Cold Face, Warm Ears

I live in a place that gets cold. Not Fargo cold or Antarctica cold, but cold nonetheless. And it just so happens that my family and I don’t stop enjoying the outdoors just because it gets cold. On the contrary, my hubby loves the cold and routinely winter camps. The kids will stay out in the cold & snow until the absolute last possible moment. I’m a fan of being out in the cold on the condition that I get to return somewhere warm afterward and there’s not a lot of sitting still out in it. In addition to daily walks the kiddos and I take in all but the fiercest weather, sometimes we hike a little further afield in the snow. Last week included one of those little adventures.

My hubby has recently started organizing a small backpacking trip for himself and the kids later this spring. I’d consider going except the mileage they will cover is a little more than my legs will take me and, honestly, I won’t mind a couple days to myself. In any case, it won’t be winter camping, but we’ve really never required the kids to carry substantial packs so last week we decided to take a little trek out on the Ice Age Trail to see how the kids would do with packs.

We packed them up and picked a short out and back hike to a shelter. We are used to having the trail to ourselves, so it was kind of neat that along the way we met an older gentleman who was doing his routine 10mile hike in preparation for a trip to Everest Base Camp. You just never know who you might meet out on the trail. The hike was deserted otherwise though and we enjoyed the snowglobe-ish snow falling in the empty forest.

img_2312This forest is a favorite of mine. It’s pretty thick with trees and it’s hilly and we always hear the weirdest noises. As big fans of the movie Trollhunter, we like to say the crazy noises are trolls. Sometimes I like to come up with troll species names for the specific sounds we hear, but that’s probably more information than I should share here, but just in the off chance you hadn’t gotten the memo that I have a weird sense of humor and am easily entertained — well, there you go.

But I digress.

We made it out to the shelter where the kiddos went about collecting and sawing wood for a fire.

Moose stood watch and was vigilant about keeping track of us. I’m 100% sure he’s terrified that he might be lost or left behind as he — like me — likes to come home to his nice warm bed.

We cooked up a simple warm lunch and hung out around the fire and in the shelter for a good long while.

img_2309You know, just long enough for my feet start feeling like blocks of ice, as they do out in the cold. The hike back, of course, was a little colder since we’d been outside for a while, but thankfully I’d brought my new Timber Bay hat.

img_2337As you can see, I knit this hat pretty generous in the slouch department. Because I made mine out of Sheepish Yarn Co’s Midwest Merino, it has a bit more body and less drape than the sample. In fact, if I don’t pat it down when I put it on it will stand WAY up…

(That’s me on a different day wearing randomly thrown on snow gear and woollies as well as my husband’s cross-country skis. He knew I’ve been wanting to ski and we discovered my skis need repair, so he found a way to make it happen… even if the boots where 4 or 5sizes too big.)

┬áThe Midwest Merino is a really beautiful yarn that I picked up at a special event at Cream City Yarn last autumn. It knits like a rustic wool, but feels much softer to the touch. I would describe it as a true, authentic merino — warm and yet soft enough to wear next to the skin — and it is truly a wonderful combination with this pattern for my cold winter walks and hikes.

I especially love the folded brim…

brimIt is so incredibly warm! Even when my face is frozen (as it was in the photos above), my ears stay nice and cozy.

The textured components are a lovely touch, too.

stitch detailThey are fun to knit without being difficult and both the Andelusian Stitch and the Fisherman’s Rib add both beauty and warmth to the design.

I started this hat on the way back from Yellowstone last month and finished it the day we got home. Well, I finished it except that a week or so later I decided to add a pom to it.

straight onI still think a slightly larger pom would better, but I ran out of yarn so the decision was kind of made for me and I love it all the same.

We made our way back to the car with almost no complaining. Considering the snow and occasionally icy trail, the necessity of wearing snow instead of hiking boots, and the addition of the packs, we are counting this as a small and amazing miracle. The Snickers bar we had on hand for that last boost of energy didn’t hurt our chances either. We arrived back at the car happy and tired, but invigorated by the cold. It may have taken a a little while for my face to warm back up, but thanks to my lovely new hat…

sidewaysmy ears stayed nice and warm.

Saying Farewell to Yellowstone

Our final morning in Yellowstone was the coldest by far. We made sure the kids had a good breakfast via the continental breakfast provided by the hotel.

img_2187In case you’re wondering, to our kids the hotel continental breakfast was amazing and got 2 thumbs up.

