Winter: Low Expectations — and High Rewards

img_3558We like to ward off the beginning of the work-week blues with a thought about life on the outside.

Its skies are milky, indifferent. Its landscape monochromatic, a wash of grays and browns. Its weather harsh at times.And Lord knows the season is stingy with sunlight. The stuff of travel & tourism ad campaigns winter is not.

Perhaps that’s exactly why winter succeeds with so many of us, those who ignore her gruff exterior and go out and play with her anyway.

Take those prevailing milky skies, a blur of clouds without intention. I’m not going to rain on you, they say. I’m not going to shine on you, either. Rather, winter’s skies provide a soft focus that belies threat. Tolerant, if not welcoming, they are, in an unexpected way.

Those filtering skies highlight the bland terrain. Seemingly bland. Brown isn’t typically a color known for nuance. Yet the run-out of leaves surrendered to the forest floor yields a carpet ranging from Desert Storm beige, to Crayola brown, to a sort of Trumpian orange. Nondescript colors on their own, they mix to offer a certain pop.

There are lessons to be learned from the winter woods. The resilient beech leaf (we forgot to add coppery to the carpet pallet) that refuses to give up its post until its replacement arrives in spring. The cheerful holly and pines that retain their cheery green despite the cold. The occasional mis-placed mountain laurel that assures us it’s ok to live outside our comfort zone.

In the bare winter woods, you can see so much more, so much farther. There are few secrets here, few places to hide: what you see is what you get. It’s stark, honest. A place of reassurance.

And there’s the quiet. So quiet you can hear a squirrel scratch its head the next ridge over as it puzzles over where it stashed its acorns just two months earlier. So quiet you hear a breeze rustle the distant tree tops minutes before it brushes your cheek. So quiet you can hear yourself think.

When we dream of our dream hike, we picture a mountain meadow dotted with wildflowers backdropped against the bluest of skies. We picture ourself laying in the midst of this idyll, head propped on our daypack, capped pulled over our eyes, arms crossed over our chest in the international prone sign of contentment. It is, alas, a scene that rarely meets expectations.

Unlike a day in the winter woods.

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Why do you love the winter woods?

We’ve made our case; now we’d like to hear why you love hiking in the winter. Keep your explanation short, 100 words or so. Send it to us by Monday, Dec. 19 at noon, and we’ll share your replies the following week. The one that tickles us most earns a $25 gift card from Great Outdoor Provision Co.

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Walk vs. Hike?

Pam Hathaway, sans pack, taking a "walk" Sunday at Brumley Forest.
Pam Hathaway, sans pack, taking a “walk” Sunday at Brumley Forest.

A couple weeks back, we pondered the difference between a “walk” and a “hike.” To us the difference is simply the surface upon which you perambulate: you “walk” on pavement, “you” “hike” on natural surface. We noted that others, such as Robert Moor, author of “On Trails: An Exploration,” have a more introspective take. And you, we asked? How do you differentiate between the two?

There was agreement that a walk becomes a hike when you switch from pavement to gravel. There were exacting standards as well: one person offered that it becomes a hike if a Nalgene bottle is involved.

But our favorite definition came Sunday during a preview of the Triangle Land Conservancy’s Brumley Forest Nature Preserve in Hillsborough. It didn’t take TLC member Pam Hathaway of Holly Springs long to come up with an answer: “If I put a 10-pound pack on my back, it’s a hike.”

To Pam goes a $25 gift card to Great Outdoor Provision Co.

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