Winter’s Milky Skies, Monochromatic Lands, Marvelous Meandering

The following post originally appeared Dec. 12, 2016. We rerun it today, with a tweak or two, because it expresses our appreciation of the season that lies ahead.

Winter’s 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 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 with murky 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. They are tolerant, if not welcoming, in a peculiar way. 

Those filtering skies highlight the bland terrain. Seemingly bland, rather. 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 creamsicle orange. Nondescript colors on their own, they mix to offer a certain pop, a colorway that is distinctly winter.

There are lessons to be learned from the winter woods. The resilient beech leaf (we forgot to mention its coppery addition 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 misplaced mountain laurel and rhododendron that assure 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, cap pulled over our eyes, arms crossed over our chest in the international prone display of contentment. It is, alas, a scene that rarely meets expectations.

Unlike a day in the winter woods, a day that rarely disappoints.

* * *

Join us in enjoying winter

GetHiking! Winter Sunday Afternoon Hike Series. Beginning this Sunday and running through February, we hike Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. on various trails throughout the area. These hikes are typically 4 to 6 miles in length, take an hour and a half to two and a half hours, and focus on the trails less traveled. For more information on the series and to register, go here.

GetHiking! Tuesday Night Hikes. Don’t let a lack of sunlight keep you from getting in an after-work midweek hike during winter. Every other Tuesday evening at 6:30 we don headlamps and hike 3 to 4 miles under the lights. It’s a great way to explore the outdoors in a whole new light. For more information on the series and to register, go here.

GetHiking! Winter Wild Series. This six-hike series celebrates the best of the winter season by exploring off trail, in the places you can’t get to in lush warmer weather. The hikes are generally 5 to 8 miles long and take from 3 to 5 hours, depending upon length and difficulty of the terrain. Learn more about the series here, learn more about our next Winter Wild hike, to Hanging Rock State Park this Saturday, here.

GetHiking! Winter Coastal Escapes. We take advantage of the cold weather to explore the best adventures at the coast and coastal plain, from hiking pine savannah and bay forest, to paddling a coastal creek, to exploring under some of the least-polluted night skies along the East Coast. Learn more and sign up to join us here.

Leave a Reply