Category Archives: Hill Dog Writes

The Hill Dog Writes is a collection of writings by The Hill Dog.

Snow Tree Shadows

Literally, skiing is a sensuous sport.

The shadows cast by snow storm coated trees contrasted against an impossibly blue sky is visually interesting, and to some very pleasing.

One could argue that tastes and scents are not nearly so obvious as pleasing views of scenery and weather.  Another may counter that discerning such senses takes time and dedication.

It may take decades of winters letting snowflakes land on your tongue before you can tell the difference between the taste of a somewhat raw December snowflake and a fully ripened February snowflake.

A bitter cold dawn smells much more clear than one that rises above freezing, damp, soupy, thick with moisture.

On the first chairlift ride,  faint smell of diesel fuel intrudes, then evaporates as snow cats, having groomed all night,  head back to the barn, rendering slopes to the days first guests.

Continuing through corridors of pines, soft wind pulls through trees, seasons air with scent of turpentine.

Above, crows caw to each other completing their morning congress. Below, squirrels chirp and chatter scurrying this way and that, hunting for and finding breakfast in places that looked like good spots to hide nuts last Autumn.

Skiing in a storm that has already delivered several inches of snow, contracts the world.

A down hood bundled under a helmet eliminates distant noises, making the world much smaller. 

Falling snow obscures everything but ski tips rhythmically thrusting out of surface snow, disappearing back in, again and again, as snow clouds explode against boots, knees and thighs.

Core instinctively poses and flexes, at once sensing and balancing speed, snow depth and body posture, keeping feet swinging back and forth, moving above the ground, below the air.

Ears hear only heartbeat and breath.

Thought stops.

So freed from earth, subject neither to ground or sky, dwelling in between, turn by turn, precious moment by precious moment,

Ten Below

Cold.

The kind of cold that demands forbearance. Day after day after day of near and sub-zero temperatures that finds it’s way into our bones, and daily conversations.

Just after finishing opening chores I came off the mountain to take a break in the ski lodge when someone asked “How’s the snow?”

“Good skiin’!” I replied enthusiastically. “Cold. Damn cold.” I thought to myself.

Before chores were over, cold found it’s way between my goggles and hood. Like a dog might snarl before a full bite, cold nipped my cheek, reminding me, warning me, this kind of cold will freeze flesh in a very few moments. 

“What did you have for breakfast, miss?” 

After the words left my mouth, I realized how personal a question that was to ask a total stranger. Maybe even inappropriate.

“Eggs with ham, and cheese.” the woman replied patiently, almost with a hint of contrition in her voice.

“That sounds good, but no bread?” I asked. “No, no bread.”

“Well don’t be shy about having a snack if you feel like it. Pretty cold, you’ll burn it up quick.”

The cold caused me concern. For myself, and anyone else sharing the outdoors in this arctic air.

I didn’t eat lunch in the cafeteria as I usually do.

“Did you eat lunch today?” asked the cafeteria cashier when I saw her in the lodge later in the afternoon.

She seemed satisfied when I recited “Some chips and cheese, two hot dogs on buns, and homemade cookies with cherry stuff on top that someone’s wife had made and sent up to ski patrol base for us to share, and plenty of hot tea to wash it all down.”

More ‘crude but effective’ than ‘healthy’ diet I thought. No matter. Whatever you throw in the furnace on a day like today will burn quick just keeping the animal warm.

“That’s good – you must have good clothing on too.” she said.

“Yes I do – and lot’s of it!”

Riding the lift later, another ski patroller asked me if I knew how many layers he had on. Before I could say anything, he declared “All of them!” I inventoried my own kit and counted seven.

The weather station never reported temperatures warmer then two below zero. A steady and gusty wind kept the windchill hovering between 24 and 27 degrees below zero.

The kind of cold that provokes compassion. The kind of cold that makes you feel lucky and grateful if you have a warm bed and enough heat. 

The kind of cold that makes it obvious how important it is we tend to each other’s, and our own animal’s well being.

Sundial Eclipse

Sundial Eclipse

All of a sudden it seemed, the day of the eclipse arrived. Friends had shared plans to travel hundreds of miles to “the path of totality” to experience a total eclipse of the sun.

