Ten degrees. “Perfect,” I murmur as I check the display for the weather monitor outside. Layers of woven wool soft against my skin, stay hidden below a light down purple jacket. Coated black synthetic pants shield my legs from snow and wind. Wool socks and leather ski boots keep my feet warm. “Hmm, Peruvian beanie or headband,” I ponder.
At 9:00 am, the sun will remain hidden behind the mountains of the Chugach range. But by late morning, she will be just high enough to provide a glimmer of warmth. I grab the beanie in threads of red, gold, and green, traditional holiday colors, and a pair of thick wool mittens. Experience reminds me to also tuck a pair of synthetic gloves inside my jacket. Alaska winter's offer the unexpected.
As I open the slider and walk into the sunroom, I pause. Then purse my lips to blow “smoke rings”. A faint glow of blue surrounds me as the silence is infected with faint pops and crackles as the warm air from the wood stove inside, escapes. Crystals of ice have transformed the sunroom into a snow globe. The delicate hexagonal shapes on the glass bear witness to nature’s formula. I pull hard on the metal and glass door with gloved hands as I giggle remembering every kid’s compulsion to “lick” a flag pole in the dead of winter.
The snow crunches below my boots as I walk to my skis, still in the snow berm, their tips frosted in the crisp air. My nose and cheeks burn ever so slightly as my lungs brace for the sharp chill of the air. I inhale slow and deep through my nostrils, a slight sting. A faint smell of wood smoke.
With cooler temperatures molecules including oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, methane, and others slow down. In Urban areas, these toxic smells linger but in nature winter air is a cleansing for the senses. There is an intuition of smell.
I break the peace with two clicks, stepping into one ski, and then the other. A slight breeze chills my body. I hear a thump quickly followed by a cadence of thumps. Pits appear below the aspen. Cotton-like balls cling to the aspen branches, as if frozen in time, until a breeze, as soft as a whisper sends them tumbling to the snow below. With poles in hand, I quickly glide to the trail, the incline already warming my heart.
The ridge dips downward, the cold slaps my bare skin as I gain speed. Snow shoe hare tracks meander across the unbroken trail. Then I notice four holes, two in front diagonal from each other, mirrored with the two following, coming from the alder along the trail. I estimate the distance between the front two holes and the back two holes -- at least 4 feet. A large moose but alone. No calf.
Although moose can be the size of a small car, they are as quiet as a thief. I keep an eye on the tracks as they lead away from the trail through the forest. I slow down stopping at a ”Y”. To the left the trail is narrow, steep and curvy; to the right the trail is a slow ascent along the ridge.
With at least a foot of fresh powder snow, I choose the left, with hopes to use the deep snow to slow my skis. There are no “visible” moose tracks; visible being the key word. Three-quarters of the way down, the trail curves to the right, “blind-man’s curve” or more appropriately, “blind-moose” curve. There have been a few occasions coming around that curve where I changed course quickly, sending me into the forest. A better option hitting a tree than facing off with a moose.
Chick-a-Dee’s dart among the branches of white spruce dropping snow bombs on my head and shoulders. Legs together, knees bent, poles back I am alert as I descend, hearing only the skis slicing through the deep snow. Half way down, I yell “moose, here I come.” I angle my left ski outwards to slow me down in the bend, to get a glimpse. Nothing but white as I quietly slow to a glide.
Feather imprints, like archeological fossils appear below the high bush cranberry zig zagging from the shelter of the forest to the trail edge. Ruby red berries, nature’s ornaments, hang from the bare branches, a treat for the Rough-legged grouse. The bitter, pungent scent of the berries overshadow the faint earthy smell of the forest; the scent of winter.
Moose tracks litter the trail and the understory. Cautious I glide by several of the large brown mammals as they browse on willow, nimbly using their upper lip to select a twig while shredding the larger branches with strong teeth, not unlike an elephant with her trunk.
I stop in anticipation. The sharp jagged summit of Granite Mountain in the Talkeetna Range glows orange and then pink. First, a single, long howl breaks the silence, welcoming the sun’s first light. And then the melody builds with more howls and yips as the pack sings in tune: nature’s opera. The modulation builds as the forest comes alive. An eagle shrieks soaring in the sun’s warmth while ravens squawk, diving and playing; the acrobats of the Northern sky. And then, as if the mountain is wrapped in blue silk, the sun disappears behind the mountains of the Chugach, And the forest is still.
In all its' simplicity, Nature’s Christmas Wish is my wish -- Peace, Gratitude, Joy & Love.