Trail Talk – February 2017

By the time folks read this, January’s snow in Jacksonville will be a memory. One could argue that Forest Park never looked better, especially after the gray days of late December. Who would have thought that “Ski Jacksonville” would be a thing? Yet, there was that nice snowpack and miles of trail beckoning the adventurous. It’s these events that become mile-stones, as in, “remember the big snow of ’17?”

Snowstorms are rare enough here that they are events. They cause us to contemplate. They provide allegory to our existence. We become very aware of our surroundings when simple tasks, like driving to the store, become adventurous tales to share at gatherings. And the allegory is the strength of the tale.

Slowing down is often hard to do when there is much to be done. Setting priorities seems pointless. Ahh, but traveling in deep snow- now we know to take things with a cautious approach lest we slip. Now we pay more attention to all around us lest we become victim to the ‘mugwump’ of the snow shed by the overhead branch. Now we break trail with greater effort, blazing new paths where others haven’t been.

A snowstorm is an adventure. The deep powder overlies things forgotten, placing a virgin canvas over the landscape for us to do with as we wish. It beckons the remembered childhood of snow angels and snowmen. We are able to better read the comings and goings of our fellow travelers. And here, in our valley among our forested hills, it is fleeting, soon to be a memory.

It is on such a snowy day that I can now venture forth in enjoyment, for simple pleasure. As a child in Jacksonville in the 60s and 70s, snow was a lesson in mixed blessings. Yes, deep enough snow meant no school and sledding on many of the hillsides now covered with houses. But it also meant frozen bones on a paper route; my bicycle slipping and sliding on the hills of the south side of town.

Soon, the weather will warm, and the flowers will burst forth. Greens will return to the hillsides, the dead grasses of last year flattened in the heavy snow. Seasonal streams will run longer into the dry times, the snowpack bolstering their courage in the warmer days. The muds of winter will become hard-caked then turn to dust. The ‘big snow of ’17’ will be forgotten.

Find yourselves on the trails of our parks as the seasons swing through their cycles. Look to the hills as they switch winter garb for summer’s. Become aware of the changes around you as present becomes past. Hike to a viewpoint, sit on a bench, and free your senses. Hike along the tumbling streams and waterfalls.That silence that was so overwhelming when the snow blanketed all will be but a memory in the cacophony of life bursting forth in the warming days. But recall the days of white quiet and the lesson to slow down, to be aware of all around you, and recall that sometimes we let Nature give us permission for a day off.