Snowshoeing brings back memories
Of snow, snowshoes,
beginnings and endings
It was Christmas Eve. The end of the year was approaching determinedly, unavoidably, quickly. But the day was lovely. The sun was up, and the temperature rose to the mid-20s — comfortable weather for snowshoes. Fresh powdery snow blanketed the woods.
My wife, Deborah, had been waiting two years for this moment. Her grandmother, Frances “Fran” Smith Eastman, had passed away in May of 2008. Fran, who had lived nearly her entire life in an old house on a wooded hillside in western New Hampshire, was an avid lover of the outdoors. She continued to snowshoe and cross-country ski into her mid-80s, following a one-mile loop around her big meadow and the edge of her woods.
Of course she wore the classic old hardwood and leather snowshoes with a long narrow frame. They were works of art and beauty, as lovely hanging on the wall as they were useful strapped to the feet. They were also at least three quarters of a century old — nearly as old as their owner.
Near the end of her life, when Fran could no longer get out into the wood that surrounded her home, she connected with it by feeding its birds with a variety of backyard feeders. But not the squirrels. Those she chased away with snowballs at them. The snowshoes hung on the wall.
When she passed away in 2008 at the age of 91, one of the few things my wife wanted as a keepsake of her grandmother was a pair of those old snowshoes. But not just to hang on the wall. Deborah wanted to wear them in the woods. To walk, an almost literal sense, in the footsteps of her grandmother.
She inherited two pairs. One of them does decorate our bedroom wall, providing both a certain beauty and also some fond memories. The other pair, after several months of research over the winter of 2008-2009, she eventually sent off to Marie Boutin of Boutin Snowshoes.
Boutin, who works in the Montpelier area, crafts fine traditional snowshoes, and also repairs and refinishes old snowshoes. Her work came highly recommended. Deborah called her, talked in person, and eventually (after finding a large enough box) shipped the shoes off.
Boutin repaired the broken webbing, replaced the old straps with newer leather bindings, and re-varnished the shoes.
They were ready for use in January of 2010, about a week after all of December’s abundant snow had disappeared. Unfortunately, we never got another good storm, and so the winter of 2009-2010 passed by as well, and the shoes decorated our wall for a few more months waiting for their time to come back.
Christmas Eve of 2010 came with new snow. Deborah, eschewing her modern high-tech composite shoes, donned her grandmother’s wooden and leather shoes for the first time and went for a walk.
In some ways, our woods looked like a war zone. Two brutal windstorms over the previous month had done tremendous damage. The ground was strewn with the limbs and in some cases entire corpses of trees. Huge pines had been blown down all over our property. A couple big firs were down right near the house. Several maples had come down as well. The year had not been kind to our trees. Our trail was barely passable.
Yet the fresh fallen snow blanked all this like forgiveness. Or like love. Love, a wise (but never formally educated) first century Jewish fisherman once remarked, covers a multitude of sins. It makes the old look new, and the broken whole. It heals wounds. It restores. It is like new life.
Love and snow are like a new pair of snowshoes revived from the old. Like the start of a new year just as the old one passes. And pair of snowshoes tracks faded off into the snowy woods.