For the love of conifers
“I love pine trees!” Niecie squeed in excitement on coming upon a dense thicket of evergreens during a hike in the Hickson Forest last Sunday.
Niecie hugging the broad trunk of a tree in excitement, a broad smile creeping across her face.
The dense line of coniferous trees painted a swath of green across the monochrome of hardwood forest that blankets the bluff side. Artist Bob Ross might have called the trees “a happy little accident.”
In the spring, the tree’s needles would be little more than a dark smudge in a sea of bright green, but in the depths of winter, they shone with a rich brilliance that was almost infectious. Such a little thing to lift our spirits, I suppose.
Growing up hiking along the Northshore of Lake Superior, I’d always adored these giants which brought a bit of color to Minnesota’s long winters. Nestled along the Mississippi river valley these trees are a treat, outnumbered 1,000-fold by the dense hardwood forests.
An unlikely surprise
Our hike had begun with an unlikely surprise.
While I may be an avid hiking enthusiast, Niecie is most definitely not. She has made it perfectly clear that the only part of camp, hike, overland she can’t get behind is the hiking.
In recent years, I’ve worked hard to change that without much success, so it was my surprise when Niecie asked me, or rather demanded that we go hiking.
“I want to go hiking, right now,” she’d said smiling at my surprise and confusion.
How could I refuse? Further questioning revealed, she wasn’t talking about a walk in the woods or a trip to the wildlife refuge, she wanted to go hiking. This was a treat and I knew it.
Even more surprising, Niecie decided we should go hiking in the Hickson Forest. Located just outside La Crosse, which is one of my favorite hiking destinations. Hickson’s wide variety of trails that loop up and around the bluff sides and valleys offer a little something for everyone, but it’s not the most friendly hiking destination for those just starting out.
Wandering amongst the trees
As we set off, squirrels quarreled quietly in the brush, presumably squabbling over the last remaining nuts and berries left clinging to the branches.
The temperature was a pleasant 24 degrees Fahrenheit, or it would have been if not for the stiff wind that pressed against our hand shells and chilled our faces.
We quickly shook off the cold once on the move. The heat generated by our movement kept us more than comfortable as we trekked along the bluff side.
At every branch in the trail, I asked Niecie if she wanted to loop back or continue on, and each time she insisted we keep going.
It was a little less than halfway through our three-mile hike we came upon the swath of conifers. In the flat light of the overcast sky, the pine needles glowed iridescently.
As we looped back to the parking lot, it became obvious we were missing some critical hardware. The trail had turned to glaze ice, and as we struggled to keep our footing, I cursed my decision not to pick up some crampons earlier this season.
It didn’t take long before I lost my fight for traction, and gravity, the cruel mistress that she is, body slammed me to the ground, where the frozen earth met me with a dull unforgiving thud. Pain rocketed through my body, emanating in waves from elbow and hip. “Well that hurt,” I managed quietly.
Why hadn’t I bought those stupid crampons? Maybe, if I’d been born with bigger feet like my brother or those of a rabbit, I wouldn’t have fallen.
The pain ebbed through my body as we continued back toward the parking lot. At least our bones, phones or cameras weren’t broken, but I knew I was going to be sore for the next few days.
It wasn’t long before the ice claimed its next victim as Niecie came crashing down on her bottom in an almost comically smooth movement. She winced and climbed to her feet.
A good hike, a better story
Sure, falling on our asses wasn’t all that fun and yes, it did hurt a lot, but I won’t soon forget Niecie’s sheer excitement at the sight of her favorite green-needled trees or the great conversations we shared while wondering in the woods.advertisement
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- Do you have a favorite season to go hiking?
- Have you ever found such joy from something so simple as a few pine trees?
- Can you recommend a good pair of crampons for next season?
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