Strapping my little boots into the snowshoes is always awkward, but within moments, the sinewy, woven winter walkers are almost a part of me. My family is crunch, crunch, crunching through the snow, our heavy footfalls somehow lighter than air as we barely displace the powder. The flakes are packed tightly, and all is quiet on this frigid Sunday morning.
In fact, nothing even seems to move in the lovely silence, the forest frozen in time completely, hibernating cozily until spring time. The only sound is our snowshoes and the white powder beneath them. Our breath comes out in a warm, ghostly fog, our breathing becoming more labored as we make the ascent to the top of “booty-buster” hill as my father calls it. The dogs have long left us behind, bounding soundlessly through the trees. One of the labradors is white, and so except for a flash of movement, she moves almost invisibly; the other Labrador is black, and so she too blends with the stark, naked trees and dark evergreens.
The sun is bright and is made even brighter by the vibrant whiteness of the snow. The light is almost painful to my eyes, and I am forced to squint under my woolen hat to see clearly. We are edging ever closer to the forest, our slow measured steps clearing a path in our wake. We do not often go snowshoeing. My father prefers cross country skiing, my stepmother and husband prefer downhill skiing, and I much prefer to toboggan down the hills than to climb them in unwieldy shoes. But, this is a kind of ritual, this annual wintertime walk through the forest. The landscape is rugged and wild, and there are never many people in these woods this season. The tourists have long left this Northern Michigan lakeshore community, and the locals are bundled up near their fireplaces, not easily pried away from the warmth of their cozy homes.
I know that my cheeks are pink and my nose is red without having to see them. My heavy layered jackets, sweaters and coats, my hands covered in two pairs of gloves, the thin drug store variety topped with the expensive outdoor store type. My boots laced up over several pairs of socks, and although this isn’t comfortable or fashionable, it feels like home to me. This is winter, bundled up miserably, braving the cold even as it stings my cheeks and snow melts on my hat.There is a kind of happy abandon in trespassing through the pristine sugar-coated hills and trails of the park, a happiness that every child raised in the north knows well. I worry about my husband, born and raised in west Texas, snow as unfamiliar to him as cacti is to my family. But, I can’t turn my eyes to look at him, because the white frosted trees ahead are mesmerizing, and as we have moved farther into the woodland they have come to surround me on all sides. The trees above me laden heavily with white whipped snow, like a fairy bower, glittering and gleaming in the sunshine.
The silence is finally broken by my father, as he points out the different trails we can take. He chooses for us, as we all knew he would, and continues speaking, telling stories of winters when he was a child. Heavy cream winters with snow so thick it would hold you fast like quicksand. Winters so cold one could hardly walk to the mailbox without needing a thaw. He spoke of white flour snow so powdery that no snowmen could be built, and snow that fell so high that it covered the whole front door, and it couldn’t be opened. Seeing all of the dusty white crystals shining like diamonds around me, I can believe it. So beautiful, and so dangerous, and yet still as present in my memories of childhood as sunshine and moonlight.
An hour or so later, our faces frozen crimson, even as we sweat with exertion beneath our layers, we waddle back to the car, our snowshoes expertly guiding over the snow. We are tired and cold, but we are elated. Silent again, all lost in the experience of a frozen forest covered deep in winter, and the tranquil stillness of a world sleeping until springtime.