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.

A swath of pines appeared out of seemingly nowhere during a hike at the Hickson Forest outside La Crosse, Wisconsin.

An unlikely surprise

Niecie beams with excitement upon discovering the pine trees.

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.

Missing equipment

A pair of crampons could have saved me from falling on the ice. A week later, I’m still a little sore.

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.

Had I been born with rabbit’s feet, I don’t think I would have fallen nearly as much.

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.


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  • 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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  • Music398

    That looks like a beautiful walk. Sometimes wandering through the snow with your partner is just the best way to spend a day! Good luck with your bruises!

    February 7, 2018 - 8:15 pm Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Thanks. I am healing quickly. Only the slightest sign of a bruise on my hip and my shoulder feels much better. It was a nice way to spend the day and a good lesson for next time. How do you like to spend your time?

      February 7, 2018 - 10:28 pm Reply
      • Music398

        Sounds like you’re almost ready for your next adventure!? I’m still based on cruise ships at the moment, so basically being dragged to whichever places the company decide to go. Currently heading west! You’re based in the US yes?

        February 8, 2018 - 2:22 pm Reply
        • tobiasmann

          Yes, Niecie and are based in Wisconsin. I bet you get to explore some pretty amazing places while working on a cruise ship.

          February 8, 2018 - 3:13 pm Reply
          • Music398

            I do you’re right. Currently on a world cruise and getting off where I can. However, although Leicester, UK is no holiday hot spot, I still can’t beat my own home town! You’re not too far from the start of Route 66? I’ve gotta drive that 1 day!

            February 9, 2018 - 3:12 pm
          • tobiasmann

            Yeah it’s not to far away. Only about 5 hours to Chicago from here and you can jump on. I’ve been told it’s an amazing trip to make and one we might make someday. For now we’re trying to plan shorter less expensive trips.

            February 10, 2018 - 12:02 am
  • Wayne Goeken

    Thanks for sharing…hoping our 20 below mornings up here in NW MN soon give way to more friendly hiking opportunities. Enjoying watching the furious pace of birds consuming calories at my bird feeders though in their quest to stay warm. Today’s survey so far: chickadees, white breasted nuthatches, red polls, blue jays, and woodpeckers–downy, hairy, and red-bellied.Plus gray and red squirrels cleaning up spilt seed below the feeders along with acorns I scatter from last fall’s harvest…and a doe and last year’s offspring come through regularly to score small apples from my flowering crab trees.

    February 9, 2018 - 10:02 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      When I tell people about winter in NW MN they always think I’m exaggerating. I honestly don’t miss it. 20 below is debilitating even as dry as the air gets up there. It must be quite a show having all those creatures gathered around the bird feeder. It probably makes for some pretty amazing photo ops. Speaking of photography, I’ve got two posts on cameras coming up you might find particularly interesting. As I recall you used to shoot 35mm. Thanks for the comment, and if you haven’t already you might want to subscribe to our weekly newsletter for updates.

      February 10, 2018 - 12:08 am Reply

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