This is a winter story. When I was young and trudging through the northern-Illinois snow, feet frozen in inadequate galoshes, my mittened fingers cold to the bone, I resolved that when I grew up, I would have warm winter boots to insulate my feet and mittens so thick I could stay outdoors for hours. I remember being quite dissatisfied with my winter situation at age ten.
I also remember when I was bitten by the winter-adventure bug. It was late-June, and my family was preparing to travel home after visiting my grandparents in Duluth, Minnesota. As the van was loaded, my grandfather called me into the garage where he handed me a box half-filled with books. “Read these when you get home,” he told me. I looked dubiously at the books which were hard-covered and without indication of content. “You’ll like them,” he assured me. “Read them. They’re good.”
And like them, I did. Esther Birdsall Darling’s Navarre of the North and Jack London’s Call of the Wild filled my bedtime hours with heart-stopping suspense. Hidden in the clothes closet, reading by the light of a single, overhead bulb, I devoured the books cover-to-cover. What places! What adventures! What hardships sled dogs and men encountered! What fortitude, courage and perseverance they possessed! I was clueless as to the location of the Yukon, but I knew that as harsh as this place must be, it could be survived – as long as one had the right equipment! Snowboots, snowshoes, and leather mitts entered my vocabulary. When I grew up, I vowed, winter would not deter me. With the right equipment, I would go where I pleased. I would see what there was to see!
Yesterday afternoon my snowshoes sank deeply into the wet snow. As essential as they were, they could not keep me atop the degraded snowpack. Somehow, and unimaginably, in no more than a few days the January temperatures had swung from negative twenty-seven below zero to thirty-six degrees above. In great sucking whooshes, the snow gave way beneath me. Repeatedly, and with great effort, I pulled my shoes clear of the deep indentations. What an adventure, I thought ruefully! Far from home and sweating under the strain of the heavy snow, I thought back to my ten-year old self. Fortitude, I counseled! Courage! Take heart! Then stuffing my leather mitts into my jacket pockets, I looked onward down the trail…and persevered.