With full bellies we made our way back into the park, but with the sun just coming up it was still in the single digits so we opted for a short repeat hike that we’d done one other day which we knew would keep us out of any possible wind and wouldn’t take us far from the car. We revisited the trail along the icy, fast-moving Gardiner River that takes you right up to the confluence with the Boiling River. The aptly named Boiling River is fed by Mammoth Hot Springs and while it isn’t literally boiling, it’s very, very hot. Where the two meet, many choose to brave the extreme temps for a soak. We just hiked and reflected on our trip and waited for the sun to make its way over the mountains.

img_2183And we watched the sun rise…

img_2152With the little American Dipper, dipping away in the very center of the river in this picture.

img_2098We walked to the end of the trail to get one last look at the Boiling River and all the vivid colors that are present around it.

As we walked back to the car, the kids paired up & walked ahead and I was left to my own thoughts…

Interrupted only by the American Dippers antagonizing each other and a Belted Kingfisher that flew past, searching the river for food. It was right near this spot that a couple days earlier we saw an snowy-white ermine with his little black-tipped tail run across the road plain as day. It was unbelievable for us because last year in Minnesota we’d tried so hard in vain to catch a glimpse of this little member of the weasel family. And here, in the weird and mysterious and magical world that is Yellowstone, he just scampered across the road in front of us as if it was nothing.

And I think that’s the thing about Yellowstone, what I’ve taken away from this adventure. Yellowstone is this place that turns ‘normal’ on its head. It’s a super-volcano in a seemingly random spot. It’s a place where rivers boil and organisms thrive in places you would never expect to find life. It’s a place where huge bison shrink and disappear in mountain forests in the blink of an eye and where wolves bound up steep ridges and have conversations across miles of open valleys. It’s a place where song birds hunt in icy rivers and ermine lope across the road, where our cars share the roads and bridges with bison and coyotes. It’s a place that on the surface is so stable and yet you can feel that deep down, there’s a constant churning within.

What struck me most, however, was watching all the animals move across the immense wilderness, this landscape that just goes on forever. It was hard for me to really grasp how these animals know how to survive in such a huge, sometimes harsh place. And as I reflect on these thoughts, I keep coming back to that first view of the wolves as they ambled along their trail traversing that ridge — some walking, some trotting, some playing and frolicking — distinct personalities clear from miles away. It struck me that as long as they were together, this pack of wolves had everything it needed just in having each other. And in that moment I felt a real connection to them because they were not unlike my little family on our little adventure across those 3043.8 miles. Packed with the essentials in our little car, we had our warm coats and the car’s heater for warmth, we had a way to get food, and we had each other. For all the weird, mysterious beauty, for all the churning deep beneath our feet, like the wolves we wake up each day fortunate to have and to be able to rely on each other. It isn’t always easy or simple, but all the rest the world throws at us we can handle as long as we’re together.

We left Gardiner well before dawn, bidding farewell to Yellowstone in the darkness with Orion looking down on us. We saw and experienced so much there, but there is so much left in this place to explore and learn that it seemed almost fitting that we should leave it shrouded in darkness, still holding some secrets for us to uncover.

The ride home was slightly intimidating with white-out conditions on and off through much of Montana and then deeply subzero temps across North Dakota and Minnesota. Of course I occupied my mind, suppressed my nerves, and passed some of the time with some knitting…

img_2166-1Finishing this Timber Bay hat shortly after arriving home.

Home.

After so many miles, finally arriving back in Wisconsin and returning to our little house, as with all vacations that come to an end, it was bittersweet. We were happy to be snug & cozy with our familiar creature comforts. I was relieved that despite a week of very cold temps while we were away, the furnace was still working and the other car still started. In fact, everything was just as we left it. It felt a little strange at first, but I think that’s only because Yellowstone changed me. I feel a little braver. Maybe a little stronger. Most of all, though, my heart grew even more to recognize how incredible my little pack is — my husband for his planning, adaptability, unyielding search for adventure, and positive attitude, our children for their patience and ability to find fun in every darn place they are (including 20+hr car rides), and, of course, Moose for his unflappable calm and unrelenting zest for napping. It isn’t always easy or simple, but as long as we’re together we have everything that we need.