n

Day five, Friday. Surely the road is open by now. But temps hit 24 last night and it’s all slick again.

By late morning, I crank my truck and venture out, 8 to 10 mph. At last I hit ice-free pavement and smooth sailing.

Years ago when we chose a place to live, we settled on a remote rural road in the deep woods of Amite County and never regretted it. Still don’t.

To quote another line from the poet: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by.”

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