OUTDOORS - A trek by the river

Ski poles are required to navigate the paths on a winter excursion at Mill Creek and Bennington Lake

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Nora the Schnauzer sniffs along snowy banks of Mill Creek.

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Nora buries her face in the snow.

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A missing ski pole basket turns up on the trail, with some help form Nora the Schnauzer. Nora wanders around the gear needed for a winter trip to Bennington Lake.

Cold, foggy days have run together lately.

Yet, as I recall, Nora the Schnauzer and I skied along Mill Creek and to Bennington Lake on Monday or Tuesday of last week.

I rode the skinny boards, that is, while Nora scooted, dashed and zipped.

Actually, at first, she seemed uncomfortable with me on the skis.

Usually she's content to keep me within eye contact. More or less.

Anyway, we left the house late, but before noon. I figured to trek along the stream and the trails behind the lake.

To "Be Prepared," I wore a fanny pack with two water bottles and Nora's capped cup of water.

I buttoned a Vanilla Yogurt PowerBar in the right pocket of a wool lumberjack's shirt.

I wore a wool sweater with a hood over the shirt and long johns underneath it.

At Mill Creek I took the skis and poles from the wagon beneath a deep blue sky.

I adjusted the new ski poles for the first time and scowled when they seemed too short.

"Oh, well," I exclaimed. "We must make do."

Nora romped among the weeds while I flipped up the sweater's hood, strapped on the fanny pack, shouldered the camera and clasped my feet onto the skis.

When I kicked up the service road along the stream, Nora trotted beside me. That continued until I spotted a kingfisher on a shrub overlooking the water.

I stopped, lifted the camera and flicked off a few frames as the bird flew across the current.

When I kicked off again and concentrated on gliding upright, Nora adjusted and probed among the weeds with her nose.

The sunny, windless conditions and a mid-30s temperature made it a perfect day.

I stopped briefly twice to take photographs, but aside from the kingfisher I saw only Canada geese as subjects. Fast, cold water probably discouraged the usual herons, ospreys and mergansers from feeding.

Then I approached the incline at the dam, expecting to stomp up it with herringbone steps.

I didn't, but neither did I kick and glide up it. I made it upright, though. So my goal not to fall seemed reachable.

As I headed toward the lake on the service road, several deer browsed in a field across the channel.

I snapped shots of them and continued away from the dam. A distant sliver of southern sky had become a pearl gray, and a blanket of fog lay on the lake.

Then two yards in front of the skis, Nora burst into a hopping, nose-poking frenzy. A vole lay on its back, almost between her front paws. It wriggled and waved its legs.

In her daily squirrel chasing in the backyard, she had never caught one.

She wavered before the vole, too.

"Nora! Stop! Stop!," I said and leaned over to push her away.

In two seconds, as I wobbled, the vole scrambled away into the weeds.

After that episode, however, Nora redoubled her vole-hunting efforts, sniffing out tunnels under the snow.

That let me glide several yards ahead of her before she flew past.

We crossed the concrete channel leading to the lake and reached a junction of trails.

We rested there with sips of water and bites of the PowerBar. Sweating, I took off the wool shirt and tied it around my waist.

Then I noticed the basket missing from one of the new poles.

I hated to lose it, but we continued to a bluff overlooking the lake and down to the lake shore.

Eventually we turned back and followed holes made in the snow by a ski pole without a basket.

In half an hour, Nora saw the basket. She trotted 20 yards ahead of me and diverted from one side of the road to the other. She stopped to sniff at something.

I closed in and saw the basket. In 10 seconds I screwed it onto the pole, with an extra twist for good measure.

At the dam I sailed down the incline with a modicum of grace and glided to the wagon with a minimum of huffing-and-puffing.

And without falling.

Reach Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com

If You Go

The Mill Creek/Bennington Lake area consists of 612 acres of public land. It provides year-round recreation, including more than 20 miles of trails. Recreation maps of the area may be found near parking areas or by typing 'Bennington Lake Walla Walla' into the Google search engine and clicking on the link to the Mill Creek Recreational Map.

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