Sam Cook column: Hang on through the seasonWe are in the hanging-on time now, just trying to ride through, endure. This is December in the North, with the winter solstice upon us. The final, dark dwindling to the low ebb of our year.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
We are in the hanging-on time now, just trying to ride through, endure. This is December in the North, with the winter solstice upon us. The final, dark dwindling to the low ebb of our year.
If this were a marathon, we’d be somewhere beyond mile 15. The levity of those first few miles, the fun, the chatter, the laughter — all gone now. The runners move along in silence, living within their own worlds, trying to expend no extra energy. Hanging on. Wondering if they can hold the pace.
Sit on the radiator. Back up to the woodstove. Tuck your feet up on the couch, throw a blanket on. Don’t leave the back door open one second longer than necessary.
The animals know how to hang on. Deer melt beds in the snow, holing up for hours on end. Moving is simply too much work now. Bears sleep, hearts beating just 10 or 15 times a minute. Their young are born, nurse, open their eyes, tuck against mama’s heat.
Frogs lie somewhere deep in the mud for months on end, somehow not freezing. A vole scurries across a shoveled sidewalk, momentarily exposed to Death by Wing. But this time, he makes it. He tunnels into a deep drift, an asylum of snow.
Like the vole, most of us venture out occasionally, defy the cold, seize an hour in full daylight, do our own scurrying. We layer up and go. Carve turns on a snowboard. Slide on skis. Power through powder on a snow machine. Hitch up a dog team. Ride a fat bike. Jig up some crappies.
Out from behind walls, where the air is thin and pure, we breathe hard, embrace the cold, generate our own heat. It is almost essential, this escape from dens and getting out. Seeing far off again. Studying trees. Wondering about tracks.
Even in the dark, this getting away is good. Moonlight looks good on the snow. The headlamp’s beam catches two sets of green eyes just above the snow, and you know where the deer are bedded. The dogsledder listens to the soft panting of the team. When she flicks on her headlamp, she sees the vapor trail of warm breath over the dogs’ backs. The runner listens to the crunch of his footsteps on brittle snow. The river snowshoer hears the gurgle of moving water beneath the ice.
On the right nights, the ice thunders underfoot. The trees pop. Momentarily, adrenaline surges through our systems. Fight or flight? What will it be? Oh, it’s just the ice. Oh, just a tree popping. Our heart rates drop again. On we go, fully alive and aware of the night world.
When we return home, back to our sanctuaries of artificial light, we are filled. The kitchen seems warm and bright. We peel off and hang our layers, shake snow from our caps, make mugs of hot chocolate.
We’re back in our lairs, like the vole burrowing into the snow. Our walls no longer seem stifling. They’re shelter. Home is no longer confining. It’s cozy.
We settle in again, quietly sliding toward the solstice. We know what that means.
We’re going to make it.
Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluth news.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/samcook outdoors or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”