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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Snow?

The winter rollercoaster has struck again. One minute there’s 14 inches of snow and windchills in the -30o range, and the next minute we are faced with brown slush, patches of bare grass, rain, fog and +40o temperatures. It makes it difficult to carry out plans.

The ice carving in Shipshewana was done in tents because the sun was threatening to melt the ice before the carving was done. I didn’t get to any of the state parks’ “First Day Hikes” because the roads were pretty snowy. This past Saturday we were supposed to learn a new skill: snowshoeing. Of course it got cancelled due to rain. Sunday we wanted to go for a walk and found that the melting snow and rain had frozen on all surfaces overnight and walking anywhere was perilous due to the thin, nearly invisible coating of ice everywhere.

We did manage to get in three days of cross-country skiing before the big thaw, which is more than we’ve been able to do the last two years locally. Cross-country skiing is a wonderful way to enjoy the winter. You can enjoy nature while gliding through the woods. Breaking your own trail can be arduous, or you can go on a groomed trail. If there aren’t any groomed trails near you, just be second on the trail and it’s somewhat groomed for you by the first skier. And if you really don’t want to try skiing because hiking is your thing, stay out of the ski tracks! Some people like to walk in the tracks because the snow is more packed and easier to walk on, but the footprints ruin the trail for skiers. We’re very happy to share the trail with walkers – just don’t walk in the two grooves made by or for the skis.

We went to Bonneyville Mill County Park in Bristol. There are two trails there. One has more hills and is more open, and the other follows the Little Elkhart River through the woods. Both trails are groomed when the snow cooperates. I prefer the one along the river because if it is windy you are more protected and it is very scenic. As we rounded a bend we flushed out a great blue heron and several ducks which flew off in a flurry of feathers. As we moved along we found several trees which were obviously favorites with the local woodpeckers. The snow was strewn with wood chips at the base of these trees. The snow gave us an opportunity to examine the tracks of several animals. Deer tracks are easily identified by the split hooves. (And deer, like some hikers, prefer the ski trail for the same reasons: it’s the path of least resistance. At least dainty deer hooves don’t damage the trail as much as big boots.) Small tracks that begin and end at a tree are obviously squirrel tracks. On the ice we found webbed footprints of ducks.

The river was frozen in places and open in others. It was interesting to watch the air bubbles trapped under the thinnest ice. They moved along downstream in fits and starts, carried along by the current, but trapped occasionally by bumps in the ice. They looked like little ghosts under the ice, changing their shapes as they oozed along looking for a chance to escape their icy realm.

Cross-country skiing is not nearly as expensive as downhill skiing, and much more leisurely. You move along at your own pace. You stay warm by the energy you expend to propel yourself. And you burn so many calories in the process that you can happily eat whatever and not worry about your caloric intake. It’s not hard to learn, kind of a mixture of shuffling and skating. If you want to try it, Pokagon has very inexpensive rentals. And if you decide you like it (how could you not?), you can find cross-country skis, boots and poles at yard sales at bargain prices. Even buying brand new equipment won’t break the bank, compared to downhill equipment.

Whatever the weather brings in the coming week, get out in the fresh air however you can. It will greatly improve your outlook and mood.