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A Winter Walk

By Bill Doolittle

Photography John Nation



A Walk in the Winter isn’t about challenging the elements of a brutal February blizzard or scrunching yourself up under an umbrella. It’s more about getting outdoors on a decent day and seeing what there is to see.

It’s heading along a trail through a silent forest, or down to a creek that’s getting a little frozen edge near the bank. Or forging out on a brisk walk through the neighborhood to a warm destination.


For the VOICE-TRIBUNE Operations Manager and artist, Mary Zoeller and her walking pals, a walk in the winter combines exercise and beauty of place in regular treks in the Parklands of Floyd’s Fork. The crew parks near the Parklands’ north entrance off Shelbyville Road and sets out along the Louisville Loop.


“There’s usually four of us,” says Zoeller. “Sometimes we go through the woods, and sometimes, because of the weather, or who’s got a bumped knee or whatever, we need to walk some place ‘flat.’ Sometimes both, where we start off on the main trail, and branch up into the hills. That park is nice, because it has everything.”


At that end of the Parklands, there are formal gardens and planted flower beds. The landscaping isn’t so pastel in winter, but there are other colors that catch the eye.


“I like the winter trees, and their bark,” says Zoeller. “I like when it’s a gray day and the trees have a reddish, brown bark, and you see the form of the trees against the gray of the sky.”



One thing about deciduous trees is when they drop their leaves for winter, a walker may suddenly gain a new vista. Iroquois Park has its well-known north and south lookouts, open in any season. But when you walk up the old road (now closed to cars) in winter, you can see through the forested hillside to the industrial heartland of Louisville: the airport and expressways, Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, and some of the huge UPS operations. The Iroquois Amphitheater is nestled right below, and across the valley streets and homes climb up Iroquois’ companion, Kenwood Hill.


And all around, the woods in Iroquois are said to contain every variety of tree native to Kentucky.



The Sounds of Silence


Away from the city, my brother Dave and I head out into a forest in Harrison County, Indiana – beyond Corydon. It’s a cold day, following a light snow the night before. The ground is white, but the sky overhead is blue, blue — a beautiful winter’s day.


We park at a neighbor’s house and start out down an old logging road through the woods. I’ve especially got my eye out and ears open because it was right here at the edge of the woods that I once scared up a bunch of wild turkeys – suddenly sending them flop, flop flopping their wings in a noisy escape. Not very far. Even wild turkeys can’t fly very far. Just enough to get out of sight – fast. I can’t remember if they whooped up any turkey cries (or whatever sound a spooked turkey makes), but it was a very sudden thing. A flap-flap flash of brown and tan feathers. One thing I can tell you: I was probably more startled than they were!



But, no turkeys today. In fact, those first steps into the forest; it’s like there’s nobody home, period. The snow is only about two inches, but the temperature is in the 20s. I’ve got on two pairs of wool socks inside my old L.L. Bean boots. Dave has this ugly old olive drab hat. He reaches his hands up and pulls the flaps down over his ears. “I’m good,” he says. “Won’t be cold now.”


We clomp along down the two worn tracks of the road, with “volunteer” cedar trees alongside. 


The road levels off for a moment and there’s a little clearing. We stop and listen. Standing still. Then really standing still. Not sliding coat sleeves or shuffling boots. Listening …


Silence.



The snow is like a covering of cotton, damping down the acoustics. Softening the cold edges of winter.

Of course, it is not silent at all. We’ve just eased off the high pitches our ears are attuned to the racket of everyday life. Here, there’s a bit of wind that has sound, whistling through bare tree limbs. Maybe somewhere a few miles away is an indistinct hum of highway. Kind of a subsonic for our ears. But, in general, it’s so quiet we can hear each other breathe.


Then a tiny twig snaps.


Some critter, not being quite as careful as it should.


Then a drip. Snow on some high limb, melted into a little drop that hangs on, then finally falls — hitting a lower limb on the way down. Even though it's freezing, the sun still melts snow. 


Of course, there is hardly any snow anymore. But whatever there is part of a rainy river of late winter precipitation in the Ohio Valley. And it’s all on a grand mission. Seeping into the ground and finding cracks in the limestone to reach passageways below. Then gathering up to come flowing out of springs, tumbling clean down hollows into creeks below. Karst geology. This is the beauty of the Eastern United States, where there's plenty of rain to be soaked up by the ground and cleaned through natural stone filterways.


