Winter has gone AWOL.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. We've had some rough winters here the last few years and I am perfectly happy with a mild winter. We are getting out more, our chickens are getting out more (and as a result producing more eggs) and our heating bill is much lower. I even saw an American Robin in our crab apple tree this morning, the earliest I've ever seen one here.
We've been taking advantage of the warm weather to start getting in shape for some backpacking this summer. I've been in the backcountry on a few occasions (see my posts about Pictured Rocks) but Lisa and Lori have not. We've done plenty of camping and have lots of gear for car camping (plus the old RV we use for shows) but have needed to outfit ourselves for the backcountry, which calls for completely different gear--and completely different conditioning. So we've been walking a few miles every other day or so, working up to greater lengths until we add packs and gradually increase their weight.
Hiking in winter is really very pleasant. No bugs, no crowds, and if you dress right you stay warm but don't overheat. The light at this time of year is gorgeous with a warm, yellow cast that angles through the trees and lights them top to bottom.
We searched for signs of winter but they were few and far between. Temps in the 40's made for happy mosses, whose spore casings quivered in the breeze.
Some of the small ponds had a thin layer of ice, but that was it. No snow anywhere.
We hiked out to a marsh to hear some running water and see what was happening. We found some coyote scat and tracks along with some colorful plants, like red osier dogwood.
Some fluffy thimbleberries stood tall along the trail, their seeds dispersed.
Winterberry competed with the dogwood for most colorful. These berries ripen late in the season and therefore aren't usually eaten until late winter. A holly that's native to Eastern North America, it's a welcome sight in depths of winter.
The walk back to the car brought us along the shore of Chenango Lake, where we sometimes go fishing in summer. The sun lit the far shore.
The line between new and old ice made interesting patterns across the surface of the lake. It's been so warm I was surprised to see any ice at all.
It looks like the weather is going to change tonight, with a cold front moving through and bringing cold, wind and, yes, snow.