“Yup, it’s colder out here then at home,” she says. Tough Cookie and I are standing just off-shore on frozen Lake Massabesic in Manchester. Our quest for the day is an intriguing series of small islands about a half mile away. At home, in wind cover, the day feels positively balmy compared to the last few weeks.
But out here, the wind comes howling down off the small ridges surrounding the city’s biggest lake, picks up speed over the ice and snow crystals and feels like tiny cold razors when it brushes exposed skin.
“Here, take this,” I say and hand her a fleece neck warmer to slide down over her head. She raises an eyebrow. The thing is just not terribly fashionable and is a sort of puke green color.
I’m amazed that we are at that point, the girl and I, where she is now (nearly) a teenager and there’s a sort of negotiation that goes on both between us and in her own head when it comes to such things. Well, she must be thinking, it is cold and that does look warm, and the hiker in me understands it makes sense to wear it, but then again, he’s telling me to wear it and I’m naturally inclined to resist adults and it is a hideous color and what if I meet somebody I know?
But today, I manage to prevail, and she makes a sort of “hmmm” grunting sound before sliding it over her head. And good thing too, because the wind hits us and we set our shoulders to the task, and once again, just like that, Buffalo and Tough Cookie are forging into an adventure.
Life sometimes takes no prisoners and neither of us ever claimed to be victims to Fortune’s wheel, but these past few months have challenged us in ways we could not have possibly have imagined. Pregnancy and birth. There is now a new eight week old hiker-to-be in our clan. School and family. Nothing is more important. The holidays. Well, we all know that can suck the life out of you.
But now, months after any major hike, I turn my exposed cheek away from the wind and look over at my long-time hiking partner. She leans into her snowshoes, her poles planting with firm crunches in the icy snow. I breath in the frosty air, frigid in my throat and lungs. Like two old friends with a shared understanding of each other, time apart means nothing when together again.
We beeline for the largest of the islands, a thin strip of poplar and pine maybe 20 feet wide, but a few hundred yards long. The ice snow is of different depths. In some places, the wind has scoured the lake nearly to the ice and we can walk over the rippled frozen water. In other places, we have to plow through one and two foot drifts.
We are far from alone today. The lake is a veritable playground this morning. Snowmobiles tear back and forth. Tiny, mobile bob houses dot the lake, the fishermens’ ice holes marked my large, plastic red and white bobbers held up by sticks. Other hikers – some on cross-country skis – explore the lake as well.
We reach the island and Tough Cookie finds a good spot for us to boost ourselves up to the “shore.” The snow on the island is very deep and we take turns falling into root and rock traps as we go. After a bit, we discover a huge boulder, and Janelle boosts herself up to the top. I break out the thermos for tea and we hang out a bit, away from the chilly breeze.
But ultimately, this island doesn’t hold our interest, so we scramble back down the other side and make our way across a channel to a tiny, rocky island strewn with boulders. “Whoa,” Janelle says, “look at this!”
There is a large boulder, just off the main shore, sticking about four feet above the ice. All around it, the water appears to have crashed in ripples against the rock. When the water began to freeze, it’s as though the ice lifted in waves against the rock. Adding to the interesting formation is the fact that the wind has scoured away the snow near the rock and we can get down on our hands and knees and, in some spots, look deeply into the lake through the clear, blue ice.
Tough Cookie shucks off her poles and scrambles around on the ice, sticking her legs out in front of her and sliding down the incline in the snow. “This is so cool!”
And for a few moments, she’s the little girl who began hiking with me four years ago; the kid who slowly began to develop a love of nature with big wonder and amazement. I wouldn’t change the incredible young woman that she has become, but it’s nice to see her engaged again in the moment as she slips off her glove and runs her fingers over the smooth ice. “Look at this, what is this?”
In the ice are tiny frozen bubbles, created perhaps by lapping water as it froze. Or maybe the fish and animals down below popped bubbles up. I have no clue and I tell her so.
“When you write about this, you should take a picture and ask people if they know,” she says. I’ve been a little concerned lately that as she gets older, she’ll be less inclined to appreciate my writing about our adventures. I’m thrilled that she doesn’t seem to mind.
In the car, on the way home, we drive by a section of the lake and spy two ice paragliders; the operators grip the wires, straining against the stiff, cold wind, their chutes wide open to the sky. They move fast along the icy snow. “I’ve never seen anything like that!” Janelle says.
I consider stopping and going back out on the ice. I think about asking her if she’d like to try that some day, but that would be a foolish question as I know the answer. Instead, I say, “Come on we’ll stop at a diner on the way home and I’ll buy you a hot chocolate.”
She nods, and grins, but her eyes stay for a long time on the colorful chutes against the bright, white clouds.
Buffalo and Tough Cookie have a full spring of events planned and we’d love for you to join us!
Next up, we’ll be giving a presentation at Merrimack Public Library on Thursday, March 19 from 7-8:30pm.
The show is FREE! For more information on Buffalo and Tough Cookie or just Dan Szczesny events, stop by Dan’s website for all the latest news: Dan’s Event Schedule
So glad to see you two out hiking. It must have been exciting to hike on the frozen lake. Imagine the fish looking up saying “What’s that?” Looking forward to more adventures. Love to all.