All locals owe themselves a Christmas in Schmeeckle
There’s winter, and then there’s proper Wisconsin winter. The latter has arrived, and none too soon. It’s made one of our local treasures, the Schmeeckle Reserve, into a wonderland just in time.
First, it’s time to acknowledge the pain of some of our fellow citizens. Then, off to face unafraid the trails that we’ve made.
St. Dimitar’s skies have opened; let the grousing begin
The dreary stuff we had up until last weekend wasn’t really winter. It was just short and chilly days, the sorry beginnings of the long period that causes many to start practicing the chafing and moaning they’ll use to keep occupied until things warm up again for about two days in early June.
Now those folks really have something to complain about, given that the first big storm blew in last weekend and left us all arguing about whether we’ve already seen more snow than we did all of last winter.
It’s more fun to discuss than find the answer, because that’s all some folks have to do now: sit and wait it out.
For the rest of us, it’s a good time. Cross-country ski trails are groomed at Standing Rocks, the Plover River Trail should follow soon, and we’re starting to get the first online reports about trail conditions. While picking up kids the other day, I heard a couple of parents discussing fat-tire biking in the snow.
Formally, of course, winter began this week, but practically speaking, it begins at different times for different folks.
For me, it’s always the Sunday or Monday after Thanksgiving, whenever I return to grading university students’ work and realize that to them, I am the harbinger of gloom, the blackest of night-falls, the demon with a frozen heart, the keeper of end-of-semester grades.
On the Balkan Peninsula, they say winter begins on Oct. 26, when the Bulgarian Orthodox Church honors the memory of Dimitar, the patron saint of winter, ice and snow. According to tradition, the skies open that day, and he rides in on a red horse, shaking the first snowflakes out of his white beard.
Whatever. It’s here, so enjoy it while you can.
Schmeeckle offers snowy dreamland
One of Wisconsin’s finest writers, progressive journalist John Nichols of the Capital Times in Madison, took a break from lambasting the dogs of politics this week to write a lovely tribute to winter walking in our state.
It’s different than the other seasons, he begins his piece, because the snow, ice and cold give “form and purpose to the endeavor.”
“If our clothing is insufficient, we move more quickly, in hopes of finding shelter from the storm,” he added. “But if we are ready for the weather, well then, we are ready for adventure.”
Much of the rest of his Dec. 20 piece focuses on a historic winter walk by poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, which the two enthusiastically chronicled and which was in turn immortalized in the book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” by Nichols’ friend Rebecca Solnit.
As much as I love good books and admire good writers, that’s already too many literary sorts for one column. Better for us to seek an adventure, but it doesn’t have to be a big one.
In fact, an easy winter walk that virtually every citizen of Point and its environs should experience is a Christmas-morning walk in Schmeeckle Reserve. Although a walk like that could be adventuresome, it’s an easy way to get a quick fix of nature, peace and quiet on a day when nothing is more appropriate.
My favorite holiday memory from 10 years of Wisconsin winters is of a post-breakfast tramp along the Trail of Reflections about three or four years ago.
We’d had good snow that year, including a relatively fresh fall before Christmas, and that thick blanket, along with general holiday idleness, brought an unusual peace to the woods.
While the rest of the family stayed home, checking out new gifts and preparing for relatives to arrive later, I climbed the wildlife observation stand, shuffled over boardwalks, and marveled at piles of deep, clean powder on every log and post and bench – like Christmas sweets slathered with frosting by a 6-year-old, more icing than cookie.
I saw no other soul, heard barely another sound. Roads were empty and our businesses silent, the thick snow muffling whatever noises may have existed.
There was nothing special about the walk – just time to dawdle and think about the musings of Aldo Leopold and others as they presented themselves on short wooden tablets along the trail. No work, no responsibilities, no hurry to get back home.
I was out for an hour or so and probably walked little more than a mile, sticking mostly to the Trail of Reflections and probably not even burning off a single piece of Danish kringle.
More intrepid walkers could work up a good sweat and work off an entire Christmas breakfast, but that’s the beauty of having Schmeeckle nearby; a holiday outing is no more or less than the walker decides to make of it.
Despite our recent heavy snow, Schmeeckle Trails are already well-trod, so any old boots will do for comfortable travels. Even water-repellent, sturdy shoes should be fine, as the reserve’s regulars have left their marks since before the flakes stopped falling, as I discovered earlier this week.
An advantage of deep but already broken paths is that they make us traipse more slowly. Footing is good, but uneven, so it’s best just to wander at a pace that allows looking around for deer and discerning the contrasts of muted grays, tans, browns against white in a thickly forested landscape.
There were still snow sentinels on every upright log or fencepost, looking like snowy owlettes, six- or eight-inch gumdrops of white rounding off each vertical structure. I suspect Tuesday’s warmth took many away, but maybe we’ll be lucky enough to get more before Sunday.
Regardless, there’s a great base on the ground and Christmas day at Schmeeckle is likely to provide a wonderful respite to individuals or families, whether for 15 minutes or three hours.
That does all of our souls good, according to Nichols, who writes, “One of the more appealing notions in these often overwhelming times is that, for all of our technological advances, it is still possible to have a splendid time following roads and byways, to admire the view and to enjoy our own powers of walking in weather that would keep most people huddled indoors.
“It is walking that allows us to most fully embrace the great gift that is winter in Wisconsin. It is our destiny, and our great opportunity, to walk in winter.”