It seems to me that our society is polarized on so many issues - Democrat or Republican, Microsoft or Apple and this weekend Ravens or 49ers. I am a firm believer in the "gray." There is often value in both sides and one answer without compromise or consideration for the other isn't satisfactory. However, there is one issue in which I clearly have chosen a side - winter. I find that most people either love winter or hate it. I shamelessly and unabashedly love a snowy winter. Really, I enjoy all seasons for their own beauty and change. Spring, summer and fall though don't seem to have the loyal followers or such adamant opponents as winter.
I'm not a big fan of cold weather or high heating bills but the world changes in winter. Life slows down and draws inward as more time is spend indoors and snug under wool sweaters and knit blankets. In between those cozy moments a new world of outdoor exploration opens up as the snow falls.
Around Christmas this year the world turned white and I was ready to go outside. There wasn't quite enough snow to snowshoe and I had already been following animals on their winter travels, their paths left in the snow. On this crisp, clear Sunday afternoon, I was going cross-country skiing.
Loading our gear into the car at the park-n-ride, there was a sense of excitement for the first ski adventure of the season. We headed east on I-86 to Allegany State Park and the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski area. There are many beautiful places in our area, but the park and these trails are really a gem. Dedicated to Art Roscoe, the forefather of cross-country skiing in Western New York, the park boasts 24 miles of groomed trails. There is a trail for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced. The trails are groomed by the park but the Allegany Nordic Group also does a great deal of trail maintenance and fundraising to keep these trails some of the best in Western New York. The Summit Mountain Shop located at the main parking area has rentals, a retail shop, a snack bar and bathrooms. These are the makings of a great afternoon.
It wasn't long before the pattern of push, glide, push, glide came back to me as I alternated arms and legs. On the flat areas, there is a rhythm of movement and breath that is relaxing in a way. Once you stop concentrating on what arm to move at what moment you can find that rhythm. It then frees you to pay less attention to your body and more attention to the world around you.
Because of its elevation (2,152 feet versus 1,378 feet in Jamestown), these trails often have snow when other areas in our region do not. As we glided through the woods, it was like going through an all-white version of Candy Land. The snow stuck to the leafless trees like royal icing on a wedding cake. I stopped periodically. Cross-country skiing is a strenuous aerobic exercise but the beauty of the snowy landscape also took my breath away.
Snow has a way of transforming the forest into a more magical place. And it is not just for walking, skiing or looking but also for playing. Snow can also transform us into more childlike creatures. Some of my fondest memories growing up are playing outside in the snow with my parents. I remember my dad, usually more serious than goofy, pitching snowballs at my mom's back. There were many a snowman who were lent scarf and mittens by my mother.
Like a child, I am intentionally ignoring all the hazards and inconveniences of snow such as difficult travel, wet shoes and the pains of clearing it from sidewalks and driveways. Those things and more can be a nuisance. But winter is still here regardless of our preferences. Without snow, winter is just cold. With snow a whole new world opens up. For me, snow makes the cold worth it.
This weekend I'm hoping the groundhog sees his shadow and there is plenty more winter to glide, tromp, build and play in. Let it snow. I'm glad to live in an area where winter is a "real" winter and where it is celebrated in the community with ice castles, polar bear plunges and winter festivals.
For many years Audubon has been celebrating winter at the Snowflake Festival. Today, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. come down for sled dogs, sleigh rides, birds of prey programs, crafts, food, and more. You can even try out snowshoes and cross-country skis, provided there's snow.
If you decide you like skiing, join Audubon staff and friends for a day on the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski trails at Allegany State Park on Saturday, Feb. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ride in the van or car pool if the van is full. The more the merrier. Bring your own skis or rent from Hollyloft at a discount (for this trip only).
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. The trails are open from dawn until dusk and the Center is open Mondays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4:30 p.m.
More information on programs can be found at jamestownaudubon.org.
Katie Finch is a naturalist at Audubon.