Let it Snow
Today’s day trip is a hike on the Scout Tract Trail, 1 of 22 trails in York Region’s twenty-five-hundred-hectare nature trail system. How much is a hectare, I wondered? For a reference, it’s the size of two American National Football League fields. The 48-hectare Scout Tract Trail is a 3.5 kilometer, (2.8-mile), loop trail in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario, Canada. This clear –4C, (25F), degree day filled with mostly blue skies was a good day for outdoor activities. It’s been a great winter with plenty of snow on the ground. In this area, previous years have seen winters with very little to no snow, making it a rather blah, cool and wet season.
Setting off on the trail I saw many people had already put down a well-defined path to follow. The snow was densely packed and made it easy to stay on track. A crunching sound could be heard with every step I took, and evergreen branches were sprinkled with a white covering from the previous night’s light snowfall.
Almost from the start, I heard a blue jay screeching from high up in the trees. I stopped to see if I could spot the bright blue and white bird. I couldn’t see it but then amused myself thinking he may be warning others of my presence as an impending danger, or there was a hawk nearby. If there was a hawk, I didn’t see it.
Soon, I saw secondary trails branching away from the main trail made by cross country skiers and snowshoers. There were also paw prints along the way. I’m almost certain most were dogs with their owners, but some prints going off into the woods may have been coyote tracks which are similar in shape and size. Some were most likely other wild animals, such as rabbits jumping across the snow and deer hoof prints. Snow on the ground really does let us know we aren’t the only ones here. Along the hard packed trail were hoof prints sunken deep into the snow. They were bigger than deer hoof prints. Was this a cow, a horse or maybe even a moose?! Whatever they were, they went off the trail about 500 meters, (1600 feet), after I first saw them.
Less is More
The forest has transitioned under a blanket of snow. The colourful summer flora on the forest floor has disappeared from sight. The autumn leaves have fallen from deciduous trees. Exposed tree roots are buried under snow and are no longer a trip hazard. This quote from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe came to mind, “Less is More”.
An arborglyphs tree within an arm’s length from the trail caught my attention. Arborglyphs are tree writings, with aspens, beeches and birches being the most commonly used species. Romantics have long carved their initials and heart shapes into trees as a sign of affection. I thought of a tree I once carved into years ago and wondered how many times these proclaimers returned to this tree?
The Scent of Fresh Pine
Before leaving the tree, I looked further into the distance. A classic greeting card snowscape opened before my eyes. A large cluster of seventy-foot-tall pine trees with dark orange trunks supplied a striking contrast against gleaming white waves of snow. The sound of wind blowing through the tops of the pines completed the scene.
Arriving at a bench between two interconnecting ponds I stopped and sat for a while. The long rectangular bench, hewn from one large block of timber appeared to have been placed here a long time ago. While there, I spotted a hockey net frozen to the edge of the pond amongst cedar bushes. Players will need their shovels to clear snow from the frozen ice before skating. I also saw a house in the distance and imagined kids coming through the backyard for a secluded game of hockey.
The ponds are the halfway point on the trail and having circled around them, I re-entered the forest. Shortly afterwards another gust of wind swept across the treetops causing the previous night’s snow to gently cascade down. I was suddenly inside a snow globe! I pulled my camera up from the front of my parka to capture the scene, but it was already too late, the “Kodak” moment was gone.
Now well on my way back, the deep sunken mystery hoof prints I mentioned earlier reappeared from undisturbed snow and rejoined the main trail. I stayed on the designated trail following the deep hoof prints. It wasn’t long before the mystery was solving itself. Hee-haw, hee-haw, came echoing through the woods. Hee-haw, hee-haw, was now my homing beacon. Steadily I continued, on the lookout for a donkey.
Now at a fenced boundary line next to a small farm property I was greeted by a brown donkey and two horses wearing their winter blankets. Donkeys are great protectors of farm animals. They’ll ward off dogs, foxes, coyotes or any others it perceives as a threat, including people. I stayed for a while watching the trio exercise in their paddock before moving back into the forested area.
From the small horse farm, the return trip was at a greater incline then I expected. The long and slow downhill walk to the ponds hadn’t given me a sense that I was losing elevation. Having to be sure footed on snow and a little winded, I reached the top of the hill. It wasn’t long until I was back at my starting point and ready for lunch.
Spring, summer, fall and winter. Having four distinct seasons provides us with a greater appreciation for each of them. With the right outdoor gear, we can embrace winter. Being prepared is essential. What’s your favourite winter pastime?