Above Van Tassel Lake on the thread like trail to the summit, fir trees line the path, holding snow on every bough, until they sag and slouch under plump white pillows, looking for all the world like a tribe of snow trolls, large and small, squat and tall, wild and waiting.
Winter is quiet. Except when it’s not. January storms can be ferocious, windy, violent, loud. But when those storms pass, when they have dumped their heavy heaps, when they have painted every bush and limb and twig a sparkling white, when they have finished piling deep drifts along the meadow’s edge, when they slink away with a final swirling gust of snow and cold, then the silence of the wood falls deeper.
Above Van Tassel Lake, alone in the silence on that lonely trail, just me and the trolls and the snow, there is peace.
Share your winter photos and stories online with the hashtag #fundyflakes or email them to email@example.com.
I am excited to start inviting people to Digby’s first* trail race, but we have to wait just a few more days.
Early next week, we should be able to give you all the details, but here’s what we can say so far.
First off, mark April 25 on your calendars and start training for distances close to 2k, 5k and 10k.
April 25 is early – we know. Our hope is this will give some local runners a little push to start preparing for the summer season. And this shouldn’t conflict with any other races on the NS Trail Running series.
True, it’s hard to say what kind of weather we’ll have in late April and hard to say what the conditions will be like underfoot.
Suffice to say, you can do a chunk of your training on the treadmill, but you’re going to want to do at least a little outdoor work to get used to running in the cold weather – just in case. And you’re going to want to do some work on trails to get used to rocks and mud and maybe snow and ice underfoot too.
If you’re new to trail running, I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s a lot more walking than you might imagine. If things get too rocky, too rooty, too slippery, too steep – too whatever – then trail runners think nothing of slowing down or even walking. This lollygagging might feel strange if you’re used to hammering out a 5 or 10k on the roads.
Our course is perfect for beginners wanting a taste of the woods, or for experienced runners looking for a warm up race. It’s mostly flat with some small climbs, nothing too steep – but steep enough that many racers are going to walk a few sections.
Underfoot could be interesting depending on the weather and how much winter is hanging around – we will use a mix of gravel service roads and single track, mostly single track. You’ll start on access roads heading slightly downhill and then transition to a lovely stretch of narrow but grassy single track before diving into the woods and starting the climbs. The single track has roots and rocks galore, some muddy parts, some small streams, and did I mention rocks?
The course is a loop and you’ll do one lap for the 5k and two laps for the 10.
The 2k course is an out and back designed for those under 13 years old and for beginners. It’s a separate route on service roads and smooth double track and maybe a tiny bit of single track and beach.
We’re hoping to keep the entry fees super cheap, down in the range of $20 for adults and $10 for those under 13, hoping to have tee shirts and some cool swag and prizes.
Digby Area Recreation Commission is hosting the race with support from the Digby Lazy Bear Runners and a couple organizations we can’t name just yet.
We are also planning a five-week clinic to help beginners get used to trail running starting in March. Local, experienced trail runners will slowly introduce you to more complicated terrain, starting with railbed and adding a bit more challenge every week. Before this clinic, you should feel comfortable running a super slow and easy 5k on roads. To be clear, this clinic isn’t about running fast or far – our focus will be on moving slow and developing confidence over rougher terrain.
So there you go: that’s all the basic information you need to start planning your preparation – and we’ll have some more information for you early next week.
Excited? Heading out for a run soon?
If you have any questions about trail running, training or trails in general, feel free ask or to let us know what you think of our race plans so far, by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Digby does already have some cool off-road races though they aren’t quite trail races. The Lobster Bash Mud Dash (July 4, 2020) is a muddy wet 3-km run on the ocean floor at low tide around the Racquette or small cove to the north of town. The Scallywag is another ocean-floor race; this one 8-km on a mix of road, railbed, dirt roads, sandy beach, rocky beach and mud flats starting and ending at the Smith’s Cove Fire Hall with the course leading you around Bear Island in the middle of the Annapolis Basin. Both races are tide dependent and the amount of water on the course can vary.
