Whenever Poet Woman and her husband Tall-With-White-Beard come to town, we set aside time to take a walk at Pretty Colour Lakes. It’s a tradition. So yesterday, even though the temperatures were below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, we left the warm fire to head over to the park.
The big parking lots at the lake had been plowed. But they were mostly empty. I saw only one other car as we pulled in. Through the fringe of cedar trees that ring the beach area, I could catch a glimpse of the lake — or at least the very end of it. A mist seemed to be rising from the water and through the mist I could see hundreds, no thousands of objects. They looked like frozen chunks of ice, except they were dark.
As we approached the beach, stamping through about a foot of snow as we went, we could hear music. Not human music but the calling and honking of geese, thousands of geese all clustered in one place. Just a bit of open water remained at the very end of the frozen lake, and all the geese were clustered there. We didn’t want to go too near and disturb them, but we stood for a long time in the snow, entranced by the sight. Despite the frigid temperatures, the sun shone down on us, and I even took my mittens off for a few seconds to take some photos.
“How many geese do you think there are?” I asked Tall-With-White-Beard.
He looked out across the beach. “Thousands. Maybe five thousand altogether.”
The snow sparkled the way snow does on a very cold day. We saw no footprints on the beach except for our own. We started down the path, hiking through cedar trees that held snow in their branches and sometimes opened to spectacular views of the frozen lake. We had the whole park to ourselves. “It’s so incredibly beautiful,” I kept saying. “I can’t believe no one else is here.”
We talked as we hiked, and we stopped to take photos, and we kept going until we had reached the very farthest spot. That’s when I began to notice that my feet were getting cold. Despite my insulated boots and winter socks, my toes were aching. The wind had come up a little bit, brushing the snow off trees in whirls of white that looked really cool but felt painfully cold.
Soon we reached the part of the trail that was shaded by the hillside, so we lost any warmth the sun could provide. My feet turned to chunks of ice that wouldn’t warm up no matter how I tried to wriggle my toes. I kept trudging ahead, breaking a trail through the snow. I thought of Almanzo Wilder that time he went searching for the wheat raised south of town: I tried to imagine that I was on some kind of similar heroic trek. Poet Woman, whose circulation is clearly better than mine even though she’s at least a decade older, was still happily taking photos, but I tucked my camera into my coat and forged ahead, stopping only when I came to a patch of sun.
Back at the beach, when we finally arrived, the geese were still honking and squawking, all crowded into the little remaining open water. We walked past, not stopping to take photos this time. We passed one other set of tracks on the beach: the double lines of a lone cross country skier. By then, we’d been outside in the frigid air for several hours. My feet had gone numb and it took all my effort just lift them up and set them down again. All I could think about was getting into the car, which we’d conveniently parked in the full sun.
My feet began to thaw in the car, which meant they hurt like crazy. By the time we had pulled into the parking lot of our favourite diner, the feeling had returned in full, and I stumbled into the diner like a drunk person. I was greeted by the smell of hot coffee and fried potatoes. The diner was warm, wonderfully warm, and as we sat down, I pulled my aching feet out of my boots to expose them to the warm air. The waitress brought us coffee and tea. I clutched the china cup of lemon-scented tea, which was so hot that I nearly dropped it.
Probably the best part of a cold-weather hike is how wonderful it feels afterwards. I kept shivering, which felt great, like waves of warmth going over my body. I pulled my feet up onto the bench to warm them with my thighs. My clothes were wet from the snow, so I felt chilled but no longer frozen. The waitress brought us warm food and more hot tea. A fourth friend joined us, and as we excitedly told him about the geese and how gorgeous the park had looked in the snow, he looked envious. As well he should be.