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Today is February 16, 2019

Outdoors

Freezing Fog and A Winter Wood

By Tony Kinton

Freezing Fog and A Winter Wood

Austere? Perhaps. But a winter wood holds its own mystique that should not be missed. Photo by Tony Kinton

What is it about a winter wood that makes it so alluring? “It’s not,” some will say. “It is anything but alluring. It is austere, dismal, painfully sad.”While there is a measure of truth in that counter, I must hold to my conclusion that it is alluring. With those who think otherwise, I must graciously disagree and encourage them to look at it from another perspective. To God, the Creator of a winter wood, I bow in awe and offer deep appreciation. Consider a day not long back.

Freezing fog, the weather prognosticators had said. It was a rather simple process as one forecaster described it. Prevailing conditions would cause fog, this to begin about dusk. That would hold firm throughout the night as temperatures eased steadily downward. And since these temps would drop below freezing and remain there until midmorning the following day, that fog would freeze to all exposed surfaces. And as predicted, that is exactly what happened.

Neal Brown and I were at our camp hard against the bluffs east of Greenwood. That evening we sat by a warm fire and discussed this pending matter. Between the two of us something approaching 100 years had been spent in proximity to and affiliation with the outside world, and neither of us could recall ever experiencing such a thing. We eventually crawled into cozy canvas tents and contemplated morning. We were, at least in theory, deer hunting, each equipped with our favorite Sharps rifles – big, ponderous units common to the 1870s. But to be truthful, the freezing fog business likely had more of our attention than did the whitetails.

Neal probably left camp a few minutes earlier than I, but well before the breaking of day we were both at our stations. I chose a big oak on one ridge, Neal a similarly-sized hickory on another. At the respective spots we cleared out leaves and sat between huge roots, dropping thumb-sized cartridges loaded with hand-cast bullets and black powder into gaping chambers of the Sharps. We waited silently and would share the wonderment of that day later back at camp.

That freezing fog was incredible. Mysterious, haunting, and yes, alluring. It sparkled on every naked limb and withered blade of grass and fallen leaf in sight. The air itself seemed frozen. One not fully acquainted with snow might think a light dusting had come during the night. But it was the fog. I observed closely, with each exhaled breath drifting gently away in a fog of its own making. Light came tentatively from a reticent sun, giving the impression that the sun was not keen on destroying such a surreal setting and was taking its jolly good time in taking command.   

When daylight did brighten the woods, there was even more spectacle. Beguiling it was. Thumbnail-sized bulbs of frozen moisture let go in miniscule showers, again mimicking snow. Then long string-like strands came down. All these were gentle and secretive, making not a sound when they came to rest on a leaf floor. Even squirrels seemed content to stay in holes and nests, perhaps as mesmerized by the day as I. When one did ease from some cloistered abode, that one caused a great but brief glint not unlike an African night sky. No sadness here, just grand illumination.   

At some point later, I heard Neal’s Sharp rumble. This, I concluded, indicated a successful hunt, and a text directly confirmed that conclusion. Work was to be done, so we joined up to extricate a big eight from the rugged woods. We talked of the deer and the Sharps and of good times shared here in years past that evening around the fire, but for the most part we talked of freezing fog. Prior to that morning we only wondered about it, but now we knew it firsthand. We agreed that even without a buck this would have been an exceptional day.

So what about those winter mornings in a winter wood minus freezing fog? Not every day can afford such a vestibule to wonderment as did the one just noted. Does a winter wood lose its grandeur? Not at all. There can still be quiet, solitude, reverence. There are yet the denuded hardwoods that, though naked, have no need of apology to their evergreen cousins. Rather, they stand in proud display, waiting for spring and a new covering. They teach well that life has seasons, and that survival of one season gives rise to another.

And there are those marvelous sunrises in winter that have no viable competition from those of other seasons. Those of winter are distant and painted brightly and holding promise for warmth. There are those mystic puffs of breath that drift off into the surroundings. And there is life, full and rich and glorious even within the chill. A winter wood is alluring. Don’t miss this gift – a gift that is sure to be treasured.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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