As I once again dig through bins of snow gear to prepare for a trek to the Sierras, I think about growing up on the East Coast. My mom hails from Upstate New York. That fact, combined with the brutal winters and my family’s enthusiasm for all things ski, skate and sled related, has shaped my winter wanderlust.
We are headed to a house, inaccessible by road in winter. Set on 100 acres of land, the generosity of the owners allows us to live out my alpine fantasies. We snowshoe or ski one mile into the house, carrying backpacks and pulling a sled full of all our gear, food and an occasional small child.
As I write, a few loaves of Swedish bread are in the oven baking for the trip. Thoughts of chopping down our own Christmas tree and frying latkes for Chanukah at altitude dance in my head.
My mind wanders to a book I just read my youngest son. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, is a classic. Even though I read it as a child, and was a big fan of the TV show in my youth, reading it aloud to my son was inspiring all over again. To live off the land, reap what you sow, eat with the seasons and really earn your keep has a lot of appeal these days. Even though we’re going off the grid, it will be far less arduous than what the Ingalls and Wilder families experienced more than 150 years ago.
If, like me, you are taken with the books and history of the time, you can visit the Wilder Homestead (boyhood home of Almanzo, Laura’s future husband) in Malone, NY, near the Canadian border. One winter scene, from the book, sticks in my mind… as the young boy, his father and two hired men cut ice from the frozen lake to store and keep food fresh for the year. They literally cut thick blocks of ice from the surface of the lake and haul them back to the shed on sleds. Almanzo falls in accidentally and narrowly escapes death.
The blizzards described in the book series sound so epic. As I read this book I wondered if winters in the Upstate region are still as harsh, given climate change. This is a photo of pond hockey in the Lake Placid region.
Recent articles in the New York Times speak of fir and spruce trees dying out in the Catskills, apple orchard varieties diminished and less productive dairy farms in the region.
The Adirondacks — host to two winter Olympics — in the future, may not be the winter paradise they once were, as snow and ice have become less intense during the winter months. Lake Champlain, a popular vacation spot that divides New York and Vermont, used to freeze over completely every winter. Now, some years, milder winters keep it unfrozen in the middle. Flooding from the August tropical storm Irene was a harbinger of things to come.
Despite all of this depressing information, and news that our destination in the Sierras has very little snow as of today, makes me wistful… but come hell or high water, I plan to live out my winter wonderland fantasy nonetheless.