Warming Hut Walk

by Marion L. Ritcey

Down the tree covered path to the stone warming hut my walk begins. I’m taking the pond trail today. This will follow the edge of three or four ponds and bring me back to the warming hut and a warm fire. The pine trees standing tall line the sides of the road are calling me. The tops of their tall stately branches sway back and forth in the wind. Passing the weathered grey wooden bench at the frozen ponds edge, I can only think in three months the snapping turtles will be sunning themselves and bullfrogs will be croaking to each other. I can then sit and watch the activity on the pond. Can’t wait.

I have to be careful this morning–I see signs of earlier walkers. Or I should say riders. These trails are open to horses too. I can tell one or more went by a short while ago. Their calling card is still sending smoke into the air on a cold winter’s day. I will have to watch my steps since we are all on the same trail.

My hand-carved walking stick scares a chipmunk. It runs to the granite rocks that were left long ago by the glaciers, making great caves for man or beast to play in. The rocks are large and inviting, but it is getting cold I have a lot more walking to do. Maybe another day.

As I wander on taking a turn I hear the sound of the water flowing over the old wooden dam from the upper pond. It sounds like elves dancing on the moss covered rocks. The steam rising form the water shows it to be warmer than the air. This will feed the shallow lower ponds, so when summer animals return they will have all they need. The ponds edge will also blossom. Wild flowers and berry bushes on the edge will attract the wild animals for a bite to eat. As I cross the dam I see and hear ducks flying overhead; they land. I try keeping track of them. I want to see them in their winter environment.

Further down a weathered gray bird blind waits. I can get out of the cold wind and watch the ducks, swans and geese. The pond in front of the blind is full of ducks eating with their tails high in the air. I will only stay a minute it’s getting windy. The pine trees sway in the breeze but keep me warm–they are so thick here. Even though it’s February a green bed of moss covers the ground like a blanket of velvet.

Walking on I find a stand of poplar. I feel sad people have carved their names in them. Why? They only hurt the tree. Do we need to remember who loved whom and when? But these trees still stand and thrive even with the damage humans have done. The grove will be beautiful later in the season.

The ponds are on either side of my trail now have a thin coat of ice. Not strong enough for a person to stand on. Some of the ducks slip and slide around through the winter brown meadow soon to be filled with wild flowers. I go taking the pond route, even though it’s filled with pine trees, their roots sticking above ground causing you to trip. They look like hands trying to help you fall. I always trip over the roots. I think it is their game to see just how many hikers they can trip up. I always say I’m sorry when I walk on a root, since trees have feelings too. But we are thankful the pines do keep us warm in the winter and cool in summer. They block the wind in winter and the sun in summer, so we can learn to put up with their fun.

I’ll get to the warming hut faster this way, the warm fire and toasted marshmallow await me.
I can hear the flow of the waterfall from the pond up ahead. This one is larger than the last one. There is a larger brown wooden log bridge to cross. The water is flowing fast onto its next pond and adventure.

But my path leads on to the fire and warmth. I linger at the stone hut for a while talking to other hikers who are enjoying the fire. We tell each other what we saw or heard, comparing notes. We complain about the horses leaving their calling card on the path.

Here come the horses three in total, beautiful in color, each one bigger than the last. They want the warmth too but are tied up at the outside rail to wait for their riders to return after warming up. One sticks his head in the hut and snickers. I guess he wants to walk more, or to join us by the fire. Not today–they are heading back to the barn.

As I turn back to my path I yell goodbye to my friends, planning to meet again in a few days to do a longer walk. Maybe by then the skunk cabbage will be breaking ground, or the snowdrops will be out. We can only hope for more signs of spring. Come join me for another walk sometime.