All that is described in the belief system of the Cherokee Indians, and others. The Underworld and Overworld. Not underworld like Frank Nitti and the Teflon Don. This is the underworld of rain and rocks and spring branches that is a part of the renewal of life.


Pretty cool to think about it that way.


Ironwood?


We take off from the road and travel through hardwood forest. The forester’s category is “oak-hickory forest,” which includes many hardwood species we know (and use): white and red oak, hickory, butternut. And poplar, ash, maple, cherry, walnut. The hard woods of baseball bats and fine furniture.


Where the treetops make a canopy, the forest floor below is relatively open, covered in fallen leaves. You have to watch out for occasional stickers and bend back crooked little ironwood trees as you walk. So far as I know, ironwood has no real use, and you can push it aside easily. But you can’t snap off a limb. Samson, himself, couldn’t break ironwood. But Delilah could brush it away with her fingertips.


Just when I’m congratulating myself on what a knowledgeable woodsman I am, a low limb flips my hat off and a fluff of snow falls on my head and sprinkles down the back of my neck. Paleface does not watch where he goes.



A creek running clear – and cold


Down at the creek, the banks are lined with white-faced sycamores. There are well-traveled paths on either side, with all sorts of footprints of little animals. Fox and squirrels, for sure. Probably some neighbor’s dog. Of course, deer. Maybe coyotes. Someone who knows wildlife prints could take a census. 


Above a fast-running riffle, we can see all the details of a rocky bottom in a long, clear pool. Don’t see Mr. and Ms. Bass out swimming around. Too cold. But they’ll be busy in a month. Really busy, and the boots of fishermen will be tracked along the path.


Here’s the most important thing to know about walking along a creek in the winter: Don’t fall in!


We climb up from the creek, taking holds on gnarly old sycamore roots and reach the top of a little bluff. We’ll follow this path, then another we call Reindeer Downs, back to the logging road. When we get to a clearing, we spot a silver-white plane way up in the sky. A passenger jet cruising at maybe 15,000 feet. Gliding noiselessly on the well-flown old TWA route west from Louisville — to St. Louis, Denver and California.



We count seconds to give the plane’s sound a chance to travel sonically over a distance … not a whisper.


Perfect.


Beethoven’s scarf


Back in the city, it’s a different kind of walk at night in the winter. Daylight punches off the clock at about the time most people get home, so it’s not so much about what you can see on a walk, but the destination. Like a friendly neighborhood spot. Maybe with a fireplace.

I’m reminded of a story about Ludwig van Beethoven, told by bassoonist Matt Karr. Karr is giving a little talk about Beethoven’s famous Septet before a performance of the piece by the NouLou Chamber Players. The Septet – for seven players, different instruments – was premiered in 1800 in Vienna, when Beethoven was just finding stardom as a composer. Karr sets the scene:


“It’s a cold night and Beethoven twirls a big wool scarf around his neck as he leaves the concert hall,” said Karr. “It’s cold and he walks fast over the cobblestone streets of Vienna, probably headed for a favorite tavern with a warm glow.


“The Septet is Beethoven’s first great success,” says Karr. “But I’m imagining he’s not dwelling on that as much as he’s looking ahead. In the next two years he’ll finish his second symphony and other works. But I’m thinking, as he’s walking he’s already projecting the third symphony in his mind. The Eroica.”


So that’s a good idea, thinking ahead to something really great coming up.Twirl a scarf around your neck and take off!


There aren’t many spots with real fireplaces, burning real firewood. A few. But many places these days have gas log fireplaces going. The Village Anchor has one in a big stone fireplace. The restaurant is near the start/finish line of the Anchorage Trail – a neat two-mile loop. And there’s a big old fireplace at The 1894 Lodge in New Washington, IN. That’s up Indiana Highway 62, toward Madison. A little far to walk, of course.


Downtown, there’s a modern round glass fireplace unit at the new Moxy Hotel, in the bar off Washington Street near the KFC Yum! Center. Looks like fun.



But I really like the smaller gas log units in quaint old iron fireplaces. Like at the Irish Rover, in a 19th Century brick building on Frankfort Ave. Or the Chik’n & Mi restaurant in the old southern-style inn on the corner of Mellwood Ave. and Brownsboro Rd. The best thing about Chik’n & Mi is they’ve got not just one, but three fireplaces in the first-floor dining rooms.


More spots to warm more toes after a Walk in the Winter.



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