Rainy days and Christmas music
My dogs come inside from the darkness of the night and in that I know the weather; their backs are wet this evening; rain. It has been foggy all day, a heavy menacing fog that brings to mind old movie scenes of London; black and white film; plodding pedestrians under impenetrable fog; misery and mystery in the air; Sherlock Holmes lurking. That is what we had that afternoon.
Now, in the darkness, rain.
There are few things in nature as misplaced and simply wrong as rain in winter. It degrades what snow we have; it turns yard to mud; it runs in the gutter and lies on sidewalks and roadways, a wet film. Then it all freezes, hard, in the aftermath with the cold weather that always seems to follow. A December rain nearly certainly brings December ice that can linger for weeks if not months.
December rain, to a skier, is a bitter blow. It is tempting in times as this to sink into despair and to see the machinations of nature as a huge plot against one’s happiness in the time best left to chill air and pure white snow. I know better. But still, the temptation is there.
Instead, I turn to the remedy for all December blues, the magic of Christmas music. I cue up the player on the computer, raise the volume to an appropriate marker, find the appropriate song and click on Play. The sounds of holiday music fill the room.
Sally asks, “What’s that?”
She seems doubtful. I assure her that nothing says Christmas better than Bruce Springsteen singing out his rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Better by far than the slow tempo of Bing Crosby’s “I’m Dreaming of White Christmas” (a sure cure for insomnia in my book), or the gag-inducing Alvin and the Chipmunks songs which invariably seem to rise up in the middle of a typical December.
The Springsteen take on the old Christmas standard has some jump to it, a perfect antidote to the dismal December rain falling on the early snow. I offer to turn up the volume but she seems disinterested.
One does what one can at times such as this, with the rain coming down and the dogs’ backs wet, and the feeling of despair all about. The song helps some.
The next morning the dogs are out before 6:00; it is still dark and I do not know if it is raining. I make coffee; bleary eyed and half asleep. The dogs bark at the door and I let them in; there is snow on their backs. I turn on the back porch light and see snow on the ground; the rain has changed over in the night. I tell myself that this is a good turn of events and a good way to start the day.
I had skied the previous week on local trails and the conditions were as good as they typically are in much later in the season. The woods along the sides of the trails were covered and smooth. Snow does that; it evens out the terrain, covers the hard edges of the world. The ground covered with snow is smooth and sculpted by the wind and everything looks different than it did a few weeks earlier when the ground was brown and ragged with leaf and rock and branch. Snow changes it all.
You can like winter or you can not like winter but you have to agree that when the snow covers the land, at that time, for those weeks and months, things look different; the world is cleaner and smoother and more peaceful. That’s one of the things about skiing; you put yourself into that world and let things take you where they will. A good ski trail will rise and fall gently, flow and glide and move in the way that a river does in summer. When you ski, you are part of that.
So I skied when I was able to, grabbed an hour on a couple afternoons and got in what I could. On one afternoon the track was a bit glazed and the skis glided very well and I went faster than I had any right to expect. Sally asked how skiing was and I told her, “It was an ego time” because when you ski fast like that you can fool yourself into thinking you’ve got some legs and some speed; good for the ego, times like that.
I knew better but it still felt good.
When the rain came I knew the skiing would go all to heck and I was gloomy and glum and no matter how loud I played the Springsteen cover of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” it didn’t help a lot.
It snowed enough on the day that the dogs had snow on their backs to at least turn the tide back toward winter. A couple inches, that was all, but it looked like winter afterwards, looked like Christmas. With Christmas only a week away that was important.
There was not enough snow to ski again but I took the fat bike out, the mountain bicycle variant with tires that look big enough to fit on a John Deere tractor. The bike looks normal until you see the tires, then it looks like something that could pull a plow and turn a few furrows in the fields come springtime.
On this day I loaded it in the back of the truck and drove out to where I hunt grouse, unloaded it from the truck and just rode for an hour. It was overcast and about 20 degrees and there was a crust of ice under the new snow, remnants from the rain we’d gotten.
I’d not been on a bicycle for a while and my legs felt heavy but that was fine; it felt good just to get out in some fresh air and turn the pedals once again. I flushed a grouse in the first fifteen minutes; had a passing thought that I could still be hunting them but the dogs don’t do well in the snow.
The woods were quiet and smooth with snow cover. The rain and snow melt of earlier in the week had left puddles in the ditches and in some places water flowed, black against the white snow. There is something very stark and basic about moving water in a white landscape and in a few places I braked and stopped and just stood and watched the water flow.
The old roads followed the land, winding and rising and falling and twisting and turning as the old logging roads do. In one place I passed a logging operation and pedaled through the fresh scent of newly cut trees. Then gone. Then back; a fragrant breath of air where fresh balsam lay on the ground; the sweet smell of Christmas tree in the middle of the forest. Then past it and into the chill air of December.
I rode out for half an hour then turned back; it’s a busy season and I had no time for more. But in that hour I felt connected again, connected with snow and with winter and December and Christmas.
I came back to a warm house and sleeping dogs and more Christmas music, this time an old song by the punk band the Ramones that is notable for one line and one line only, the line that proclaims “It ain’t Christmas if there ain’t no snow.” And I thought how true that was.
I looked out the window at the new snow, the sound of jagged guitars and scratchy vocals in the background. I offered to turn up the volume for Sally. She was not interested.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.