We don’t get the winters we used to – for some this is a reason to celebrate – but many of us miss winter, we miss the freedom that comes with a good long solid freeze.
It used to be that backcountry travel was avoided for a few weeks during freeze up and then again during break up – but then for weeks and even month in the winter, you could count on the lakes and rivers freezing solid so you could travel everywhere.
These days freeze up never quite finishes before a quick thaw sets in – and then it starts freezing again and then thawing.
The same is true with the snow. It used to be November and April were muddy and had to be tolerated but you could count on layers and layers of beautiful white snow through January and February.
But now every month has alternating weeks of snow and mud. And you never get the good soft base that makes skiing and sledding so fun.
All this to say, we now get winter in quick, short doses and you have to be ready if you want to make the most of it.
If you’re not careful, you can miss a whole winter without sledding, without skiing or skating, without throwing a snowball or building a snow statue.
When it snows, you cannot hesitate. You must carpe skiem. If you’re dying to get sledding, you must get out sledding as soon as you can on the day the snow falls. The same with skiing. Even harder is outdoor skating, though with the constant freeze and thaw and freeze again, there are more, if quicker, chances to catch those moments of clear smooth black ice.
Because of winter’s ephemerality, I have the last few years used a winter fun list to make sure I got in the winter activities I love.
This shouldn’t be considered a to-do list but rather a fun list – a list of fun things to choose from.
Anyway, the list included here is my personal list – you should definitely adapt it, rewrite it for your tastes and then get out there and carpe skiem!
Also give some thought to what actions you can take to enable our grandchildren to also enjoy winter!
We had been planning Winterfest for several weeks and people were excited. I was getting questions on Facebook, by email, through blog comments, people were dropping by my office and pulling me aside in the street.
It was to be a celebration of winter – of cool snowy weather. We had snowshoes to lend out and volunteers to help people strap them on. We were set up on a short level loop, we marked out a short but hilly adventure course and we planned a 5km walk through the woods. Snowshoeing for every level of ability and ambition.
We had wood split and piled for a bonfire, roasting sticks cut for hotdogs and marshmallows. We had cocao and milk for hot chocolate. We found celebrity judges for the snow sculpture contest and the photo contest. We had prizes for the contests and for Nature Bingo.
On Wednesday we got a lovely 15 cm of fresh snow.
Then Friday it rained. And Saturday’s forecast, the Winterfest forecast, was also wet.
At 4 p.m. Friday the forecast for the morning was “periods of rain” although only 2mm accumulation and +8C for a high.
What would you have done?
Normally, we, the Fundy Erratics hiking club, don’t cancel our hikes for a little rain. Sure less people show up when the forecast is wet, but a hardy core group of us almost always go. And in this case, we still held the hike and 30 people showed up.
But we cancelled the bonfire, hot dogs, marshmallows and hot chocolate… essentially the heart of Winterfest and we cancelled the snow sculpture contest.
I guess my thoughts were that standing around a fire in the rain was not going to be a lot of fun, that fewer people would turn up anyway, and those who did might go away with a bad experience.
Was this the right decision?
I believe part of this game of getting more people outside is showing people that we don’t need to be afraid of rain or cold. Part of me wonders how the day would have turned out if we had just gone ahead with all events. Would people have still showed up? Would they have had an okay experience?
Certainly the weather turned out okay – no rain to speak of. It was a damp, cold in your bones kind of day, mostly overcast misty and foggy up there, the snow was packy and good for snow sculptures….
We were more than warm enough while hiking – would it have been the same for people at the fire or making snow sculptures?
Now we’ll never know and I can’t help feeling like we missed an opportunity to demonstrate that these events can be fun if less than ideal.
On the bright side, with all the promo and excitement, we did get some people thinking about enjoying winter – instead of just tolerating it. And we did have a great hike with 30 people, lots of them new to the Acacia Valley Trails and to hiking with a group like ours.
Please let me know what you think, in the blog comments, by email email@example.com or on the Fundy Erratics FB group.
