Ever the early riser, my companion Sue texted me at 7:00 a.m. when she’d gotten home from Master’s Swim. “Pretty snow out there today!”
Love it. We need snow. Snow matters. It moistens the ground. It actually insulates the earth. And it makes for interesting running and riding.
A few years back on the day after Christmas my brother needed a car and his was out of commission being repaired. So I drove my Toyota down and left it for him to use. Then I rode my mountain bike for the 15 miles back home. There was about four inches of new snow on the ground. My bike tires cut through the fresh layers like an icebreaker through arctic waters.
My new fluorescent green cycling jacket, given to me by my brother-in-law, who had once been a Cat 3 road cyclist, was perfect for the weather. Snow was still coming down, and the helmet cover that came with the jacket protected my head.
It was quiet, as you can imagine, on the day after Christmas. There were so few cars I rode up the center of a street for a while to get to the bike trail that would lead north along the Fox River home to Batavia. The river was largely frozen, but there were patches where the black water coursed heavily around islands. There were geese and ducks; mergansers and goldeneyes. Above the river, the perched shape of a bald eagle in a cottonwood.
Snow came down in big, steady flakes. At times, you could hear those snowflakes landing on the already fallen snow. The steady sound of my bike tires through the snow was gratifying. It is so fun to make progress on a fresh new landscape.
I was in no hurry to get home, but neither did I want to get off the bike. There is something that calls us once we get moving. Yes, it’s fine at any time to stop and ponder. But there are some rides and runs that are not meant to be interrupted. Perhaps it’s the idea of putting down footprints when you’re perched on the bike. Doesn’t seem right.
However there have been many moments running in the snow where there is nothing in the world that I’d rather be doing that placing those tracks in the straightest line possible. If you are lucky (or early) enough to be the first down a snowy street, there is a genuine feeling of liberty and individuality in making those tracks. You’re flirting with the rules if you run down the middle of the road. Take a glance back and you can see from whence you’ve come. That’s actually a rare experience in this life. Think about it.
Those of us who run and ride, in other words, know that snow matters. It marks the seasons just as the seasons mark us. On bike or on foot, we make our reverse tarsnakes in the snow, knowing full well they will soon enough vanish or be run over by the bigger vehicles that come along. Of course this year, I am armed with a set of clingon Yak Trax, those tools of motorvation that strap to your running shows. So I’ll likely give them a try today if the streets say so.
Then there are the plows, those beasts of burden that clear the streets. And we can be thankful for those too. Because running or riding on the snow every day does have its risks. Ankles and arches and knees bear the brunt of running on icy streets. You cling to the spots where pavement shows through because it’s that much easier to move.
And out west of town, where the plows really have to work when the wind blows, I will drive and keep binoculars at hand to spy on the winter birds; longspurs and horned larks and snow buntings, who feed on the roadside scrapings and scattered grass and farm seed. These are beautiful things, these birds, and only come to the roads when snow obscures the deep field leavings. And if I’m very lucky, I will stumble on the snowy owl that hangs out south of Dekalb, where the fields do not care if you exist or not. But the mice and voles love these places, and the owls too.
These are matters of snow, and why snow matters. Whether the layer be thick or thin, snow brings out those willing to make their mark on the world.