By Lenny Ackerman
A Winter Break Part II
At the end of my last column, I had just dozed off from exhaustion after a full morning of travel by plane, truck, and snowmobile, en route to my Maine camp. I’d had an early departure from Florida, arriving by nine, then drove the hundred miles or so from the airport, only to find the last mile under five feet of snow. My plans to go snowshoeing when I got to camp were thwarted for the time being, but when I woke up from my nap, I was rested and ready to go.
I saw the snowshoes propped up against the fireplace screen where Greg had left them, after retrieving them by ladder from their place above the front door. I picked one up and examined it. My friend Lori had purchased the snowshoes for me at a thrift store, to use as décor when I first moved in, and they were clearly from another era. The wood was shellacked, the leather lacings were brittle and I looked skeptically at the bindings. Would they hold up once I was out on the snow? I would soon find out. Greg came up from the dock and showed me how to lace up over my boots. I do not have snow poles so used my fishing sticks in their place.
The trail up to Sucker Lake is lined with red plastic tags tied waist high to trees and they were still visible at the entrance to the trail, despite the accumulation of snow over the past several months. As I made my way across the road, I turned and gave Greg the thumbs up. We had arranged for him to pick me up at the trailhead at Route 1 after I had circled the lake. The silence in the woods was deafening. I could hear my breathing as I crunched through the snow. The shoes seemed to be holding up as I slowly and carefully progressed. An occasional small animal ran across my path without even a glance at me, as if I were one of them and not to be feared. The sun, still high in the sky, warmed me as it illuminated my path, the bright light reflecting off the snow and the glistening ice crystals. I reached Sucker Lake in a short 30 minutes. The trail around the lake had been plowed down by the regular use of snowmobilers. The walk was now a bit easier for me on the packed snow. It was much slower than in the summer when the only concern is not to slip on pebbles or fallen tree detritus. I still had to be wary of protruding rocks and those hidden under the snow, which could rip up my bindings. The lake was frozen over. I was tempted to walk out on the ice to the island that Greg has taken me and my friends to many times for picnics. But I had to be cautious. I wasn’t about to take a spill now. I was alone and it seemed no one was around for miles. I erred on the side of caution and stayed on the trail circling the lake. After a while, I stopped for a rest and texted Greg to give him enough time to meet me at the parking lot at the trailhead on the other side of the lake. It was the same trailhead I had taken a few years earlier and got lost. I didn’t want to relive that adventure. I was proud of myself that I had made it so far without mishap. Let’s keep it that way I kept repeating to myself.
After a while, I peeled off my jacket and tied it around my waist. I had only gone another few paces when out of the woods came a huge buck with a massive rack. He stood not ten feet away from me, his dark fur contrasting sharply against the brilliant white background. His breath steamed from his nose and mouth. His eyes were black and foreboding. We stared at each other, both of us motionless. Not a movement. I was frozen in place. I was certain he was as startled to see me as I was him. So far, the snowshoe walk had been peaceful and uneventful. Now here was a 300 lb. creature that may perceive me as a threat and charge. I had no idea what to do other than stand still. I recalled reading that if a bear approaches you are to curl up on the ground. Again, I erred on the side of caution. I untied my jacket and sat down. I tucked my head inside my jacket and wrapped my arms around my body. After counting to 100 I peeked out and saw that the buck was indeed friendly. He was busy nibbling something from a bush and had lost interest in me. I rose to my feet and proceeded south to where I would meet up with Greg. I now had a good story for him and my friends back home. How many people come face to face with a giant buck on their Sunday stroll—while wearing ancient snowshoes?