Rime Time

Whenever the weather predictors forecast a hard frost, Dash and I plan to head outside for our morning walk a little earlier than usual.

I like to see the patterns and muted colors before the sun converted all that silvery solid water into dripping liquid. I think the cold temperatures must add to the olfactory landscape as well because Dash seems to find plenty to explore with his nose on these mornings, too.

One of the things I love about cold weather is the feeling of crisp air entering nostrils, waking up my lungs, and putting all of my senses on high alert.

Frost brings edges and textures into sharp relief. Suddenly, we see not an amorphous dusty brown leaf pile but each individual leaf and hue, every petiole, rib, and vein.

Winter is full of paradox… colors are muted but warming up as the days grow longer, the light can be dull or  bright, the air is gelid at dawn, and then sometimes balmy in the afternoon, causing everyone to start shedding layers… then rushing to pull warm clothes back on when the sun dives behind clouds.

After a spring and summer of profligate foliage and promiscuous flower production, and an autumn spent harvesting sugars produced by green leaves, the plants are spent and all that remains are their fibrous bones… beautiful, even stripped to bare essence.

Dewdrops dance as they freeze, leaving fanciful footprints or the carvings of light-footed skaters on windows, the metal carapace of an automobile, or an icy puddle.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Felix Meyer, Gabrielle LudlowBroo_am (Andy B)Marilylle SoveranAppalachian dreamerKjell Eson,  Alice Radford, and technicolours© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Frozen

When I was a 13-year-old living in a south St. Louis suburban neighborhood, I woke one winter morning to a world encased in ice. Sidewalks, driveways, streets, every blade of grass—all coated in about a half-inch of water in its solid phase. 

The scene outside our living room picture window was both delightful and daunting.

Large trees slumped. Some imploded with a loud CRACK! under the weight of all that ice.A friend from school had spent the night, and together we hatched what seemed, in the moment, to be a brilliant plan: cross-country ice skating!  I had been taking lessons that winter so my skates were close at hand, and we also found an older pair in the closet that fit my friend’s feet (she was shorter than me, with smaller feet). Score!

We thundered down the stairs from my upstairs bedroom, swaddled in parkas, scarves, hats, and gloves, through the small house to the backdoor. My mom was busy in the kitchen, so she didn’t see the skates tucked under our arms and raise an alarm… she just yelled, “Be careful!” and something else I didn’t hear because Cindy and I were laughing in anticipation of our great adventure.

Our great miscalculation, actually.

Recent research suggests that it takes much longer for the brain to mature than was once assumed. A full understanding of the concept of cause and effect, and the ability to run virtual simulations in one’s head to anticipate consequences, doesn’t happen until about 25 years of age.

I guess that’s as good an explanation as I’m going to find for why two reasonably intelligent teens didn’t realize that there’s only one answer to the equation:

hills + ice + skates = X? 

We spent the rest of the afternoon inside mulling over the results of our experiment safely ensconced near the fireplace, repeatedly and gingerly shifting our bruised behinds on their piles of pillows as we watched the 1972 Winter Olympics figure skating competition.

That wasn’t the last time in my life I made a bad decision that resulted in a hard fall to Earth, even after my 25th birthday had passed.  Today, though, I’m remembering that lesson from all those years ago as I slip on hiking boots, and wrap the soles with YakTraks for good measure.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Evelyn Berg, Dave HerholzIrene MeiSheila Sund, Andy McLemoreEvelyn BergDave Herholz,  and Hiker- Hu**© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

 

Who Goes There?

Wildlife tracks are one of the best things about taking a hike after a nighttime snowfall, to my way of thinking.

So many mammals and birds are active in the early morning, late evening, or after-dark hours, but in winter it’s easier to see and identify who has been coming and going while I’ve been tucked in warm and cozy under a quilt.

Sometimes the prints serve as a kind of calling card. For example, deer make an easy to recognize track…and rabbits, with their radically different front and back feet, leave an unmistakable mark…as do raccoons, with their nearly opposable thumbs and longer, flatter hind paws.

Even featherweight songbirds leave a telltale impression.Sometimes, the marks left in snow tell a story, like this image left by a barred owl dropping down from above to grab a meal for take-out…or at least a vignette, as with this short story of a deer mouse bursting through a crust of snow for a quick trip to some dried vegetation… looking for a seed snack, maybe, while also trying to avoid becoming an owl snack?

There’s no clear protagonist or villain in these snowy saga… just tales (and tails) of life and death on Planet Earth, but I love to read their stories.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: USFWS, Wesley Fryer, Lassi Kurkijärvi, CA-DFW, Carol Jacobs-CarreKent McFarland, heidi bakk-hansen, and plantsforpermaculture© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Red and/or Green

It’s an well-known joke in New Mexico that you can’t order anything at a restaurant without being asked, “Red or green.” The customer’s response tips off the waitstaff whether the individual is a local or new in town. Tourists will ask, “red or green… what?”

Chile, of course.

That’s chile with an “e,” not an “i.” Chili ingredients may include chiles, but chiles are not, on their own, chili.

Naturally, not every restaurant in the state has chiles in the kitchen and on the menu, so the humor comes with some hyperbole, but hot peppers are definitely a signature dietary staple here. The appropriate response to the red-or-green question is not “What?,” but “Which is hotter today?”New Mexico is known for growing a highly prized long green (aka Anaheim”) chile… so much so that chiles are as much a symbol of the state as roadrunners and biscochitos. But chiles aren’t responsible for all the reds and greens to be seen.

So in honor of the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I’ve spent the week’s daily walks on the lookout for iconic colors of the season that don’t grow on a pepper plant.Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve, and a Peaceful 2018.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Sharon Sperry Bloom, MJs Kitchen, Artotem, Rockin’Rita, Carla Lane, josephmccowieTadson BusseyTracy Rhodes, and Laura Taylor© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]