During the snowstorm of December 12, I decided to go hiking in the woods. Here I attempt to describe what I heard and saw.
First you’ll notice the snow is coming straight down, there is no wind. As you work your way deeper into the woods there is no clutter noise from civilization. No highway or manmade sounds.
About a mile into the woods, the snow switches its direction and blows in from the east. The only signs of life you’ve seen are an occasional set of squirrel tracks. You stop to rest and hear the snow pelting the brim of your felt hat.
The silence is deafening. The thousands of snowflakes hitting branches and beech leaves create a very subtle but noticeable noise. It’s similar to ringing in your ears. Stand still and take it in, and look around at nature’s wonders.
Move along a quarter of a mile or so and stop to look around. You’ll hear a woodpecker in a nearby tree. As you look up and search the trees for it, the snowflakes prick your face. Then you notice something way up near the top of an old oak tree. What’s that?
Moving closer to get a better view, you realize it’s a large squirrel nest made of sticks and leaves. Carefully built in the crotch of a limb, the upper part is concealed in snow. You wonder if the builder is at home, sleeping through the storm.
The fresh snow has cascaded over and hidden many obstacles to trip over: branches, rocks, and old stumps. It’s best to have winter boots that have flexible soles – you can feel obstacles better with flexible soles. Stiff waffle style soles may give you traction but they are very slippery if you step on a hidden branch an inch or so in diameter. That branch will be frozen over with frost or ice and is very slippery. Later in the winter when the snow is deeper a fall would not be as dangerous as those obstructions will be buried deep in the snow.
There’s a smell in the woods during a snowstorm that is difficult to describe. It’s a very faint aroma that would be best described as similar to the smell fresh clothes have when just taken off the clothesline.
You have no concept of time or distance travelled. You become one with nature, concentrating only on where you step. Your winter jacket, if wool, will be white by now but you are warm and comfortable. Your heart rate has increased, and you learn to climb a slippery ridge by timing your breathing with your footsteps. It seems you go on forever.
Stonewalls are capped with a fresh snowy layer as you enter a stand of hardwoods. Here you stop and scan the hardwoods. The winter wonderland before you is breathtaking. You take photos with your camera but you really wish you could paint.
If you venture into a stand of pines or hemlocks, you find where the deer have bedded down during the storm. They curl up in the snow under the thick evergreen boughs and wait for it to subside. You’ll see the pockets in snow where they were bedded down. Within an hour of your leaving, the deer will return to bed down again.
The snow cover on the pond hides a very thin layer of ice. All of the critters in the woods know the ice isn’t safe, and rather walk around the perimeter than venturing out on the ice. You wonder how a deer, fox, or coyote knows the ice is unsafe but a dog doesn’t.
A couple hours later, as you retrace your steps back to your starting point, you notice the footprints you left in the snow earlier in the day have already start to fill. Your cheeks are rosy, and you are warm all over. It’s incredible.
Give it a try sometime.