I don’t know if it’s the lack of sunlight this time of the year, the cold cloudy weather, or just hormones, but I haven’t had the energy to get out into the woods much lately. I feel Moose Hill calling to me, trying to save me from myself, but I have been unable to find the will to respond. Maybe the pain in my knees makes me reluctant to pound the pavement and push up steep trails. More likely, it’s just too cold to think about sitting quietly in the forest.
We are in the depths of winter. The temperature chart in the Globe shows that the normal low bottomed-out for the year at 21 degrees just a few days ago and as of Thursday was up one tick to 22 degrees. This turn of the thermometer, although only an average, is now heading in the right direction. Even more than the solstices we like to observe, this turning of the temperature trend is in some ways more significant to me. Every day brings hope that it will be a little warmer than the day before. The lengthening of the days is becoming evident now, and I was happy to gain the confidence that they would also soon be getting warmer.
But for now, it's cold we contend with. We have been hit with a short, sharp cold snap. As forecast, the temperature was in the low single digits (F) when I woke up Friday morning. It is my hope to visit Moose Hill in all its seasons, to sample its extremes, and this was a great opportunity to do that since it doesn’t often get much colder than that around here. I felt compelled to go. I knew I wouldn’t be sitting still for long in the frigid air, so I had my oatmeal and second cup of coffee at home before donning five light layers, my heaviest gloves and fleece hat. When I told my wife I was leaving, she said, “It’s freezing out there. You’re crazy.” I said, “I know,” without saying which observation I was agreeing with. I pulled my hat down over my ears and headed for the hill.
Only the most dedicated cyclists would ride in this weather. While I know a few such hardy souls, I’m not one of them. I started walking to warm up gradually and get my knees lubricated before starting to run. By the time I started jogging on the bridge over the commuter rail tracks, the breeze hitting the bare skin of my face felt like a blowtorch. It was the kind of cold you can feel in your lungs.
When I turned onto
Not far up the road, I turned into the woods to take a brisk hike along the trail through a plantation of big red and white pine and then to climb Hobbs Hill from the back side. Although the trees were brightly illuminated by the rising sun, the woods were quiet and I worried about the bitter cold on a mostly snow-free ground where frost could penetrate deep into the uninsulated forest floor, making life difficult, if not impossible, for the creatures sleeping there. When I got to my favorite rock on Hobbs Hill I paused to think about the time I spent there in the warmth of summer, listening to the hum of insects and watching the birds moving among the green leaves. I felt my eagerness to do that again. I still have mysteries to ponder.
I took the trail down the other side of the hill, checking to make sure the letterbox was still in its not-so-secret hiding place. At the bottom of the hill, I took the long boardwalk across the swamp, the frozen planks creaking loudly across the quiet wetland. Following the trail back toward the street, I paused beneath the yellow birch that put out its leafy welcome mat in September and looked up at the bright sun filtering through the trees, letting it warming rays hit me full in the face. I was hoping the sunbeams piercing the clear, frigid air would infiltrate my being to set some ancient biological clock, to set off some mysterious biochemical reaction that would lift me out of my funk.
Back on the road, heading for home, I saw a small flock of juncos with the familiar flashing of their white-edged tails. There were also a few of our other reliable winter companions, the chickadees. I marveled at how such tiny creatures could live, and seemingly thrive, in such bitter cold. How miraculous their downy fluff, how hot their tiny engines. I heard the chickadees call, not a scolding chattering, but the more melodious descending two-note: deee-dee. Could that be a sign of the change in seasons ahead? Are they, too, thinking of spring? I hoped it might signal a change in my spirit and that I would soon be able once again to hear the call of Moose Hill.