I really love snow. The first snow of the season is a very special day, especially if it falls on a Saturday.
I don’t like clearing windshields and driving on slippery roads to get to work, but I sure love hiking about in the snowy woods.
I woke up this morning in the dark to the ringing of my cellphone alarm. It took me a few minutes to come to my senses and realize it was Saturday. In fact, it was the very last Saturday in November. Good Lord, how autumn slips away and fades into winter. I walked gingerly to the kitchen and ate cold cereal as quietly as humanly possible. Goldie does not like being awakened at 6 a.m. on Saturday. The plan was hatched for a cooked bannock breakfast and a pot of strong coffee at the cabin, so a simple bowl of Raisin Bran would do for now.
I looked out the living room window before heading downstairs to dress for the woods. There was snow blowing off my freshly decorated spruce trees. They had said just a centimetre or so on the news last evening. What a wonderful surprise; the ground was covered with at least four or five centimetres of fluffy light snow. Not sticky wet stuff, but real honest to goodness winter snow.
I checked my thermometer on the kitchen window and it read -3 C. This was going to be a big day. I got dressed and headed to the garage to warm up my ATV and give the boys a call. Robert and Cameron were on the move and equally excited about the fresh blanket of wonderful snow.
Off I motored on my quad to meet up with my buddies and head to our cabin.
The cabin is about an hour’s run from my house and at an elevation 700 feet higher than my sea level home. As we headed up the trail and gained altitude, the snow became a little deeper and the air colder. It’s always a few degrees colder at the cabin. There are times when it’s raining at the house and snowing at the cabin.
We arrived, shut down our ATV engines, and listened to the deep, dark silence. I stood still, gazing about my tranquil surroundings. Although it was just yesterday, Black Friday shopping seemed a distant fuzzy memory. The sky was just starting to brighten towards the east and the trees were motionless. Snowflakes fell undisturbed and softly to the earth. The wind that ruffled my spruce earlier had subsided to greet the new day. That happens sometimes. It would pick up again as the sun peaked over the trees.
The splitting of dry fir with a sharp axe disturbed my metaphysical communing with silence and snow. Robert was preparing splits for the fire. The three of us sat around the homemade stove as the crackling of seasoned wood warmed the icy cold cabin. I readied the coffee pot and set it on the stove. This was going to be a mighty fine cup of morning java. Atmosphere is everything.
Cameron and I lit our pipes and drew deeply on a newly acquired tobacco, The Bald Headed Teacher, a whimsical name, and very rich aroma. Percolating coffee mingled to create a wonderful bouquet of earthy essences. The scene was set to discuss plans for the day.
“Did you ever have a smoke on the far end of Nicki’s Ridge?” I said to Cameron. Robert doesn’t smoke and he was too busy frying bologna to pay attention.
“No, I haven’t, but I’d like to,” he replies amidst a billowing cloud of Bald Headed Teacher. “This is wicked good tobacco,” he adds.
I took that as a definite yes.
The pinnacle of Nicki’s Ridge is about an hour’s hike from the cabin and one of the highest points on the Bay de Verde Peninsula. The view is spectacular. You can see Trinity and Conception Bays simultaneously, the only place I know of in my backyard where that’s possible.
I’d been up there moose hunting quite a few times and always enjoyed a pipe while scanning the country for moose. With the fresh snow on the ground, and a day ahead of us with nothing to accomplish but enjoy November’s last 10 hours of daylight, why not climb up on the ridge and have a smoke?
The pact was sealed. We’d hike about and look for tracks of moose and coyotes, climb the ridge, light up a puff and check out the view. Then we’d hoof it back to the old base camp for a fry of moose burgers, complete with onion and cheddar.
You know, you don’t really need a good reason to go in the woods. You can just go in the woods and see what happens. Climbing a hill for a smoke sort of materialized out of the ambiance of pipe tobacco and fresh morning air. And additional interesting stuff would surely happen in the bargain. We spotted a fine cow moose after walking just five minutes from the cabin. We spent almost an hour watching her with our binoculars and debating whether or not she would be alone this time of year. We argue too much about stuff like that.
We set our coyote caller a screaming to see if a lanky dog would respond.
Nothing. The cow kept on grazing on the hillside with no company in sight. She was oblivious to the coyote wailing.
It’s interesting how huge moose can appear and disappear as you watch them feeding amongst the scattered spruce and fir — an important lesson. When you find a good place to look about, look long and hard. Too many hunters spend way too little time with their eyes behind glass. You can find many more moose with your eyes than with legs; at least that’s my experience. Later we found some coyote tracks and discovered a wonderful spot for a tree stand.
See, I told you stuff would just happen.
Smoke wafted in the wind as we soaked up the panorama of first snow on Nicki’s Ridge. More ideas and plans materialized. I need to learn more about panoramic photography. I’ll have to buy one of those carbon fibre lightweight tripods with a panoramic head so I can lug it around to places like this. I want to capture this massive view, but it’s tough to do it justice without stitching frames. Smoking on a snowy hilltop can cost you money.
Cameron comes up with the best idea of all. There must be something extra good in that Bald Teacher smoke; gets the neurons buzzing.
We have never camped in winter without a campfire, and never on the crest of a hill. That would be a real test of gear, perseverance and, dare I say, manliness. Sleeping outdoors on a hilltop is certainly manly, to use the obviously sexist way of putting it, Albeit lots of women have climbed Everest. I know I need a better word … hardcore, that’s it. Sleeping on Nicki’s Ridge is hardcore.
Although it pales in comparison to climbing a mountain and bunking down on a cliff face, nevertheless it’s pretty hardcore for us amateurs. The plan is etched in stone. We will do it, winter 2014. The photos will be awesome, especially with that new tripod.
The sky darkened as we approached the cabin. Moose burgers would serve as a fine finale to a big day of doing pretty much nothing. At least there was nothing concrete: no money made, walls painted, shopping done or appliances repaired. There will always be time for that sort of stuff.
Folks need Saturdays like these to survive the rest of the hectic week, especially with Christmas so close. Moose sizzled in the pan and aromatic smoke once again filled the cabin.
Can you imagine the smell? We ate delicious burgers and headed home in the dark.
The lights of Spaniard’s Bay brought me back to reality. I’d better get some serious online shopping done before the Black Friday sales are over. Maybe that tripod is on special.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every
opportunity. He can be contacted