Monday morning, I realized that I was woefully unprepared. No welding goggles, no eclipse viewing glasses. I found paper plates in the cabinet, and experimented with different size pinholes.  At least I would see the eclipse’s shadow.

I had gone to the farm stand and picked up fresh vegetables to make a casserole, portion and freeze. Maybe leave some in the freezer long enough to have a taste of summer when things turn winterish.

I began cooking before noon. The clock drifted toward the time when the eclipse would peak. When time came, I went out to the patio where the sun dial happens to be, and observed the eclipse with my paper plates.  

Crescent shadows appeared on the paper plate as the moon obscured seventy-five percent of the sun, leaving it still too bright to look at without protection.

“Interesting and fun” I thought as I went inside to the kitchen, but not nearly as dramatic as the view from an area of totality. Everybody has a different eclipse experience, I guess.

As I turned back to cutting carrots I noticed all the holes in the colander and wondered what kind of a shadow it would cast.

I found that the colander shadow eclipsed the sundial,
a constellation of star shaped crescents cast by both moon and sun.

Common Periwinkle

Even more so than usual, any gaze cast on the neighborhood illuminates beauty.

Far across the valley, buds, impatient to leaf, nearly glow white, yellow, gold, rust, and every shade of green.

Light green conifer tips shed brown husks that had jacketed them since late Autumn.

Now pollen clouds puff from limbs like powder, like snow did this Winter when wind first picked up ending a snowfalls calm.

Nearby flowerbeds promise Peonies, explode with Periwinkle, begging the question “to where is venomous Myrtle running?”.

In between near and far, Lilacs range every purple shade of which they are capable.

Porcupine

porcupine

Saw this fellow feeding on some still green tinged grass, exposed by recent warm weather.

Odd thing, this patch of snow was near the top of Elk Mountain! Last year, a muskrat spent several weeks wintering just a few feet from where this porcupine was spotted.

Though sickness could have brought him out amongst people in the daylight, it is not unusual to see many different critters high on The Hill.

Sick or not, we gave this guy a wide berth as he enjoyed some rare late December sun rays, filling his belly with a taste of summer.

South Knob Hallstead Hill

south_knob_hallstead_hill

The road leading out of Elkdale follows the Tunkhannock creek along the valley floor before beginning its climb on Lyon Street toward Elk Mountain.

As it is not part of any convenient route from from the outside world to The Hill, this side of the neighborhood, one of the most picturesque, is often unseen by visitors to the area. 

Growing up near Clifford, this was the path brother and his friends drove to go skiing. Most times, even if reluctantly, I’d be allowed to go up on the mountain with the ‘big kids’.

At that time, countless blissful days were spent skiing in blue jeans that, if new enough, would scuff out a patch of blue dye on the snow when gravity got the best of you.

Even though young, our legs would ache after a full day of adventure and exploration skiing with friends on the mountain’s cold, snowy slopes.

Near dark, we’d careen home along this ‘back way’ to the mountain. With “Mountain” rock and roll blaring too loud, from the back seat I’d watch through tired eyes as brother’s little convertible nearly skimmed off the deep walls of snow cut by the snowplow through impossibly deep snowpacks.

To home, home at last.

We’d peel off our soggy blue jeans, and be allowed to wear our long johns to the dinner table.  

The warmth and comfort of a big steaming bowl of pasta served up by Mother would conspire with the fatigue of our growing bodies, causing our eyelids to droop as we barely made it from the table to under the covers, tired, joyful, contented.

 

 

Refuge

Refuge

Soon after dawn, these girls, along with about a half dozen of their friends sidled along the far side of the stone fence.

At first, it was uncertain if they meant to bed down along the wall hoping to somehow pass the day safe and unnoticed, or were making themselves inconspicuous on their way to someplace else.

Several minutes, and several doe passed, turned, and  branching off of the cross-country ski trail, headed into thicker cover.

Before the last one disappeared, their young buck, seeing all was safe, emerged from the mist at the edge of the clearing.

His spikes at first, shown white and raw only recently having had the velvet scraped off, then faded, almost ghostly, as he disappeared back into the grey of morning.