With my snowshoes, the impossible becomes difficult. Snow that would have been waist-deep only comes up to my knees and high stepping through the powder means lifting extra weight as the decks collect snow. But my legs are long and strong, allowing me to stride purposefully (remember – I don’t run) in pursuit of poachers, trespassers and other miscreants.
With my old school wood and rawhide snowshoes I can blaze a trail through fresh, deep snow with nary a sound other than the occasional creak of the leather bindings, which sounds like nothing more than a tree in the breeze. These are my woods and I can head off most any incursion, taking great delight in startling intruders into exclaiming, “What the …?” or “Where’d you come from?” or even, “How come we didn’t see you with that screaming bright orange hat?”
The old-style snowshoes offer a connection to days gone by with their hand made appeal and earthy looks, but they also have an organic feel that allows a lovely closeness to the natural world. The swish-swoosh of nylon and other synthetic clothing seems out of place with wood snowshoes. I prefer the more muffled rustlings of wool and leather.
With my newer, modern snowshoes, though, I am able to maneuver across frozen crusts and icy patches thanks to their integrated crampons which scratch, claw and dig in on most any surface. They are made of space-age materials which provide light-weight strength, their decks and bindings contain polymers which stay supple when cold and wet, and they are smaller than my wooden antiques. My wood and rawhide snowshoes measure just over four feet long while the modern ones measure just three, and two of my modern prints would fit side by side within a single print left by one woven rawhide deck.
With my snowshoes I can get out back, behind the barn, to the compost pile and return safely. With my snowshoes I can take a leisurely slog through snow-shrouded woods, winding and wandering further up the watershed, all the way to headwaters of the Neverwas River, where the free-flowing spring never freezes. Here, the water brings with it powdered marble from miles away which churns in ever changing patterns beneath the snowy sky. Here, I can kick the snow off and from around one of my favorite sitting stumps and have a seat with a ration of rum while I breathe smoke and contemplate the silence.
Here, I have time to ponder ultimate questions and wonder at the futility of struggle while offering up curses or prayers (whichever is more appropriate). And, no matter which snowshoes I wore, if my ration of rum were too generous, I could find myself in quite a pickle, nodding off and freezing to a stump somewhere out in the woods. But come spring, as the snow receded and the ice melted, my friends would find me and comment on the damage done to my body by squirrels and crows and someone would more than likely say something like, “Good thing he had snowshoes or there’s no way he would have made it back here this far.”