By Clayton Daniels
I live in what some may call isolation. Quiet and far from anywhere, it helps keep me sane. There’s a long, winding road that leads there, which can test a person’s patience every now and then. For the most part, it isn’t too bad, but when spring comes, the road begins to thaw—although not all at once, which is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s all fine until the ground starts to get soft. Once that happens, all bets are off. Low spots through the swamps fill with water, and the uphill sections get slimy. It snows some, rains some, then snows some more. Fifty-yard-long puddles freeze overnight, get broken up, then freeze again into miniature Arctic landscapes, wreaking havoc on tires and suspension. In the spring, Mother Nature can’t seem to make up her mind. A little schizophrenic if you ask me.
I can drive in one day and the road is all happy, and the next morning the mood has changed; I can’t for the life of me get back out. Similar to one of those relationships you spend a little too much time in, and all of a sudden you look around and realize there’s no good way out. Last March I was even relegated to snowshoeing in and out, or using the four-wheeler for almost three weeks.
If I decide to snowshoe, those days start damn early. Early and cold. I park the car about two miles away as the crow flies, which requires a head start to the day. No matter how early I hit the sack, five bells comes way too quick. Groggy and just wanting to stay inside the warm nest of blankets, I force myself to start moving.
A cup of coffee and some quiet time first, then the layering begins. I climb into long johns, a pair of insulated pants, some ski pants, and slip on a couple pairs of socks to cover the bottom half, which usually results in getting a leg stuck and doing that early morning one-legged dance at least once. Then I pull over an insulated shirt followed by a double-layered hooded sweatshirt to take care of the top. All that’s left are some warm gloves and boots, and I’m ready to strap on twenty pounds of the day’s necessities and some snowshoes.
The twenty pounds and snowshoes part has to be done outdoors or a person will melt before they even get started.
Trekking pole in hand, the journey begins. A good hour of plowing through twenty inches of powder one step at a time. Barring a good moon, air as black as pitch forces the pupils open as far as they’ll go, and I still can’t see a thing. Little by little the sun wakes up and begins to light the way. Snow-covered trees line the sides of the trails, looking like lines of white-clad soldiers.
Snow pushes up past the knees and legs begin to burn. Lifting them up to the waist in order not to dive face first into the snow is taking its toll. Slowly, they become acclimated, and soon a rhythm begins: lift, forward, push; lift, forward, push. Zen sets in and everything is calm. Breath comes out as clouds of steam and mingles with the world, memories of good times and bad floating by. Thoughts of things that need to be done mix with thoughts of what’s already been done, the things you can fix and those you cannot.
An hour or so goes by with the repetition of each step, and finally the car is there. Not so sure I actually want the Zen to end, I start the engine to let it warm up, shed a layer, and get in. The sun is up, and with it comes reality. Off to the gym, a shower, and a day in class.
Clayton Daniels is currently a student at Bemidji State University with a major in biology and minor in mass communications. He hopes to be a freelance photojournalist when he graduates. He has lived in Bemidji, Seattle, and many places in between. He currently resides near Pennington, MN, where he spends his time in and around a small cabin nestled among the pines, enjoying solitude and nature.