The Winter Forest (January 9)

It’s pretty astonishing to watch the world freeze over!

The fast-running tidal streams, busily flowing one direction, and then the other, begin to slow, and then to busily carry floating ice one direction, and then the other…

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…and finally to become still and white, piled on each bank with broken platelets that have been gradually marooned along the way…

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…and sometimes piled in the middle with boats that have been gradually marooned, for now at least!

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In some places, the ice is so still and smooth that a warm day melts the slightest surface-layer and turns the whole thing into a reflecting pool!

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In other places, there’s just a bit too much activity for a total freeze, like where this tannin-rich water tumbles over a waterfall, maintaining a single open pool, and churning up the icebergs that settle upon the shore.

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It was a great fishing-spot…not so much for us, but for two bald eagles that we watched, stationed in the nearby treetops, until one swooped in, made a clean catch, and retired to his perch for a well-earned meal!

Our own little forest is quite magical in the snow, of course, billowy and bright…

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…and tasty!

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Yum!

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A short walk in the snowy forest is a completely new adventure.

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Every tree…and I mean every tree…is an opportunity to create an impromptu blizzard for all who shelter underneath!

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Out on the ATV trail, there hasn’t really been enough snow for the snowmobiles, but too much for the 4-wheelers, so human traffic has been light. When we wandered out onto it, we found that there was enough snow to make a little portable snowman…

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…and the only tracks were ours, a coyote’s, some rabbits’, and one unidentified set that looked like half-dollar sized circles, all in a line, loping casually along the center of the trail. The coyote tracks ran alongside, occasionally crossing, and I imagined that the mystery-critter probably came first, and the coyote came sniffing after, but who knows? Asher thought they might be bobcat tracks, based on something he remembered from a field guide, but upon further research, we decided they had to be red fox – the picture of the tracks matched exactly, and they seem to be the only ones who have that straight-line foot placement, instead of the normal left-and-right. It was delightful to think of the red fox jogging along, right down the ATV trail in the moonlight, like he owned the place, snowshoe hares scattering to each side as he came, and a coyote sniffing along behind! 🙂

And the ice, oh the magical, mystical, glorious ice! How can ice, frozen in forest puddles, be so constantly varied? How is it possible that no two puddles are alike, when they all begin as a simple low spot in the forest, where water has collected and grown still, and slowly frozen, over the course of many chilly evenings? How can one puddle form into snowflake patterns…

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…and one be captured in the middle of some sort of tidal wave? 

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I understand how gently flowing water can carve out incredible crystal-caverns…

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…but how can a still puddle still be decorated with ribbons of movement, as though the freezing water was remembering its free-flowing days?!

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Sometimes it’s crystal-clear, and you can see every sweet little leaf and fern and lichen frozen in its midst…

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…and sometimes it’s frosty and white, and everything within is hidden until the next thaw, and you can only enjoy what’s on the surface!

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However they freeze, the winter puddles form a magical patchwork of ice-skating arenas throughout our woodland, always greeted with delight, with skating and skidding and spinning, and the occasional landing-on-the-backside-and-squealing!

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Our winter days are full of work and play, full of things to do and things to learn and things to figure out, full of things we have to do and things we want to do and things we look forward to doing, and though it’s simple, and though it doesn’t look like it, I continue to consider it a life of luxury!

We are in that curious cycle of mess-up-clean-up that goes along with any fix-up project of significant scope….It’s never a matter of starting on one side and methodically working through to the other…It’s always a matter of tackling one mess, dragging it out into the open, dismantling it, and sorting it out for proper disposal…And then everything looks much improved for a bit…and then the next mess is trotted out, dismantled, sorted into piles, etc. Or one household project is started, and tools and supplies are gathered and become a great flurry of activity, and kind of a mess, and then the project is completed and everything is straightened up and put away and everything looks much improved…and then the next project is assembled! 

But during these simple days, I am thankful for so many amazing luxuries, like the luxury of a hot shower, the luxury of combing my hair dry in front of a wood fire, the luxury of curling into a down comforter at night with the sound of the wind in the trees outside the window, the luxury of a steaming cup of coffee by the fire in the morning, the luxury of crystalline stars twinkling in a silent night sky, the luxury of stepping right out the door and walking in the forest, the luxury of hearing my oldest son say, “Mom, I found the most delightful new pond out in the forest, totally surrounded by springy moss – it’s perfect!” 

And few things have been as satisfying as the simple joy of figuring out that I could bake cookies on a stovetop! Honestly, I never would have thought of it, but the Lord knows that I do enjoy baking cookies, and He led me to read this article in which a couple moved into a cabin without electricity for a while…She described how she had a wood stove, much like ours, and how she figured out she could make biscuits on top by letting them brown on one side, and then just flipping them! Brilliant! It was so simple, I couldn’t believe I never thought of it, and I was ready to try it right away! Biscuits, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, honey cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oh my! It’s a funny thing, but I can’t do it on the propane stove – it simply gets too hot too fast, even on the lowest setting. But the gentle heat of a woodfire does the trick perfectly, and so now we can even enjoy the luxury of something homemade to dunk in our morning coffee!

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The greatest luxury of all is time…the time to do each day what the Lord sets in front of us, without any time promised to anyone else but Him…And I can tell that He is in the time, because of the glorious balance of it all…Gathering firewood, clearing the forest, cleaning up trash, installing the bathroom, reading Roald Dahl stories, finishing homeschool lessons, putting up shelving, wiring outlets, playing with RC cars, climbing trees, cooking and cleaning, movie time, mending and knitting, hikes in the woods…each day full to the brim and yet as gentle and easy as a lazy summer afternoon…

And each night, with three kids tucked in, I take a little time to thank God, again 🙂

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