Near the top of the Van Tassel Lake look off, the firs are buried in snow and bent over like a tribe of snow trolls. I love to walk quietly among them, tiptoeing with fake angst, pretending they could awake at any moment.
I guess it is gorgeous everywhere today but I speak from firsthand knowledge when I say the trails of Van Tassel Lake are amazing.
Snow everywhere, lying on everything – every tree, every branch outlined in white, every clearing and swamp a blanket of spotless satin, every hummock and rock covered in soft pillows – to my eye the fir trees are prettiest with their boughs holding so much snow.
I was up early today and snowshoed to the look off for a morning workout – and what a workout it was. On the first 400 or 500m someone had been over the trail yesterday with snowshoes so I was able to jog along pretty good in their wake.
This first stretch of trail is home to a family of ravens and the slap and crunch of my snowshoes must have woken them, surprised them on this quiet morning, as they took off over head croaking and cawing among the treetops.
Besides the startling beauty of the glimmering snow, it is the quiet calm of the woods on these snowy days that I love most. It is easy to imagine yourself the only one for miles and miles.
Soon yesterday’s snowshoer turned around – I think they might have been having trouble staying on the trail – and I continued on, breaking and marking trail for the next visitors.
It was and is a cool morning with a double-digit windchill but the effort of plowing through the deep fluffy stuff kept me more than warm enough. I had my mittens off most of the walk and sometimes my hat – I only kept it on for protection from the snow laden branches.
I crossed Shady Lane and continued on towards Rock Pile – Shady Lane would have been a nice walk too and if you only wanted a 2km walk it would be the answer today.
The higher I climbed, the deeper the snow and the lonelier the woods felt.
At Rock Pile I again considered turning down towards the lake and heading back but my goal was the Look Off. Let me just say, it is only 2.5km to the look off but today in all that snow it really felt like 5.
But it was worth it- every stretch of trail looked so different, so dressed up in elegant white finery.
My favourite stretch though is that high meadow near the top with all the snow trolls. Today the trail was a narrow narrow passageway among giants. I said “Excuse me” a few times as I threaded my way among them.
And then I was on top looking out over forest as far as the eye can see – the lower reservoir is more visible today because of the snow laying on its frozen surface.
I soaked in the view, took a couple deep breaths, the requisite selfie, and then it was time to head down.
I went back on the same trail (on the north side of the lake). I didn’t have the strength or time to break a trail around the lake. I’ll leave that for the next snowshoer….
It worked! The backwards inside-out pajamas, the spoon under the pillow, the ice cubes in the toilet – it all succeeded in convincing the Snow Gods to provide a snow day.
Most importantly, in order to show the Snow Gods the appropriate thanks for the snow day, you have to get outside and celebrate the snow.
I was thinking of writing a list of things to do in the snow but then I realized how silly and unnecessary that is – the key here isn’t some long to do list of snow related activities – the key is the right attitude of exploration and figuring what is fun for you today.
If I had to write a list, this would be it:
Dress warm, go out and play – explore and celebrate the snow – find the fun
run, jump, slide, lie still, imagine, plan, build, dig, pile, throw
If you are really really stuck, I suggest reading ‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Keats. Jack, the story’s hero just goes out and starts mucking about: he listens to the noise of walking in the snow, he watches the tracks he leaves behind, he plays with other kids, he engages his imagination so that he is climbing mountains and of course he slides down a slippery slope, he builds a snow statue and makes a snow angel, he even packs some snow in his pocket for later.
When he gets cold, he practices great self care: he goes in, changes clothes, gets warm, refuels, and finally, he gets a good night sleep so he can go out and do it all over again the next day.
Just to be clear: this is not a day to stay inside – if you do so you risk angering the Snow Gods who have given you this snow day.
If the Snow Gods see you inside the whole day, then the next time you put your pajamas on backwards or do snow dances, or holler into the freezer, they will just ignore it.
Your wish has come true – now get outside and show the Snow Gods your gratitude!
