Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Snowshoes or not, I relish getting back into the woods

By CHERYL KIMBALL January 20. 2018 2:52AM

On her snowshoe trek, our columnist could see how animals also use the (mostly hidden) snowmobile trail. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)

I bought myself a new pair of snowshoes so I would have no reason not to get out on the access road around our woods this winter. The snowshoes are near perfect. I ordered them online and picked them up in the store. On sale, no shipping charges, easy in, easy out. They are slightly bigger than I had wanted but they are lightweight with simple harnesses that have a ratchet tightening system and come with a pair of poles. And they are red.

The day after I brought them home the temperatures soared into the low teens. The snow was deep. I unwrapped all the packaging, adjusted the bindings and pole length, and headed out. Although definitely warmer than the past two weeks, even a slight breeze made the crisp air a little too crispy. A short loop, I thought. Our snowmobile trail helped make walking easy and made me wonder why I needed snowshoes at all. But the snowmobile trail went left, home was to the right, and I quickly remembered how helpful snowshoes are. Even with them traveling in the deep snow was strenuous.

Weight Watchers’ website confirms this: “Snowshoeing provides a complete lower-body workout, exercising the quadriceps, hip flexors, and gluteal muscles. A 150-pound person will burn approximately 650-700 calories in an hour of snowshoeing. If you also use snowshoe poles, you’ll increase the intensity of your workout and burn more calories.” A medium-sized chocolate chip cookie averages 78 calories. An hour’s snowshoeing is worth seven or eight chocolate chip cookies. Count me in.

Of course, the other part of this story is that no sooner had I invested in a new pair of snowshoes and got in one short walk with them when the temperatures rose to spring-like levels, we got a day of rain, and poof, there went the snow. So this afternoon I set out for a walk in the woods without snowshoes.

The day was sunny but temps were back to the low teens so it was brisk. I have not bought a new pair of jeans in years; the ones I wore were a pair I continue to refer to as my “new” jeans but they felt like they were made of denim crepe, not blocking the chill in the least. My sinuses started over-reacting the minute I started walking, which made my eyes water, which in turn made my glasses fog then crust over with an icy layer. I would stop, blow my nose, wipe my glasses, and start again. I equipped myself with my camera and long lens but the first time I went to take a picture I found that the battery was dead. At least binoculars don’t need much on my part to function as intended.

And while plenty of snow remained in shaded parts of the woods, the snowmobile trail made it very easy to travel in regular boots. The trail, while icy, was covered with hemlock sprills and seeds and cones and tiny twigs, all providing slip-free footing. It did not provide for noise-free walking, however. Crunch, crunch, crunch, there was not an animal that was going to remain in sight with such an obvious intrusion wandering through the woods. Every hundred yards or so (especially in sunny spots) I stopped, looked and listened. Tracks were plentiful after the fresh snow the week before but the rain had mostly washed away any evidence of animals passing on the trail.

Luckily nature isn’t all about animals. I scanned the woods for downed trees and limbs. Things did not seem any worse for the wear considering the extreme amount and intensity of the wind we had experienced in the previous two to three weeks. Despite the cold temperature, water was moving along one little stream that passes under the trail and provides wildlife with fresh drinking water next to a glacial erratic now split in places and long used as a den by porcupines; however, the water was mostly traveling under a roof of ice.

The woods was very, very quiet each time I stopped. Once I heard a couple chickadees. When it is that quiet you can hear the slightest hammering of the smallest woodpecker high up in a tree. Nuthatches beep-beeped here and there.

As I came around the corner of the stonewalled cemetery to the final stretch to the house once again, like last week when I was on snowshoes, a small flock of robins who made the surely regrettable decision not to fly south this year came fluttering out one by one from the protective and sunny area inside the stonewalls. I headed home to a warm house and a mug of hot chocolate while those hardy robins enjoyed the last rays of sun before heading into a night of shivering and waiting for dawn.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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