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Winter walk 

Now that I'm back in my blessedly warm apartment, the circulation's finally returning to my fingers, but my toes still alternate between painful and numb.

Chris Shepard, leader of this morning's walk through the woods, congratulated our little group for coming out on one of the coldest hikes he's coordinated. I, for one, could not believe I managed to emerge from under a feather comforter and make it to West Point on the Eno by 10 on a Saturday morning. Like the jazz musician who was told to show up for a photo shoot at 10 a.m. and was shocked to learn that there are two 10 o'clocks in one day, it's not a time when I'm usually conscious, at least on the weekend.

The combined forces of a strong cup-a-joe and it still being the first week of the new year made it just a little easier to honor my resolution to spend more time playing outside.

As soon as we started down the old farm road to the river, it was obvious that being in this snow-blanketed landscape was actually better than lying in bed. I had forgotten how good it is to empty my lungs and breathe in the sharp winter air. I felt my eyes open wider to take in the odd, slanting light and see further into grey woods layered with peach-colored leaves that still hang onto beech trees.

Chris pointed out characteristics that distinguish one tree from another in the dead of winter: pine cones, buds, bark texture. The lower trunks of sweetgum trees are ravished by beavers for their delicious sap until the cambium layer is destroyed and the tree can no longer support itself. This is evidence of the natural balance that exists in the woods--beavers kill trees, dead trees provide new living rooms for creatures--and it's all good. Although I cursed my bad circulation (I was the one discreetly hopping up and down to warm my feet. The rest of the group apparently came from Inuit stock), I was thrilled to find this chunk of rolling terrain that offers up reminders of how life really is, outside of cubicles and concrete.

This is the still point of the whole year--no sweet promise of first green grass shoots, no potential energy of buds about to burst open, no holidays to celebrate. All there is to do is walk and observe, take in the view of an icy river and reacquaint myself with old friends poplar and musclewood.

As I crossed the meadow to leave, the sun came out and lit up snow crystals everywhere. I followed a hawk's flight until it disappeared into the tangle of craggy Virginia pine branches and vowed to come back again--wearing two pairs of socks.

Find hikes on the Eno at www.enoriver.org.

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