Storm Approaches
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Winter Storm Approaches

"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)

Tax Break

March 17, 1999.

Yesterday was a good day to be in the woods, or the bush as the locals call it. Nothing like a few hours of "the pinery's" sensory delights and solitude to cleanse the mind of the temporal distractions and frustrations of the day.

Abby and I wandered, actually rushed, off yesterday after my several hours of tax filing preparation. I don't mind paying taxes, but why do they make filing so frustrating? I suppose because all of us have insisted that our pet need or special circumstance gets accommodated in the tax code. What a mess we have created! The Wonderdog took it all in stride, snoozing soundly on a sunny patch of floor as I mumbled away at the computer. She seemed startled when with a great "the hell with it!" pronouncement, I pounced on the SHUT DOWN keystroke, grabbed my skis and headed out the door. Before she had a chance to stretch the lameness out of her legs, she was tossed into the van and we headed for trailhead. I needed a "tax break"!

As I snap on my skis, Abby scoots over the snow bank and up Gerry and Ann's drive hoping for a handout. I shout, "Sorry pooch, they're in Hawaii", as I think of my friend Gerry. Burdened with tubes, needles and catheters, and laced with morphine, he lies struggling for life in a hospital bed in that far away place. Taxes suddenly seem even less important. I suck in the fresh Keweenaw air, wishing I could somehow capture its pine scent and its exhilarating effect and send it to Gerry. I recollect a similar experience - and how I yearned for an open window, a shower, a bowl of cool ice cream, the joy of sleeping on one'e belly, and a gun to shoot the 5 a.m. "Hi, I'm from the lab" tech, who, with a flip of the intensely bright overhead light switch and a needle jab in the arm, destroys the sleep it took a long restless night to induce. Hang in there buddy, it will soon pass!

The trail is mush. Temperatures in the forties, and the warming sun have quickly transformed the crusty track of a few days ago into a soft snow cone substance. My skis sink through the surface. The sound is "slush, slush" as I ski shoe along the still perceptible path left by a winter of trail grooming. Even the lean, biscuit pawed Wonderdog finds herself haunch deep when she strays from the path. I pause, wondering if the extra struggle of several miles of sloshing rather than sliding is within my risk tolerance. (My risk tolerance is high, perhaps too high. It's my judgement that is suspect.) Abby, now really limbered up and raring to go, bounds happily ahead. I listen to the soothing trickle of water in nearby Eliza Creek. A crow calls, I think urging me on. The warm sun is pleasant. Greening evergreens cast beautiful shadow patterns on the bright snow. The sweet smell of pine in spring heat is powerful. I move on.

We are not alone. True, no others have chosen to slosh along the ski trail, and the snowmobilers have apparently been deterred by bare roadways and rough trails, but the snow covered forest floor is strewn with the tracks of critters of all types and sizes. I suspect that many of them are watching us as we pass, but with the very unstealth-like Abby on the point, I must be content with the tracks.

The whimsical, seemingly mindless, track patterns of the big pawed, long leaping, snowshoe rabbits evoke a smile. The deer seem more purposeful; their wanderings less random and almost always leading to and concentrated around low hanging boughs. A long segment of the trail contains the straight, close spaced track of a fox, apparently curious about the trail's destination. The almost human-like, five fingered print of raccoons are sometimes smudged by the drag of their heavier bodies along the soft surface.

There are now literally thousands of tracks to cherish, as the lack of new snow leaves intact the record of several days of mostly nocturnal wandering. However, many of the tracks are fresh, evidencing greater critter activity as spring dawns. The heaviest concentrations are near or on the still frozen marshes. I glance back at the tracks we are leaving, wondering if our furry friends find them as interesting.

With the sun now high in the clearing skies of early spring, and the snow pack still widespread and bright white, the intensity of light in the lightly forested pine stands is intense, more so that at any other time of the year. The green boughs, bathed in both direct and reflected light, have shed their mid-winter dullness and seem ready to explode. Shadows lying on the white snow are black and sharp edged, unlike their muted predecessors of just a few weeks ago. Tall pines reach to gather in the warm sun, transporting the warmth down through their trunks to melt the snow at their base, creating donuts of open ground. Trailside bushes hesitendly poke their noses through the shrinking snow cover in search of life restoring sunlight. The abundant evidence of nature's renewal is everywhere, and to be in its presence is rejuvenating.

After a couple of hours of sloshing along the trail, the pooch and I are near physical exhaustion as we scoot down the hill from Eliza Dam and round the last bend near Johnson's. Abby, seemingly even wearier than I, offers little protest as I lift her into the van for the short ride home. I reluctantly shed my skis, suspecting that this little ski outing might be the last of the season. (Indeed, perhaps the last ever on this trail. The company now entrusted with this gem of nature, is seemingly finding it increasingly difficult to resist the siren song of sawmills clamoring for product to satisfy a hot housing market, or to resist the potential for big bucks selling subdivision lots to the beneficiars of a strong economy agressively seeking to sink their new found riches in a city sized, 125' wide slice of the Eagle Harbor pie - either for speculation or retirement. I digress!)

As I am about to leave, a crow, probably the same one that had urged me on earlier, crackles what this hopeless romantic assumes to be a "good by" or "come back soon". I'm unsure; crows are hard to understand - or to like for that matter. (They delight in pestering Abby; swooping down on her as she barks in fruitless protest.) The Wonderdog, more attuned to the thoughts of crows, offers a muffled woof in reply. Eliza Creek murmurs softly in the distance. The sun wanes and coolness creeps into my coat. We head for camp, and as I drive past Ann and Gerry's, I think, "Hurry home folks. Be here to bask in this healing - as nature renews the Keweenaw."

We are quickly home and a fire is soon burning brightly in the fireplace. Abby stretches her weary body on the warming hearth for what turns out to be several hours of deep snooze. I return to my tax filing. It now seems effortless. By nightfall it is done. Uncle Sam is a wee bit richer. I feel much richer.

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