After a fun-filled day of leading walks through the woods with small children, the Audubon education staff headed for the Igloo in Frewsburg for ice cream cones. It was a perfect June day; the walks had gone well; the ice cream flavors were sublime. I looked over at our college intern who had a rapturous look on her face and said, “Karen?” And she responded, “I am irrationally happy right now.”
Irrationally happy. I so loved that phrase that it has become one of my own.
Irrationally happy. I get that way a lot at this time of year. There is something about temperatures in the upper teens and low twenties combined with fresh white powder that makes me irrationally happy.
I can’t remember exactly when I bought my first cross country skis… perhaps the winter after graduating from high school. I learned how to ski with my friend Sue and one of our practice sites was Audubon. Sue still has her wooden skis that must be prepped each time with the right color wax, depending on the temperature – blue wax for my favorite conditions. When my sister moved to Florida, I sold my wooden skis and began using her waxless skis… saves me a little time when all I can spare is an hour at lunchtime!
I usually start at the kiosk near the parking lot and follow the yellow signs. To warm up, I ski fast and steady until I get out to the far side of Spatterdock Pond. Then, I like to stop in the Hemlock woods. For the first minute or so, all I hear is the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. Once my heart rate normalizes, the sounds of nature wash over and refresh me. Wind through the needles. Snow falling from boughs in a soft whoosh that then plops onto the trail. Foraging chickadees and nuthatches: chick-a-dee-dee-dee and that nasal ent-ent-ent.
After this brief rest, I ski more slowly, taking it all in, breathing in the peacefulness of the forest, letting the stresses and irritations that have built up fall away. Sometimes I scare up a couple of deer who bound off to safety… they should have known they were in no danger from me. I cannot resist stopping to decipher animal tracks and signs in the snow – mouse, squirrel, fox, coyote. Or I might attempt to take pictures of things I find… a winter caddisfly, wingless wasp, cutworm, or spider crawling slowly over the snow.
I reach the big mowed field with the intent of skiing fast, practicing long strides, but the delicate winter weeds stop me in my tracks and I marvel that even without color they are beautiful and deserve to be photographed. The round, dark seed heads of Black-eyed Susan. The “baskets” of Queen Anne’s Lace. The empty, dried Milkweed pods that have already released their fluffy contents.
I return to my desk energized. Hopefully no one minds that my 1-hour lunch break has turned into an hour and 15 or 20… Truth is, the afternoons almost always turn out to be twice as productive as the mornings after a good ski.
Not everyone enjoys winter. In fact, most of the people I meet seem to grumble about it. As for me… it makes me irrationally happy.