I braced myself for more pain: even as my feet were recovering from a very cold hike through the snow in Sandy Hook, we were getting ready for another hike at Hartshorne Woods Park. Elizabeth was nice enough to lend me a pair of dry wool socks to replace my wet liner socks.
It was 35 degrees with 8 inches of powdery snow on the ground in Hartshorne Woods, just like Sandy Hook. But this time there was no wind, since we were farther inland and sheltered by forest. The snow on the trails was also well packed down—Hartshorne Woods had seen a lot more hikers than had Sandy Hook. These were conditions where my trail runners just might work. Maybe my feet would stay warm and dry after all.
We started our hike at 3 in the afternoon with only an hour and a half of daylight left. We decided on the 2.5-mile Laurel Ridge Loop. Sure, we might finish after sunset, but the leafless trees and the white snow would keep the forest bright through the dusk. And if we got lost, the park was small and hemmed in by suburbs.
The only plants with leaves on them were mountain-laurels and hollies. The mountain-laurels grew as nondescript bushes on the hillsides, but the hollies were 20-foot tall trees with shiny green leaves and bright red berries. The latter reminded me of Christmas.
I found I could identify many of the bare deciduous trees by their bark and shape. Northern red oaks had tight bark with vertical fissures. Eastern white oaks had curving branches and light gray bark that peeled off in strips. Tuliptrees had tall, straight trunks and had fruits on the ends of their branches.
A group of deer trotted up a hill. They saw us and froze. Their winter coats were the color of tree trunks and their tails were the color of snow, making them nearly invisible when they stopped.
We could see the houses that surrounded the park through the winter forest. They looked like islands in a sea of asphalt and turf, just like all the other buildings in the area. This seemed to me a destructive and inefficient use of space, and part of me wished that they had been more closely spaced so that more wild land could have been spared. But I didn’t dwell on these thoughts for long—the forest was so pleasant.
The sun set. As it disappeared behind a ridge, its golden light filtered through the treetops. The high clouds slowly turned rose and orange. The snow, reflecting the sky, glowed pink. The temperature dipped below freezing.
We were at the last intersection on our hike. The car was a few minutes away, but Elizabeth and I were having so much fun that we decided to walk another trail for a while before heading back. We walked to the top of a hill and enjoyed the woods in the pretty dusk. There was still plenty of light.
We turned back. Elizabeth broke out in a run. I ran too. We slid and hopped down the trail, sending up clouds of powder.
We got back to the car at twilight, thoroughly pleased with our little hike in the snow. I’m happy to report that my feet stayed warm and dry.