It’s been a topsy-turvy week weather-wise. The temperature dropped from twenty-seven degrees on Tuesday morning to negative nine on Wednesday. I woke Thursday to negative eight degrees below zero with a discouraging wind chill of negative twenty-four. Today is Saturday. At 8:00 this morning the temperature was fourteen degrees, the day was overcast, and some type of precipitation, barely perceptible, was falling from the sky. I strapped on my snowshoes and headed across the field. The day’s forecast was for falling temperatures, snow and wind.
The snow under my snowshoes was soft in the warmish air. I trekked through the drifts lifting my snowshoes clear of the new powder, not fully awake yet to my surroundings, trying with some effort to clear my mind of its weight of thoughts. I reflected on how snowshoeing, like biking, long hikes, and my Wednesday night yoga class, began with a sense of impatience. I commenced each activity eyeing a mental clock – an analog clock – picturing where the minute-hand might be when the exercise ended. I am fifty-six years old, and I have been eyeing this clock in similar fashion for a long time. Once started, though, it’s never long before I have lost sight of the clock. It is never long before my attention has been caught by something of interest – the trail of an animal’s track, the flight of a bird…the travels of a tiger salamander crossing the road.
Snowshoeing last Sunday, I was surprised to realize that the drone of an airplane in January sounds much like it does on a hot July afternoon. Chronological time evaporated, and suddenly I was hoeing in the vegetable garden, listening to the wind crossing the soybean fields, watching the aspens and oak trees sway heavily under the weight of their limbs.
Hiking today, I stumbled into an indentation left by my snowshoe two weeks prior. Struggling onto my feet, I time-traveled to my childhood in Illinois, remembering how holes had been a particular danger to my pony. Anxious to be outside at the first suggestion of spring, I’d ride bareback across the cornstalk-stubbled fields, cold hands on the reins, cold air on my face. Chief’s winter coat was like a coarse blanket against my legs.
Snowshoeing farther along the shrub line, past the copse of aspens and into a clearing of Canada goldenrods, the snow began to fall more distinctly. Now more than a mile from home, my impatience had disappeared. I took out my camera to capture a giant thistle standing solitarily on the field’s edge. The bane of the farmer, a gardener’s curse, the thistle was magnificent. I angled around its perimeter imagining August’s goldfinch perched upon its branches, reliving the finch’s vivid yellow flashes darting across the yard and fields. Concentrating on the thistle, I focused my camera and framed the shot: