Gnomes in the Snow

No live critters show their faces, but snow on young trees leaves figures reminiscent of gnomes, elves, eagles and elephant seals on the trails around Andies Prairie.

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Nora the Schnauzer on a trail with snow figures behind her.

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Nora in her sweater.

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Snow figures fill the forest.

Wind whipped across Andies Prairie Sno-Park as I knelt over a snowshoe and tugged the binding strap tight around my boot.

A 20 mph gust.

It drew tears to my eyes. They ran down my cheeks.

My bare fingertips ached from fiddling with the bindings. I breathed on them.

I looked around for Nora the Schnauzer. She appeared oblivious to the cold in her red turtle-neck sweater as she raced around the perimeter of the parking area.

Her ears flapped like wings with every bound.

Actually, it wasn’t so cold, in the high 20s, but the wind chilled hands and face to the bone.

"Come on Nora," I squeaked as I pulled on wool gloves, shouldered the day pack and the camera bag and picked up the ski poles.

We had left the fog-bound Walla Walla Valley seconds after I put out the garbage, at about 8:30 a.m. In 30 minutes we slipped above the fog on Oregon Highway 204.

The fog cloud covered the valley.

We stopped next at Morning Creek Sno-Park to check snowmobile trails, and they appeared to be well-packed. One pickup and snowmobile trailer with two machines sat in the parking area, which was a good sign: hard-packed trails and not many users.

We also stopped at Woodland Sno-Park and found two men in one pickup with two machines on a trailer. The snowmobile trail had been recently groomed, and Nora dashed run around in the snow with no trouble.

We pushed on to Andies Prairie and had the snow park to ourselves.

The wind continued to belt me in the face as we climbed the hill from the parking area. Except for my fingertips, hardly warmed by the wool gloves, I felt comfortable. I wore longjohns, nylon pants and shirt, warm socks, hiking boots, a light sweater, a hooded nylon windbreaker and a down vest.

I carried an extra jacket, along with water and snacks, in the daypack. And the pack had room for any layers that I would remove if I sweated from walking.

Nora chased wind-blown moss and twigs and who knows what, but she stayed on the packed trail as we climbed the hill. I wanted to follow the snowmobile trail for an hour or two, toward Balloon Tree Road. It would be packed down after the weekend, and golf balls of snow wouldn’t cling to her legs if she stayed on the trail.

I also figured a Monday would not be crowded on the trail, so Nora wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.

We passed a junction in the trail and hurried down an incline into the woods, which blocked the wind. I dropped the pack and traded wool gloves for mittens. Made a big difference to my fingers.

In the woods, the crunch of my snowshoes and ski poles on the snow replaced the roar of the wind. I paused often to photograph shapes of snow on young trees. They reminded me of images in clouds.

I saw shapes like eagles, elves, gnomes, elephant seals and so on.

I saw no live critters, but show-shoe rabbit tracks often marked the snow.

Nora jumped into the deep snow at least once. She sprinted ahead like she saw something cross the trail, turned off the trail and sank in up to her chest. She scrambled back onto the trail and shook herself so hard that four feet left the ground.

Anyway, we hiked for three-and-a-half hours, out and back. I spent much of that time taking pictures and pondering shapes. I opened Nora’s water once for her, and she ignored it. She gobbled her snack and drooled at mine, a vanilla-yogurt PowerBar.

The wind had slackened some by the time we reached the car again.

Flurries of snow fluttered around us.

Some ice clung to Nora’s wool sweater. But it remained dry next to her body. She had no snowballs on her hairy legs.

She did good in the snow.

Don Davis may be contacted at dondavis@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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