Recent warm weather was interrupted by accumulating snow on Tuesday morning, so naturally I went for a walk in the woods. Two inches of fresh powder crunched underfoot, growing wetter as the sun climbed. There were soft rustling cries from birds who had perhaps been expecting spring. An intermittent stiff breeze knocked big flakes of snow from tree branches, brilliant white specks against the now blue sky.
I’ve been exploring Crazy Canyon lately and have a hike I like to do when I have about two hours to spend, a loop starting from the parking lot on trail 302.3, picking up trail 302 at junction B, and then coming back to the parking lot via trails 302.3, 302.6, and 302.5. (As of Tuesday, the map box at the parking area was stocked up, which is the only way I knew how to do this.)
The real fun, of course, is getting off-trail, which I like to do with an uphill bushwhack just before trail 302 makes its last sharp right turn toward junction F. I climbed to where some yellow markers on trees indicated I’d reached the edge of the National Forest boundary and took a seat on a big downed tree to take in the view back in the direction I’d come from: the back of Mount Sentinel to the left and the wall of the ridge line connecting it to University Mountain panoramic in front of me, everything dusted with snow, the air cool and crisp.
The woods were mostly silent, save the rough distracted grunts of occasional ravens, patrolling the tops of nearby firs. I watched two of these big black birds depart from my side of the valley, headed for the other side. One flew straight, true, and silent, as if trying to make time, while the other croaked repeatedly and seemed to be hazing the first one, flying in loops and buzzing in close again and again. As they neared the forested slope on the far side, the active raven let the other one go and returned quietly toward my side of the valley. It glided directly above my head to land in a tree about 20 yards upslope from me, and I was startled by how loud its wing beats were against the quiet stillness of the new-fallen snow.
After 15 minutes’ rest I started wandering downhill as aimlessly as possible, my eyes open for intriguing little clearings and meadows and stands of trees, just enjoying the way the snow lay on branches and drifted up against rocks and tree trunks. After I’d walked about 100 yards, I realized I’d left my hat hanging on a tree branch back at my rest stop and climbed back up for it.* In another mindset, I might have been irritated at myself for this, but I’d actually been trying to stretch out my beautiful downhill stroll, and the return to the top allowed me to pick another route down, so it was all for the best.
The intersection at junction F was well-trampled, but by the time I branched off from Crazy Canyon Road onto trail 302.3, I was breaking through snow as yet undisturbed except by two or three deer. The snowy fairy-tale woods were all mine, like I was my own Corps of Discovery of one. But across the Forest Service Road near junction G, the deer tracks and I were joined by a pair of phantom human prints, and the thrill of exploration was no longer mine, kind of like when Scott reached the South Pole only to find Amundsen’s crushed beer cans and used toilet paper.
It was snowing again as I started to drive home.
* My recent practice has been to carry all my hiking items in my pockets, but this incident underlined the advantage of a bag, which makes it easier to check on the presence of your equipment (first aid pouch, sunglasses, notebook, pen, phone, water bottle, weapons) before moving. Even with a bag, of course, the notebook and pen must probably remain in a convenient pocket, lest the bother of getting it out become an excuse for delaying (and thus, likely, forgetting) to make a note. Come to think of it, similar reasoning must probably guide the placement of the weapons, too.