On the First Day of Winter

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For many years, I’ve struggled with Christmas and finding meaningful ways to celebrate the season. I know it’s supposed to be a happy time of year, but it tends to make me feel more lost than uplifted. Instead, increasingly I find myself drawn to a quiet celebration of the winter solstice, the drawing down of the year into a time of hushed darkness and rest before the world moves steadily toward the light.

So, given that my work schedule this week left me with a completely open day for the solstice, I knew I needed to spend this turning of the seasons outside, absorbing as much light and nature as I could find.

Once again, I left home well before dawn to drive to the Cuyahoga Valley, arriving just in time to catch a gloriously fiery sunrise, the entire sky painted in vivid pinks and peaches to welcome the shortest day of the year. What a beautiful morning for hiking!

I started in Brecksville, though instead of returning to one of the lovelier sections of the Towpath, I headed across the road into Brecksville Reservation, part of the Cleveland Metroparks. I had read that one trail (Salamander) led to an overlook (My Mountain) that was considered a good viewpoint in the CVNP, so I had chosen that trail as my starting point of the day.

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The snow accumulation here was not too daunting — a couple inches at most — but I quickly found myself giving thanks for my hiking poles as the trail, having endured multiple thaw-freeze cycles recently, became very slick underfoot. Suddenly, a moderate-level hike became difficult, and I started wishing for my hiking shoes with strap-on Stabilicers (still in the car as a backup). I made it safely up the hill and walked deliberately along the path, but as the trail narrowed along the ridge crest leading to the overlook, I admit I began to feel nervous about hiking alone in these conditions.

The overlook offered a pleasant view down to Chippewa Creek and Riverview Road, but as I headed back to the main part of the trail, I found myself enjoying the woods themselves more. The Salamander Trail overlaps a small portion of the Buckeye Trail (a lengthy trail that winds throughout the state), giving me a nice challenge for my hike, and it passes through some wetter areas (now iced over) that serve as a spring amphibian breeding ground. For that alone, I’ll be happy to return and hike this trail again.

Despite some very slippery footing and a couple of falls, I made it back down the hill safely, if a little sore. I took a few minutes on the way out of the park to climb the short way down to Chippewa Creek, partially iced over and lovely in its winter attire.

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From there I drove south on Riverview Road to reach one of my favorite spots in the CVNP: Indigo Lake. The parking area and the lake were both deserted, so I enjoyed hiking part way around the lake, basking in the pale solstice sunshine, and taking photos. Having switched into my hiking shoes, I had more traction for walking on the icy snow and paths, though I then had problems with one of my hiking poles not staying locked in position. (A day of technical difficulties, clearly; I managed to persevere.) Still, it’s hard to beat the peace and loveliness of this spot.

Onward I traveled to Bath Nature Preserve, where I checked one more hike off my list. I followed Beefy’s Trail (a bridle path) up and over the western hill in the preserve, down to where researchers are working on wetland restoration along Bath Creek. The trail, only just over 1/2 mile long (one way), took me through a hardwood forest packed with beeches and a few striking shagbark hickories. The sun remained fairly subdued here, as well, as clouds continually veiled it as I walked.

With this trio of peaceful hikes, you might think I had enjoyed enough time celebrating the solstice outdoors and would be ready for lunch. But I had one more place in mind to visit, and I’ll tell you more about that in my next post.

 

 

 

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