We walked here today, carrying tools to mark a ski and snowshoe route. Instead of snow, the ground is frozen with patches of slippery ice forming where water has been unable to soak into the soil. The air is chilly in the shade and a rime of white crystals create a frosty surface on conifer needles and logs. Where the low angle of the sun penetrates, the ground has softened almost to mud. I want to sit in the sunshine and soak it up, while smelling the warm sweet scent of ponderosa pine pitch.
Things we found: some sort of old old tree from an early homestead–not one of the natives, but a gnarled twiggy evergreen with small oblong olive-green leaves. A nearly intact deer skeleton spread out on the ground, joints still attached by gristle. A deer skull with antlers, one spike and one forked-horn. This I set on a stump to watch over a meadow below where elk beds were matted down in the dry grass. Leaves of grass curled and twisted in an elegant tangle that was almost a pattern but not quite. Some pine trees were charred at the base, indicating a low-intensity fire in the past but not within our memories.
We looked ahead and back to determine the route and walked until we had completed a loop. By 2:30 in the afternoon the sun was heading west and it felt like time to start for home. Already the temperature was dropping toward nightfall, which is coming a few minutes later each afternoon.
This is how a January day goes by, in dry grass and pine trees.