The season of man versus nature has arrived.
It’s that time when Wisconsin can’t decide what it wants and the temperatures bounce around with variations of 30 or 40 degrees over the span of days – or even hours, which is where man and nature come in.
More specifically, it’s when a man has to battle for control of his sidewalk over the nature of that one snow-plow driver.
You know – that guy who shows off his prowess at clearing the street in front of your house when all the conditions are just right.
It starts with snow as heavy as a lobbyist’s purse and as wet as a legislator’s tears when that purse is closed.
Then we get a driver who puts a hair’s width between his plow blade and the curb in front of your house, a width we know is still a billion times thicker than said legislator’s ethics.
Combine that with plow-driving speed that’s faster than a Donald Trump tweet claiming credit for something he didn’t do, and suddenly we have slush flying over snowbanks and onto the sidewalk that you just chopped free of ice hours before.
Throw in temperatures that vacillate like a politician at a press conference, and you’ve got a cold mess that within seconds hardens to the consistency of a diamond on your walk. (If only it were so – then we could get legislators to clear them.)
Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, but I’m no fan of such changing weather. Fortunately, there’s always a place or two for hanging onto real winter, and that’s when the George W. Mead Wildlife Area comes to the rescue again.
Open vistas make chilly wind bearable
My wife and I decided on a Sunday-afternoon stroll at Mead, where she’d not yet visited. The original plan had been to take 15-year-old Sam cross-country skiing, but he couldn’t go and I figured I could at least determine whether Mead would be a good place for it.
Yami has no skis, so we’d hoof it, but my idea was to find a convenient parking place and examine trail possibilities. I hadn’t considered our local marshes as good skiing locations until a recent visit to McMillan Marsh Wildlife Area, but I’m now a convert.
The standard approach to Mead from Stevens Point is U.S. 10 to Wood County Highway S, which we took north past the Mead Visitor Center. Reaching a parking area on the south side of the Little Eau Pleine River bridge on County S, we pulled the Subaru in, pulled our boots on and started down the trail.
Our path, one I was not familiar with yet, was a road along the dike that bordered the Little Eau Pleine and the north side of the Townline Flowage. It was mid-afternoon and the lack of tire tracks and footprints made it clear that we were the day’s only visitors there.
The weather was short of ideal for either skiing or hiking, but workable for both. The snow was crusty but smooth and deep enough for skis, despite a bright sun that manufactured slush on County S.
Temperatures in the high 20s were great for walking, but with a 20-mile-per-hour wind occasionally gusting to 30, conversation wasn’t easy. Still, we’re an old married couple, so not being able to talk probably meant I was at less risk of being tossed off the dike.
Whooshing wind notwithstanding, it was a beautiful walk. There was no other sound except the occasional creaking of a tree bending back and forth. We watched powdery snow swirling across the frozen marshland and saw skinny treetop branches coated with fingers of ice that sparkled while waving against the blue sky.
Dunes of snow had built up along the grasses bordering the trail, carved by the wind into sculptures that looked like ocean waves just beginning to break.
In some spots, drifting snow had built to a depth that required more work to slog through, but that just meant burning a few extra calories.
The wind was at our back as we went about a mile and a half east on the trail, enjoying the expansive vista across marshland to our right and the straight-line channel of the Little Eau Pleine about 10 feet below us to our left.
Another dike on the other side paralleled much of our path, although the road there eventually bent northeast around a heavily wooded tract. Those trees provided a nice visual contrast to the flat and brightly lit fields of ice, snow, dried grass and cattails that stretched out to the southeast for another mile or more before the road we walked down curved south along the edge of more woods.
Eventually we wandered back, and the wind chose that time to rest. Although already very pleased to have a quiet spell of winter solitude, we were happy to have an easier return.
We made plans to return for a bike ride in the summer, then headed home, ready to take on whatever challenges mischievous children or snowplow drivers had dreamed up for us in our short absence.
This post originally appeared in the March 2, 2018, edition of The Portage County Gazette.