Winter is for Snowshoeing

Admission: I avoided snowshoeing for the longest time. It always seemed so slow and boring compared to cross country skiing. My thinking was: Why plod when you can race?!?! But I changed my tune this winter and have been snowshoeing a lot, to visit the cottage, to find chaga, to gather water (more on that in a future post).

I contributed a post to the Hike Like a Woman site that went live today (and we still have snow here!). It’s called “Winter is for Snowshoeing,” and you should read it and check out the posts by other Hike Like a Woman contributors and ambassadors. Read it now!

 

What I Found When I Went Looking for a Moose

My neighbor’s have been hearing a strange bellowing noise by Mud Lake, and they think it might be a moose.

It’s not entirely impossible. There’s a population of about 400 or so moose in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, although these are found quite a ways south and east of here in Baraga, Iron, and Marquette counties. During one of the years that I lived in the town of Alberta, the lake was drained to do some repair work on the dam and there were a lot of moose tracks in the muck that had been the bottom of the lake. That’s only about 20 miles away from here as the crow flies (and perhaps as the moose walks?). A moose was even seen another 15 miles to the northwest of here (i.e., even farther away from their normal location) a few summers ago.

It’s not entirely impossible, so I decided to go looking for a moose in our neighborhood.

It was a really nice morning to get out. It was colder, about 11 degrees F, so I bundled up and grabbed my snowshoes. If there were a moose, it would probably be on the north or west side of the lake away from my neighbors’ houses. Also, if there were a moose, it seems like it would be more likely to be hanging out among the conifer trees that ring the edge of the lake since most of the other forest is primarily maple and other hardwoods.

Approaching the lake
Approaching the lake

I took our dog, Bailey, with me.

Bailey and me walking the lake edge
Bailey and me walking the lake edge

We flushed a few grouse, and I heard crows and chickadees. Other than that, it was pretty quiet. We didn’t even see any squirrels.

Something lives here
Something lives here: probably a squirrel.

I didn’t think that I’d actually see a live moose, and was just looking for tracks. There were few tracks overall: no deer tracks, just a few squirrel tracks and a two trails of what was likely a coyote (the snow was fluffy and didn’t retain much detail).

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A beaver took away this whole tree.

There were no moose tracks. There were no patterns that looked like moose tracks that had been covered by snow. Nor were there any noticeable amounts of herbivory, from moose or deer.

Check out this cool fungus.
Check out this cool fungus.

So, I didn’t find a moose or solve the mystery of the weird noise. But I did have a nice winter walk, and that was good enough.

Foraging Starts in Winter

I’ve had aspirations to forage for a long time. I have a copy of Edible Wild Plants that I bought sometime while I was in high school. It’s one of the oldest reference books that is on my shelf, and yet I haven’t used it that much. While I know that many of the plants that I frequently see are edible—like cattail and wintergreen and nettles—I generally haven’t gone through the effort to find, collect, prepare, and eat these plants. Beyond berries and other wild fruits, my foraging efforts to date have been pretty limited to a handful of trips to gather wild leeks and search (generally unsuccessfully) for morel mushrooms.

Wild leeks in spring.
Wild leeks in spring.

I want to forage more this year, but there isn’t much available in the middle of winter with two feet of snow on the ground. It will be about two more months before the maple sap starts to run, signaling the beginning of the new year from the perspective of a plant or hibernating creature.

In the meantime, I am taking time during the long winter to locate foraging opportunities for later in the year. The snow makes it easy to get around in the woods (with snowshoes) in places that are too wet or brushy to easily get to during other times of the year. Plus, the lack of leaves on deciduous plants makes it easier to see longer distances in the woods, some plants to stand out. Ostrich fern is one of these notable plants because it leaves its fertile fronds out in the winter. These poke through the snow and point to where to look for fiddleheads this spring. I noticed abundant ferns during the summer, and now I’m looking for more locations where they are particularly dense. Yellow birch and burdock are other plants that are in my sights these days, so hopefully there will be more foraging in the future.

Ostrich ferns in the winter.
Ostrich ferns in winter.

 

First Snowshoe of Winter

The first “real” snow only came 10 days ago, but winter is already here in full force. Cold, blizzardy weather closed the local schools for 3 days and had everyone talking about the whiteout conditions. The season’s snowfall total is already more than 50 inches and technically it’s not even winter yet.

On Sunday afternoon, we got out our snowshoes and went to the cottage. It was extremely sunny out and very cold with the temperature hovering a degree or two above zero (in Fahrenheit). I wore tights and insulated pants, a few tops including a wool sweater and my winter coat, hat, a scarf to cover my face, and mittens over gloves—which was perfect for the conditions. I also wore my new boots, which seem to be plenty warm in the cold weather even though they aren’t insulated.

We parked the truck at the end of the plowed section of the road and walked in to the cottage and then continued on to the lake, a distance of about a mile. The snowshoeing itself was easy going on top of about a foot of dense, settled snow, and our traditional wood snowshoes sunk only an inch or two with each step. On the way back, we walked along the edge of the lake where a few inches of snow covered solid ice.

Winter is quiet. We saw very little sign of animals, just a few tracks. In the forest, deer are migrating to winter ground. Along the lake edge, muskrats have left some tracks on the top of their huts while other tracks suggest that a curious coyote is also in the neighborhood. I was disappointed that there wasn’t much too look at; it was not surprising to see only a few deer tracks when I went skiing in the woods behind our house on Saturday, but I was expected to see more action by the lake.

Regardless, it was great to get outside and see the place at a different time of year. I hope to get out before Christmas and continue my work with my ax and saw.