At twilight—mercifully longer by this time of the year—we decided to take the dog and walk the river trail. The unbroken snow rose to my boot tops, and Schroeder bounded ahead in great arcing leaps like a porpoise. The grey skies, dwindling daylight and slowly diminishing snowfall conspired to smudge and blur the boundary of ground and sky until it all appeared as one great sweep of cold.
We strode down the drive to the pines, where the fresh snow lay treacherously uneven on the trail—one moment ankle-deep, then a calf-deep drift the next. Unabashed, Schroeder led the way manically. He punctuated his progress by briefly laying down in the snow every fifty yards to lick the snow and ice from his front paws, then standing up and looking back towards us expectantly.
The steep road through the woods down to the floodplain was deep with drifted snow that obscured the rough and eroded surface; we lurched and stumbled our way down to where the way levelled out and our passage was easier. With Schroeder in the lead, we began to make our way to the west and the upstream end of the floodplain. But the going was slow and difficult; in the shadow of the great looming hillside, the weak March sun had done little to reduce the prior snow, and today’s fall built upon it to where it seemed like a real challenge in the fading light. Within just a few dozen yards, we turned around and headed downstream and towards the stream trailhead.
The river beside us ran fast and loud. It was brown as mocha and churned not so very far below the banks; the familiar rocks and landmarks were obscured by the roiling waters. The eddys and backwaters and shores were bound with a milky, opaque layer of slush and fallen snow that slowly became ice. The same waxy-looking mix grew off the shores of the stream until just a modest channel of open water remained; the clear waters of the stream mixed reluctantly with the murky waters of the river in clouds of diminishing whorls and vortices that gradually drifted away downstream and merged into the heart of the river.
We turned from the riverside and made our way into the deep snowy woods. The trail, well-worn and familiar, was plain to follow even with the layer of untracked snow upon snow. We paused for a moment to dwell in the dwindling light of evening, then made our way along the stream, beneath the lone hemlock bent low beneath its burden of fresh snow, to the lower stream crossing.
Our familiar stepping stones were hidden beneath tall caps of icy snow; the stream, flush with recent rains and melting snow, found new and unexpected channels to follow. Deeper than we imagined, the icy water was daunting to consider fording. Tentatively at first, then with a degree of abandon, we made the crossing without mishap or incident while Schroeder watched on disinterestedly from the woods on the far side.
We wound our way upstream with the icy waters to our left, the deep snowy forest silent but for the sound of the rushing stream. Schroeder chose the switchback trail for us, and we followed his lead up the steep path, slipping from time to time on the snow. We make it to the house tired, a little bit sweaty, as darkness finally embraces our little hilltop for the night. Schroeder is happy to be home.