Late Winter Walk in the Woods

Mid March is considered late winter around here, and the beginning of “mud season.” The air is still a little brisk, and there are still patches of snow on the ground in the shaded areas (and mud in all the other spots), but once the temperature is above 40 or 45 we feel the burning desire to come out of our winter caves and feel the elements on our skin again. 50 degree weather is t shirt weather around here, I drove home with the top down on my Pontiac convertible the other day, motorcycles are showing up in traffic once again and the waterfront park is filled with people enjoying the sunset.

However, it’s still not summer. There is no grass to speak of, the trees are many weeks away from budding their spring leaves, the landscape remains fairly devoid of color. That’s a perfect time to load some B&W film into my Olympus. A walk through the trails of Mills River Park is kinda blah on color film, empty tree branches, dried husks of last year’s leaves on the ground, and everything is still lifeless and brown. However, this is when B&W photography really shines as a medium. So today I’m loading some Ilford Delta, one of my favorite B&W film stocks, into my OM-2n, one of my favorite cameras, and driving out to Underhill, VT.

It’s a nice day for a walk, warm enough that we can be comfortable without hat and gloves, but still cool enough that we don’t feel overheated as we take our first hike in many months of sedentary dormancy. The hills are mild, it’s hardly a back-breaker, but the trails go on for a mile or two, meandering through barren trees and streams of melted snow cutting channels into the trail. Not many people out here today but with the world still plenty Covidy, people keep their distance as we approach each other, masks at the ready. I doubt that we can give or catch a virus passing unmasked in the breezy outdoors, so I’m not even a little bit worried, but if my face in a mask puts the other recreators at ease then I’ll just mask up as they pass. We are one big community around here, no one needs to be a willful asshole.

It’s peaceful and quiet out here, and the air smells and feels nicer than the stale apartment air we’d been breathing the past several months. Not many birds, the occasional chipmunk, the world was still asleep for the most part, gradually waking up. We found a tree with a large enough split in its dying trunk that we could actually squeeze all the way through it. “I always wanted to walk through a tree” my partner assured me as she pushed herself through. The tree didn’t seem to mind.

At the end we sat down on a bench, it has been awhile since we’ve done any sort of physical activity and we were feeling it. “I really need to stretch before doing this stuff” I admonished myself. I should know better. I’ve been irregular with my exercise routine, and by “irregular” I mean I hadn’t done a circuit in three weeks now, and that one wasn’t particularly grueling. I could blame winter, I could blame Covid, but it’s all on me. My partner took off her boots and put her bare feet into the not-altogether-dead grass as we sat together. A little too cold for that level of skin contact with the elements, but it had been so long since her skin touched the earth, just needed a few minutes of personal time with the planet. It’s early, we will be getting better reacquainted before we know it.