words + photos by Rachel Dickinson
It was a yak trax morning. Well, lately every morning’s been a yak trax morning because the snow just keeps falling and if I don’t wear those metal coils on my feet, I’ll keep falling as well. I take a walk with my friend Heather at 6:00 a.m. every day. I like to walk with Heather because she owns a reflective vest and I feel like she will be the first to go when we get hit by the salt truck that comes barreling around the corner. Me, I dress in blacks and browns and blend in beautifully with the landscape and the darkness. And during deer hunting season, I don’t go anywhere without Heather because I know I look like a big deer just begging to be shot.
Before we began walking in the pitch black – the shift happened somewhere in December – I used to look for animal tracks in the snow on the sidewalk. One morning I saw deer tracks followed by two sets of kitty tracks, then skunk tracks, and finally rabbit tracks -- and this was all on my front sidewalk – leading me to conclude that I must stay awake one night to see if the animals actually meet in front of my house for a party or if they all have someplace to go. Now that it’s dark when I leave the house, I expect to actually run into some of these animals on the sidewalk but except for the long-haired black and white cat named Feisty they’ve all managed to avoid me – I suspect they’re lurking between the houses, waiting for me to pass before continuing with their early morning party scene.
The village is quiet in the morning. We head out on Johnson Road and take a left on to the old railroad bed that cuts across the back of the village. When I was a kid a couple of trains would come through the village every day and we would lay pennies on the tracks hoping they’d get flattened. We were also the nerdy kids who’d stand by the tracks and wave to the engineer. I ran into one of my nerdy childhood companions the other day – hadn’t seen him for decades – and he’s still a train geek, chasing them all over the Northeast. I think it ruined his marriage (although in true train geek fashion, he seemed clueless about that).
On either side of the old railroad bed is swampland. I think I’m supposed to call it wetlands but I know a swamp when I see it. Beavers have built a lodge near the path – a huge mound of chewed off sticks – and have constructed dams across sections of the swamp. It’s beautiful and if you squint and block out the snow it kind of looks like some place in Louisiana and not upstate New York.
I like walking on these dark winter mornings. The darkness and the snow both cover a multitude of architectural and landscaping sins that exist in the little village. The edges of buildings get softened and a blanket of whiteness gives a uniformity to the lawns and gardens. Plastic chairs, grills, and bird baths left out to overwinter in yards become big blobs covered with snow and Heather and I get to play name that lawn accessory when we trudge past.
Soon we’ll have a warm spell and the snow and ice will turn to dirty slush and mud and I’ll have to take off the yak trax and wear my rubber boots. It will be warm enough to take those last remaining Christmas decorations down from porches and light poles and thoughts will turn to Easter decorations and giant inflatable rabbits. And it will be lighter for the morning walks and Heather and I will watch the water in the swamp rise as the beavers come out of their winter stupor and get busy.
Rachel Dickinson lives in Upstate New York where she writes for a variety of publications including the Atlantic, Audubon, The Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and Executive Traveler. Her latest book Falconer on the Edge: A Man, his Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape of the American West (Houghton Mifflin) is now a featured selection in the YourLifeIsATrip.com Trip Shop.
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