Let’s be honest - everyone is hoping for it – not just a little, make-it-pretty snow; but rather we are all hoping for so much snow tomorrow that everything is shut down, that nothing is moving, that we can all either stay home by the fire, if that is your thing, or get out and play in heaps and piles of white stuff- make snow angels, snow forts, snow sculptures, go sledding, snowshoeing, skiing… the list is endless (tomorrow or maybe even tonight I’ll stick up here my personal Winter Fun List).
Whatever you do outside on a winter’s day, it will get your blood flowing, it will make for rosy cheeks and, there’s something about outdoor fun that makes hot chocolate taste much much yummier.
(Oh and don't forget to share your winter fun photos with the hashtag #fundyflakes !)
So, in the spirit of snagging you all some fun outdoor winter time, here are some ways to make sure tomorrow is a snow day.
And of course, there is a prayer (written by Tara Lazar)
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray for snow twelve inches deep.
Should it melt before I wake,
I pray school’s cancelled by mistake!
(I should do another post I suppose on how to ensure our grandchildren have snow days – that’s a tougher one… )
Everyone is welcome to celebrate the coolest season at Winter Fest at the Acacia Valley Trails on Jan. 11.
The Digby Area Recreation Commission, the Fundy Erratics and the Acacia Valley Trails Association are teaming up to host this winter party – think of it like an intro to winter outdoor fun.
We’ll have loads of snowshoes for people to try out, volunteers will be on hand to help you get started and we’re laying out an obstacle course to test your speed.
Volunteers will lead a 4-km snowshoe hike to Tupper’s Deadwater and Picnic Rock, leaving from the parking lot at 10:30 a.m. For the hike, dress in comfortable layers, bring water and snacks and maybe a thermos full of something warm.
The Erratics will keep a bonfire going near the parking lot with hot chocolate and the perfect coals for roasting hot dogs – with roasting sticks provided.
We also have a Nature Bingo planned - it's like a scavenger hunt but with photos (so bring a smart phone or camera) - finish any line on your Nature Bingo card and you can enter your name in a draw for a fabulous prize. Fill in the whole card and you get two entries in the draw!
There will also be snow sculpture contest with celebrity judges and a photo contest judged by the editorial staff of the Tri-County Vanguard – use the hashtag #fundyflakes #digbywinterfest
The #fundyflakes photo contest starts today and runs until noon on Sunday, Jan. 12 - take a photo of bbeautiful snowy scenes or people have snow fun on any of our Digby area trails, post your photos on FB, instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #fundyflakes and we will find them - or email them directly to firstname.lastname@example.org - Please only send your best three or four.
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 11, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
WHERE: At the Acacia Valley Trails parking lot, 155 Mill Road, Hillgrove
WEATHER -- Stay tuned to the Fundy Erratics Facebook group and this blog for weather updates and changes.
Keep in mind, the Fundy Erratics prefer to adapt rather than cancel. Even without snow we will hike, have the bonfire and hot dog and hot chocolate, hold the photo contest and Nature Bingo.
Contact the Municipal Trail Coordinator, Jonathan Riley with questions or offers to help (902) 245-2861.
With your help, the Gulliver's Cove Trails Association is hoping to open up a trail extension from the upper look off, the rest of the way down to Gulliver's Head.
On Wednesday, Oct. 9, the trail association is looking for help from volunteers to clean up the new stretch of trail - the volunteer day will serve the double purpose of getting the trail open and introducing Digby's outdoor community to the new stretch of trail and its stunning scenery.
A few association volunteers will be roughing out the trail with chainsaws and brushsaws a few days in advance - and we are hoping volunteers can use handtools to clean up any rough cuts or missed stumps and to help pile the brush from the first pass through.
The association has planned an extension of about 300 or 400m but, depending how ambitious everyone is, we could make it a loop of about 600m.
If you have brush loppers rakes or other handtools please consider bringing them along but please no power tools.
The work is planned to take just two or three hours. The association will host a BBQ at 1 p.m. to thank the volunteers.
Consider letting us know if you plan to help out and if you have questions or need more information, please contact the Municipal Trail Coordinator Jonathan Riley at 902-245-2861.
They want to choose a provincial lichen. Who? What?
