Up in Flames

By Sylvie O'Rourke

It’s mid-March and spring is just around the corner. If the forecast is accurate, this may well be our last snowshoe event of the season. Despite the frosty wind stinging our faces, we are not deterred from enjoying our time at the Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary; Although I do regret underestimating the temperature and failing to choose warmer gloves. My pockets are laden with birdseed, my backpack weighed down by hot chocolate and protruding marshmallows forks. Drywood and kindling are loaded onto a sled, and we are ready to go. Our intent is to have a smoking finale to our winter activities.

Our leader wraps the sled’s towrope around his shoulders and leads the way, while at the same time packing down the freshly fallen snow for those who follow. There is much chatter amongst us as we snowshoe down the boardwalk and then through the cedar grove. We make frequent stops to feed the forever-cheerful chickadees and their nuthatch pals. The squirrels are bold and pay us frequent visits unlike the sole blue jay who makes a tentative appearance but does not linger. I try to take it all in as our next visit will look very different, perhaps all brown and muddy in contrast to the present pristine setting.

We come across a rudimentary structure in the woods, a sort of teepee built by leaning broken branches against each other. These rarely fail to incite the curious to crawl inside. The breezy shelter does little to protect from the elements. The curious birds drop by to investigate the reason for our halt. Perhaps they are wondering if we are preparing to hand out seeds again. The boldest lands on my hood and chirps its displeasure at finding none. To appease him and his groupies we dutifully take out more seeds and another feeding frenzy takes place. With all the distractions, we soon realize that we have lost our leader who has trudged on ahead without us to prepare the firepit for our arrival.

Following the sled’s path, we resume snowshoeing. An unexpected squall elicits a squeal from someone behind me as she receives a face full of snow. We are temporarily blinded by a whiteout lasting perhaps no more than a minute yet transforming the scenery to opaque white in the blink of an eye. Just as suddenly it clears, almost making us wonder if it was the product of our combined imaginations. We laugh it off and stay alert lest we be caught off guard again. Mother Nature is doing its best to show us that spring is not yet here.

We emerge into the picnic clearing where snowshoe trail meets classic ski trail. The firepit is set up and waiting for the strike of a match. We are grateful for the warmth of the fire to counter the windchill. Passing cross-country skiers jokingly ask us if we have any hot dogs to share. We don’t, but we tell them they are welcome to roast a few marshmallows. Smiling, they decline and glide away. A friend attempts to roast the perfect marshmallows, one on each prong. Unfortunately, he gets distracted, and they are soon ablaze. He tries to blow them out, but they keep re-igniting just like the trick candles you sometimes see on birthday cakes. The marshmallows are much too charred to be saved. Finding no takers for the blackened goo, he throws them into the fire and starts again. Practice makes perfect after all.

Despite the warmth of the fire and the hot drinks, our frozen toes alert us that it is time to move again. We make sure to extinguish the fire with arms full of snow before heading back. Truthfully, I love winter and I am not ready to see the season go up in flames. There are still so many places I did not get to, but I am now out of time, at least until next year. I am just happy that we had the opportunity to share this moment in celebration of the season’s closure.

Published in The Cornwall Seeker, 2 in 1 Flip Magazine, www.cornwallseekerca, May 2022, page 8.

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