October, the month of change from no snow to snow, has just passed by.
In the southern Yukon the year is nicely divided into two equal parts, with half a year where snow stays on the ground, and half a year where, well, there is always some snow somewhere.
Last week everything dripped with melting snow. In town, the snow was gone sooner, but here in Mendenhall, where everything is left undisturbed, it takes longer.
Yesterday (as I am writing this), we woke up to a few inches of snow on the ground.
It was a gorgeous sunny day for a walk. The land was brown and yellow, the trees grey and dark, the mountains white, and the new snow sparkling almost too brightly.
As I walked, the branches unexpectedly moved as snow formed in chunks of ice slid off and leftover autumn leaves swirled down.
Except for the usual sounds of squirrels and birds, it was quiet.
Every day I make a point of walking to a little lake that is 10 minutes from the house.
I like to check the condition of the ice. It hasn’t frozen enough to walk on yet, but if and when it freezes nice and smooth, I can skate on it.
October is the only month in Mendenhall when skating is sometimes possible. That is, if the lake freezes smoothly.
Along with some neighbours, I have tried to shovel the snow off the ice to keep a skating rink open, but eventually the snow always beats us to it. There just aren’t enough shovellers to keep the ice clear.
So I check every day, hoping nature will work with me.
What is always a pleasure with snow on the ground is that the snow tells stories.
Yesterday, there were signs that a man had been walking on my trail! I wondered who. I am sorry to say, but a male human on foot is a rare species here.
I didn’t care that much where he went, or where he came from. On this walk, I was much more excited to come upon moose tracks.
What started out as just a short walk to the lake ended as a long walk, as I followed the moose tracks. With the tracks only one day old at the most, I thought the moose might be still around!
At some point I gave up. The moose was apparently on a mission of its own, following man-made paths.
If there is no snow on the ground to reflect the light, October can be the darkest month, especially as the nights get longer and darker.
Sometimes I don’t realize that before I set out. Even going to the outhouse, where I recently scared (and, in turn, was scared by) a deer in the garden.
I walked to the neighbours’ house one October evening last year, following a shortcut through the woods instead of the road. I didn’t bring a flashlight because in summer a flashlight isn’t needed for walking.
In winter when the ground is white and even reflects the starlight, it isn’t needed either.
On that particular night, though, I had already started walking by the time I realized I was surrounded by darkness, before the moon came out.
It was pitch black. Still, I figured I would be alright.
I was, but only because I knew the way. At one point I did miss a crossroad and had to backtrack to find it, but I arrived safely.
Back to the present – I know the ice on the little lake was frozen and smooth enough yesterday to prevent this morning’s fresh snow from ruining the ice.
As long as it freezes a little harder in the next few days, and it doesn’t snow much more, I will still get a chance to skate.
The best years are when it freezes without snow at all, when the ice is crystal-clear, and we can lie with our noses pressed to the glass-like surface and watch little water creatures move about below.
With the change from October to November, the way we experience the backcountry also changes.