Evening Campfire: A January Hike | Sports


IT’S A SUNNY, COLD SATURDAY in January, and I’m off to hike a firefighting trail here in State Game Lands #86 near Warren, PA. The prospect of wandering alone in the forest on a cold, calm and silent day interests me and calms my nerves.

I quickly reach a hundred yards, then stop and look around. Everything, the tall oaks and maples bare as skeletons without their foliage, the hemlock branches heavy with snow, the trout stream glinting in the sun along the trail, all stand dazed and silent on this cold winter day. There’s a light cold breeze and the temperatures are well below freezing, so my breath creates an opaque vapor in the air. I put on my leather gloves, pull the hat over my ears and button my coat.

And listen. I enjoy the small audio pleasures of waters rolling over rocks and the distant knock-knock-knock of a woodpecker on dying hardwood. Also, the visual gratification of the trout stream running through the rocks under the dark green hemlocks and white pines, and just the large, timeless ancient presence of the forest.

I begin to walk slowly west along the steep side of the mountain, where I can see far into the snowy bottom to the large boulders the size of houses deposited there by the glaciers thousands of years ago. years and the vast black and white expanses of trees against a pure white ground.

The first snow prints I see are fresh squirrel tracks, heading east along the trail as I hike west. I spot another set and yet another, all gray squirrels I believe, judging by their average size, smaller than fox squirrel, larger than red squirrel. The level of foraging activity indicated by these tracks predicts more wintry weather on the way. But I’m dressed for the cold, and if I need to, my Jeep has four-wheel drive.

The first living creatures I see are two blue jays floating out of the creek bed in the hollow to my left, their miraculous coloring against the plain gray and white of the woods and snow. They’re just regular blue jays, but on this day I really look at them for once and notice the sky blue plumage and distinct black and white feather accents. I shake my head in awe of the beauty of the mundane things out there.

I stay on the trail and walk slowly against the wind, my eyes sweeping left and right to see what I can see. and I see nothing, really, or everything, depending on your point of view. I see the woods are “beautiful, dark and deep” in winter, as the poet Robert Frost taught us a century ago. Sometimes, in the cold, quiet and loneliness, there seems to be nothing alive there. But the moment I think of that thought, a gray squirrel rushes onto the trail, and five minutes later another follows. Wildlife in the winter woods is rare but vital.

I walk another hour and see several more birds, a set of coyote tracks and squirrel footprints everywhere. At the one mile point I spot a set of deer tracks, not super fresh but wide and deep. I realize that so far I have seen few living, breathing things. Just the two squirrels, despite the abundant tracks, and no other mammals at all. I count the eight bird sightings I made: the pair of blue jays, a handful of chickadees, and a solitary male cardinal crouched on a multifloral rose branch just above the ground, his scarlet feathers looking like murder bloody against the snow. I don’t need to see a lot of wildlife to enjoy a good hike in the woods, I tell myself, but I’m still looking. I walk a little on the path and stop to look around me.

I hear a crash ahead of me and to my left and see a large deer leaping out of the creek bed. I only get glimpses among the trees against the white backdrop as the quarters of animals make their way towards me and the trail. This deer is large for a mountain deer, and I can tell it is a buck, even though it has lost its antlers for the winter, due to its size, heavy build, and stately stateliness. Steps. It takes a few more jumps away from me, to the west. and then it’s gone.

DON FEIGERT is the outdoor writer for The Herald and the Allied News. His latest book, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, and previous books are available by contacting Don at 724-931-1699 or [email protected] Browse her website at www.donfeigert.com Or visit Leanna’s books at the mall.


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