Sunshine in Your Own Backyard

Rays of sunshine can brighten any winter day when hiking in your neighborhood’s sanctuary. Painting: Winter Shadows by Mark Stash
12/13/2023
by Kit Fruscione
illustrations by Mark Stash

The crunching sounds of the fresh snow beneath my hiking boots, paired with the exhaling of my cold breath, was soothing as I hiked through the trails of Mendon Ponds Park. The further I get down the trail, I close my eyes, blocking out my other senses, hearing the sharp chirps of the winter birds, their feathers puffed in excitement, from last night’s snow fall.

A total of 10 inches of powdery fluff fell throughout the night. It resembled confectioner’s sugar sprinkled across the landscape by Mother Nature’s hand. It is March in Upstate NY and the winter has been disappointing. Not much snow, just a lot of gray days and rain begging the question, “Why do we live here?”

The winter is long in Rochester. We usually see the first snowflakes fly starting around late November. Winter usually ends here in April, so we possibly experience nearly six months of gray and cold weather. But last night it snowed and I’m grateful for the white powder blanketing the brown grass, perched delicately upon barren tree branches.

The pond is to my right as I decide to hike the perimeter of it. Geese slowly coast through the still, cold water. Hearing my footsteps approaching, they dart behind the cattails standing straight and tall along the water’s edge. I’m wearing my crampons over my boots and think my snowshoes would have probably been a better choice. Still, I’m reveling in this hike. A year ago, I was recovering from a full knee replacement. Thankfully now I’m hiking as I always did, strong and determined.

There are other people out here today. It’s a big park, full of wooded hiking trails and a big hill for sledding. I can hear the echoes of kids in the distance, yelling and laughing as they slide down the slope.

Carefully, trying not to walk in the cross-country ski tracks and not messing up the skiers’ parallel lines, I break trail alongside them. After an hour of hiking, with three miles complete, I’m back at the parking lot, sweaty and hungry. I drive to the nearby village of Pittsford, and go into the small bakery, Village Bakery & Cafe and buy a blueberry muffin. It’s so yummy, and I make short work of it. Driving back home, I think about how to enjoy the snow tomorrow and end up deciding on cycling along the Erie Canal on my fat tire bike.

Sunday morning arrives quickly and I’m stoked to start the day. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, an orange and a latte, I’m fueled up for my ride along the Erie Canal. I pick the path up in Brighton where I live. It’s so convenient, just a 15 minute ride from my house. The path is covered in snow with some icy patches; I’m glad my tires are thick, with a good tread, similar to a motorcycle tire. The icy patches on the path crush under the fat tires as if a thin pane of glass, shattering into tiny pieces – like diamonds – and jump through the air.

The water in the canal is low. In just a couple of months it will be high again with kayakers and boats. The path is quiet, unlike the summer when it’s crowded with walkers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, runners, and of course, cyclists. The canal has been around since the 182’s and is 351 miles long, beginning in Albany and finishing in Buffalo. While biking I decide I want to ride the distance of it this summer. Future tripping is comforting though, even if summer feels ions away on this cold, blustery, day.

It feels satisfying being on my bike, moving along at a fast clip, feeling the freezing wind on my face. I cycle for an hour. My legs are getting tired from pushing the heavy tires in the snow, so I start the ride back home. Once there I take my helmet off, and reach for the teapot to make a cup of hot cocoa.

While sipping the hot drink, I reach three conclusions from the weekend:

1. It’s not always necessary to travel a far distance for an adventure – it can be found in your own backyard!
2. Those Oreo cookies on the counter will go mighty fine along with my cocoa! And,
3. It’s not so bad here in the winter after all, living in gray, cold Upstate NY, as long as you get outside and create your own sunshine.

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