Believe it not, there are actually people who call themselves lichen enthusiasts – people who search and study and get excited about lichens – and they want to choose a provincial lichen for Nova Scotia. Like the Mayflower is our provincial flower, the osprey is our provincial bird and the wild blueberry is our provincial berry.
These lichen enthusiasts have to choose their recommendation before Tuesday, Jan. 23 but they are hoping for some public input – and rightly so; this lichen is going to represent all of us in Nova Scotia.
To make it easier for those of us with little knowledge about lichens, the enthusiasts have put together a shortlist, with photos, and an online poll over at www.lichensns.com/poll .
If you’re at all interested, you can mull over their list, maybe google up some photos and information, and then make a choice.
Ideally if we had more time, (and there wasn’t a storm barreling down on us this weekend), we’d all go for a little walk and see if we can actually find some of these lichens in the woods around us – we could treat the lichen list as a sort of scavenger hunt, go out and try to see the lichens in the real world.
Cause here’s the thing: lichens are all around us and most of us hardly notice them.
Have you ever seen a gathering of little pale green sprouts with pretty red tips on a rotting log, the little sprouts appearing almost lined up like soldiers on parade? That’s the British Soldier Lichen with a latin name of Cladonia cristatella – Cladonia comes from Greek through Latin and means sprout; cristatella, means it has a little tuft on top.
Cladonia are a very common lichen although most are a plain pale green or yellow without the red splash of the British Soldier Lichen – in the harsh environment up North, these “reindeer lichen” carpet the ground for miles and miles and are the main source of food for caribou and reindeer for example. Here in Nova Scotia, you will see reindeer lichens carpeting boulders or open bogs, paler generally and finer than moss.
Another lichen you might have seen hanging on boulders of Nova Scotia like ragged bits of brown lettuce is called rock tripe or Umbilicaria mammulata.
How about Old Man’s Beard? A yellowy green lacy thing hanging in the branches of trees that birds love for their nests – that’s a lichen. Another you’ve probably seen a million times and never noticed is the Crumpled Rag Lichen – again hanging in the branches of trees like a crumpled rag.
Lichens have some great names don’t they?
On the enthusiasts’ lists is the Yellow Specklebelly – now there’s a name! They also listed Acadia Bearded Jellyskin Lichen and Blue Felt Lichen.
A few of us headed out last week when we heard about the poll to do some lichen hikin’ and we found a few Yellow Specklebellys on the Acacia Valley Trails. Other lichens from the list, you can see at the Acacia Valley Trails include Old Man’s Beard and Crumpled Rag Lichen. You will definitely see Tree Lung Wort and if it weren’t for the snow, you’d see some great clumps of several kinds of reindeer lichens.
So what are lichens? It’s complicated and that is probably my favourite thing about them – even scientists are still getting their heads around how much we still have to learn about lichens.
Basically a lichen is a partnership between a fungus and a plant-like thing called an algae (best known as the scummy stuff on ponds) – although sometimes, instead of algae, the fungus teams up with a thing called cyanobacteria (a type of single celled organism that can create energy from sunshine – again like plants but not like plants).
Anyway the deal is, both partners bring something to the table – the fungus protects and gives structure to the algae (kind of like the skin and bones of the lichen) and the algae create energy. The fungus seeks out water, breaks down minerals in rock, and the algae makes food. The deal is different for every lichen as different fungus team up with different algae in different ways.
But let’s get back to what you and I see when we look at lichens: for starters, some lichens, like some mushrooms are a little icky but some lichens, and some mushrooms, are startlingly beautiful when you stop and look at them.
And that’s the fun part about lichen hikin: you can go out today, even on a trail you know extremely well and find a whole new world with beautiful landscapes to explore.
Speaking of which, I gotta go and see some lichens before the storm hits so I can vote before Tuesday.
Which is your favourite and why?
P.S. The Balancing Rock Trail has an interpretative panel with photos of some of the lichens you might see out there including Old Man's Beard, Tree Lung Wort, and Star-tipped Reindeer Lichen which are on the enthusiast's list.