Author’s Note: I first published this to Troutbitten in the winter of 2016. This past week I had a day so strikingly similar that I had to dig this one up. I edited a few things and added some pictures from the latest trip.
God, I love the winter. I slammed my truck’s hatch and noticed the nothingness. In the cold canyon, sharp sounds usually reverberate off the walls with a fading tat-tat-tat-tat. But the snow stole those echoes; it devoured the original thump of my closing trunk and held on. Winter is a quiet ghost.
And I do mean ghost. When days are dark and at their coldest, the woods are barren — void of life, save for the chickadees and a few eager squirrels. Most of the mammals hunker down in burrows, inside hollowed out trees and underneath hemlock bows.
You might miss all this if you don’t slow down, find a log and just sit for a while to listen to the silence. It’s different. The hunters know it. The forest is a widow in the winter wind.
There’s the chill of winter, and then there’s single-digits-cold, as it was this morning. It hurts, and there’s no fixing that. Not completely, anyway. No matter the layers or fabrics, something always hurts and there’s no way around it. While wading through water that’s just barely warm enough and fast enough to keep it from freezing, something underneath the layers of clothes is always cold. But you get used to it — rather, you accept it. The body builds a tolerance, I suppose, as in: this is normal now. Dull pain in the fingers and sharp air in the lungs remind you that you’re alive in the best way.
Sometimes I wade deeper into thirty-five degree water just to thaw out.
The narrow trail led me around a stone foundation from a century ago. I followed to the vertical limestone wall and then broke off toward the muted sounds of rushing water. I traced a set of rabbit prints in the snow, winding down through evergreen shadows on a crooked path, and then I lost it. I beat through loose brush, stumbling playfully sideways into slanting trees with earned momentum down the steep hillside. I went fast because I was mostly invincible. Like a boy sled riding in a snowsuit, layer upon layer formed an armor against average falls and impacts.
I found the water just where I’d left it, and the river welcomed me home. I hadn’t fished it since summer.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N