A few weeks ago, back in January, we got our second decent snowstorm. And given the much warmer winter this year, I knew the snow cover would not last, so the Sunday afternoon after the storm I tried to go cross-country ski-ing at Cockaponsett State Forest in Haddam, just a 15 minute drive south of Middletown on Route 9. Cockaponsett is the second largest state forest in Connecticut.
Because the snowfall happened the day before that Sunday, I figured, based on past experience, that the snowmobilers would have groomed the off-road ski trails. There's a perfect symbiosis between snowmobiling and cross-country ski-ing, except for the fact the one is noisy and the other totally quiet. Snowmobiles pack down the fallen snow and make it much easier for the skier to glide through the forest. It's a lot slower-going when I as a skier am confronted by a vast expanse of unpacked white stuff, especially when it the ambient temperature is above-freezing and the snow itself is wetter and less the consistency of powder. When I got out of the Outback wagon and snapped my boots into my Alpina skis, I knew this was going to be a slow-going adventure into the back woods on the way to the swampy wetland pond. I planned to write a blog story about the experience so I put my Canon digital SLR camera into the right pocket of my blue LLBean fleece jacket and tramped the skis back onto the blazed trail through the woods. The trail I chose goes about a mile into the woods and ends at a vast open area surrounding the swampy wetland pond.
The first picture shows the trail ahead of me. I'm the first human visitor to the snow covering the trial, so there is no evidence in the snow of tracks from skis or a snowmobile or snow shoes. It's late afternoon, so the sun is coming from about the 2 o'clock position, so you can tell I'm heading in a southerly direction.
The second picture is looking down at my feet. Well, actually, the snow was deep enough that my lower calves are visible but my ankles, feet, and most of my ski boots are fully covered by the somewhat wet snow cover. Notice I'm wearing black Levi jeans and the blue fleece. That's my typical ski outfit. Very low tec and not at all chic chic.
To show what my Alpina skis look like, I lifted the skis up and banged them down against the snow cover, yielding the third photograph.
To show you what a newly-plowed ski trail looks like, I turned around and took the next photograph looking back north. Notice the small marks on either side of the ski tracks, which are from the the points of my ski poles, which I use for balance, especially on downhills or slippery snow and icy areas. You can tell I'm looking to the north on this shot because ther sun is not flooding through the trees, as it was in the first picture.
To show you what the forest looks like off the trail, I took the next shot. Because this is not shot through a wide-angle lens, you don't really get an idea of how vast the forest is. When I've skied this section in total darkness, on a moon-less night, using only my very bright bicycle head-lamp for illumination, the light from battery-powered lamp shines brightly for a hundred feet or so and then quickly disappears into the vast black expanse of the night. At those moments, honestly, I'm a bit scared, for I don't know what creatures might be out there and what mood they'll be in for an encounter with a human animal. I do the night-skiing because I like to be scared, on a kind of existential thin ice, really. Here's the picture looking into the forest.
Aside from the scary wild monsters of my imagination, the forest teems with a variety of creatures, who hide from me, because I AM a monster to them. Many of these soldiers in God's (or Mother Nature's) army are tiny and delicate. Like all dedicated environmentalists, they try their best to leave no trace. One of them is probably a bird of some kind. This photograph of the animal's footprints shows the only trace I see of it on that above-freezing cloudy Sunday afternoon. I had to enhance the contrast of the original image so you'd be able to see the tracks. They march from side-to-side across the photograph.
I took another shot of the same beings footprints, which you may be able to see more easily. This time the tracks run from the bottom of the picture to the area at the top where a few delicate tree branches try to keep their heads out of the snow cover in order to make sure they can breathe some carbon dioxide. I wonder if you'd agree that that image looks a bit like one of those delicate Japanese paintings you might see in a minor art museum or even hidden away in somebody's attic.
As I get close to the pond, the wetland is now directly under my skis so it begins to get harder to glide through the increasingly-wet snow cover. To document the problem I'm having, I took the following picture. This shows the icy watery ski tracks I make when my 160-pound, 5 foot 10 inch frame compresses the snow cover and presses the packed powder into direct contact with the unfrozen swamp water below. Here's what the tracks look like. They're kind of all over the place because I had to maneuver around the branches with much heavier skis, now that the snow was wet with water and sticking like pricker-bushes to the bottom of my Italian-made Alpinas.
Finally, after much effort, I negotiate the the maze, plodding, lumbering along, not skiing, and reach The Promised Land: the swampy wetland pond. (Growing up in Philly, we called swamps what we now call wetlands.) I'm shooting today with a normal lens, so, without a wide-angle substitute, it takes me three frames to take in the vast open expanse. You can tell from the dying of the light that it's now late-afternoon on this mid-January winter day. The cloud cover is moving from south to north. The open northern section of the sky, from this perspective, looking to the southwest, is still fairly bright because sunset will not come for another hour or so. I think it was about 4:30 p.m. when I photographed this awesome open space. You'll notice the areas of watery dark gray in a mostly white field of snow on the wetland. In the third shot, in the foreground are the leave-shorn rhododendron bushes which are a major part of the ground cover in this vast forest. Here are the series of three pictures. Unfortunately I don't have one of those computer software programs which enable even an amateur photographer to stitch together three images of a swamp into a single, seamless photograph of a wetland. Sorry.
The next three images reveal the red flannel shirt I was wearing under the blue fleece. I don't have any ear covering because it's not that cold. When I ski in below-freezing conditions, I wear the same type of clothes, although I will put on heavier, warmer socks and I always cover the skin of my ears and wear gloves, to avoid frostbite, and stay warm of course. The three photos I took of myself were shot with one hand holding the camera as far away from me as I could. But the camera doesn't lie, so you will see the lines in my face, the gray in my hair, "warts and all," although I have not warts. That's just an expression, as all of you, no doubt, know. ha-ha-ha lol and lm( )o, as they/we say on Facebook. I also varied my expression, ever so slightly, for each of the three shots.
The penultimate photo shows the tracks made in the snow by the end of my ski pole as I ski along through the woods. The left side of the marking reminds me of a white spade on a deck of cards. There are no white spades in cards, but you get the idea.
The last photo shows what all the roads through the forest are like after a snowstorm. The state environmental protection department does a certain amount of maintenance in the forest but the roads are never plowed. The tire tracks you see in the roadway are from the four-wheel trucks which drive through the forest. Those tracks are actually great for skiing, because they're packed-down snow-pack. I would have skied on them the day I took these pictures, but I wanted to show you the back-country conditions in which I love to find extreme fun and adventure. Also, as you can tell, it was just past sunset and the forest was getting dark and dreary, and somewhat.......SCARY.