Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Breaking trail

We could see the curve of the logging road beneath the snow as it rose before us and disappeared to the left behind a stand of trees; an unbroken ribbon of white. Morgan and I trudged along its inside edge where the snow was shallowest, where the wind had skimmed across its surface, carving and shaping the snow up and away to the far side into a half-parabola.

In clomping winter boots we marched uphill pulling behind us what would prove to be inadequate trappings for our maiden firewood collecting expedition. It was our first winter in our new home, our first winter heating with wood. Morgan hauled our homemade firewood sled, an old heavy-duty plastic bin with worn-out downhill skis glued and then bolted to the bottom. Inside rode his chainsaw and an axe. I dragged the metal fridge cart.

Beneath our feet the snow squeaked like blocks of styrofoam rubbing together as the clear biting air gnawed at our cheeks. Bear and Murdoch struck out ahead, a couple of black shapes like solid shadows against the field of untouched white. Bear powered through the polished snow, the muscles of her broad shoulders moving in time with the swish of my snow pant-clad legs. Murdoch, not quite full-grown but long and lanky, swam and leapt through snowdrifts as effortlessly as a fish through water, kicking up sprays of white powder in his wake.

The road in seemed a lot longer on foot than it had when we drove over the hard, packed gravel in the fall, scouting out the broken trees and towering heaps of scrap wood left to wallow in the aftermath of this clear cut. Our plan, once we got permission, was to return and haul out the usable wood to heat our house instead of leaving it to rot in haphazard piles.

When we crested the hill, emerging from the fringe of forest left behind after the big machines had clawed and mawed their way through, we stood for a moment beneath an endless powder-blue sky and contemplated the long, white, formless road ahead. We had assumed there would be trails; long winding snowmobile tracks cutting an easy path over the deepening snow.

Snowshoes would have been an excellent idea, or maybe a dogsled.

But we had come this far, so we pushed on, until we were knee-deep in snow, dragging our tools with great effort. I tried to follow Murdoch as he broke an erratic trail, the fridge cart clattering noisily behind me until it became bogged down. I left it sticking sideways out of a snowdrift. “I’ll get it on the way out,” I said to no one in particular.

The piles of wood we scouted in the fall had disappeared into the landscape, becoming giant mounds of white. So we set our sights on a still-standing tree, a great big birch with broken and withered branches that stood about 20 feet off the road. We waded into snow up to our waists and then swam towards the tree, shoveling armfuls of feather light snow to the side of our trench which quickly filled in behind us.

We spent the better part of the day hauling that tree out one tiny sledfull at a time. Morgan cut and I trudged to and fro up over that curve and around the bend back down to the main road where our vehicle and trailer were parked. By the third trip Bear had staked out a spot in the snow to sit and wait while Murdoch leapt and twirled along beside me, behind me, in front of me. “Why aren’t you pulling this?” I asked as I leaned all my weight against the handle of the sled.

Murdoch didn’t slow down all day, not until we got home did he finally melt in a heap. It was the first time I’d ever seen him truly tired. That night was also the first time in the ten months he’d lived with us that I was able to hug Murdoch as he lay, flattened on the couch by the fire, too exhausted to show the whites of his eyes or even lift the corner of his mouth in his signature snarl.


  1. Beautiful winter scene and essay. I'll have to experience winter vicariously this year. Last year at this time I was in a winter wonderland. This year...well, I'll just say that I cut three daffodils from my yard yesterday and put them in a vase on the table!

  2. Daffodils in December?! Wow! It has actually been warmer than normal here as well. We didn't get snow until late November/early December and even then it was just a sprinkling for a while. Luckily we did get more before Christmas and now have about a foot. However, with the warmer temperatures I actually found six ticks on the dogs over Christmas!! What?!