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Sam Cook column: Plodding through the vortex of malaise

Sam Cook

My feet go chick, chick, chick down the trail. The trail was snow once, a couple of weeks ago — wet, mashed-potato mush that, under the feet of a few hundred walkers, became gray slush. When the temperature dropped below freezing, it became ice and stayed that way.

Chick, chick, chick.

You can walk on it efficiently in the dark of a November night if you're wearing steel spikes over your running shoes. It's a loud, crunchy walk.

A person could run in such a get-up, too, if he had half a ration of gumption, but something about this mid-November has sucked all of the initiative out of me for at least an evening. So, I just plod along in the dark with the yellow dog.

She's up ahead. I can tell by the blinking red light dangling from her collar. The light bounces from one side of the trail to the other, into the woods, back to the trail. The dog is a silhouette of herself floating along over a moving pool of crimson snow — the reflection of her light.

If November weighs on the pup, it doesn't show. But it weighs on a lot of us, I think, especially in those first days and weeks after daylight saving time gets yanked out from under us. Some of us combat it by wearing blaze orange and sitting up in trees. Some of us build fires in the backyard and hunker nearby. Some of us drink wine. Some of us sing. Some of us eat.

It's November, and we do what we must.

Chick, chick, chick.

The beam of my headlamp normally pierces the clear night air and illuminates an ellipse of snow on the trail ahead. But even the headlamp cannot bore through this November night. A dense fog has settled over these woods, and the headlamp's beam is swallowed by the mist, creating an impression that I am walking through a gray gauze. Nothing is sharp. The snow, the trees, the trail — everything is fuzzy and edgeless and indistinct. It's the way your world feels when you're coming out from under anesthesia.

The great horned owl I heard two mornings ago in these same woods has gone silent. Maybe there's nothing to talk about if you can't locate a vole in the fog. The two yearling whitetails that often stare at us from the clearing up ahead haven't shown for a week or so. The 10-acre pond has sealed itself in slush-ice the color of mushroom soup.

I'm not traveling solo through this Novembrood. The guy in the next cubicle at work the other day blurted out, "I'm getting out of here! I'm just not gonna live in a place with seven months of winter!" He's a hardy dude. Hunts ducks way up north all fall. Has a cabin in Canada. Stands in the cold at Chester Bowl on winter Sundays helping at kids' downhill ski races.

But November had him. He must have been reading the forecast online: Cloudy, cruddy, cold, dank, gray, wind, snow, sleet, freezing rain, drizzle, dense fog — a 75 percent chance of merlot. It was all too much for him. He wanted out from under November.

I think about his desperate cry as I walk. Just keep moving, I tell myself. Breathe. Follow the bouncing red light.

Chick, chick, chick.

Chick, chick, chick.

Chick, chick, chick.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.

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