January 21, 2020

Freezing rain!

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

-Lao Tzu


Two days ago, the temperature was in the low to mid-thirties and the ground was patchy with hard, glossy, slippery ice. Today, it’s seventy degrees and the ground is ice-free, though a little wet here and there where it melted. New England weather is amazing and follows the quip, “Don’t like the weather, wait a minute, it’ll change.” Seventy degrees, and it’s mid-January!

A few weeks ago, rain in temperatures slightly above freezing was forecast. I dressed in rain jacket and pants and expected to get wet and cold. It was a bit nippy, at least on my only exposed skin, my face, but the rain suit kept me pretty dry. After about an hour of walking, I noticed the rain that collected on the edge of my hood wasn’t falling. Drops just hung there, immobile. My attention went elsewhere in an unfocused flow-of-consciousness-directed-at-the- nature-around-me sort of way and another hour passed. Looking up, I noticed that those drops had grown into icicles! My entire jacket was covered in a thin sheet of ice. It gave it a stiff, kind of crunchy feel. I’ve seen the results of freezing rain with eighth inch thick tubes of ice encapsulating the branches of naked trees, but, on that day, I learned what it was like to be the tree.

Waldo looked like he was covered by a thin dusting of snow, but when I petted him, I learned that the whiteness was going nowhere until it melted and ran off. It was ice, not snow. By the end of the walk, the icicles hanging from my hood grew to several inches long! Still, I wasn’t uncomfortable, just amazed and amused. Waldo, he didn’t seem to even notice – he just went about his stick-gathering business.

Today, I’m out here on the trail in my shirtsleeves, sweating. Waldo is panting, but otherwise unchanged from any other walk we’ve been on. A major difference between our walk in the freezing rain and today is the number of people we meet. On that rainy day, we passed only one other person. Today, there’s a traffic jam of human bodies, dogs and bicycles. It is a little strange, too, to be so warm and yet see the trees in their wintery hibernation – mere sticks pointing skyward, no leafy bushes, no weeds and just short yellowed grass buried in dead oakleaves. Tomorrow, the forecast is for temperatures to return to the low to mid-thirties and by the end of the week, we’re supposed to have five to eight inches of snow.

Waldo and I have walked this trail nearly every day for almost a year. We know it well. So well that I can find, even in deep snow, where someone painted “2.5 [Miles]” on the east side of the path by digging a hole no bigger than the painted message. I know how far the next barrel is where I can reposit Waldo’s deposit as we go on our way. I can even tell you where the cracks in the tarmac are and how far you’ve traveled and how far you have yet to go wherever you are. I recognize the sticks that Waldo had in his mouth, yesterday and the day before, then dropped when he lost interest. And yet, our trek is never the same.

The differences are not just due to the vagaries of the weather, nor the number of people we pass, nor even the evolution of the seasons. Even if all that were the same, there’s enough variation in nature that every walk is different. Nature is so vast and rich in the experiences it has to offer that I can never take it all in on one, or even a thousand, trips. The nests in the trees I saw today, for the first time, were there yesterday and last month, I just didn’t look up to see them. I remember being entranced by a pastel dawn over Fort Meadow Reservoir, seeing it for the first time after looking out over the same vista on innumerable afternoons. Then there was the fall day after a wind storm when I realized, for the first time, there were black walnut trees along our route after discovering their tennis-ball-sized fruit on the ground. And Waldo, on every walk, he sniffs the ground like he has never smelled it before and explores niches in the undergrowth just off the trail where he has never gone before.

No matter how many times we do it, every time we walk the rail-trail, it’s a new and different place we explore together.

2.5 mile marker in the snow.

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