Overcast

Many words have been written about the stark beauty of a sunlit snowscape. There is a lot to say for one. The North Woods are at their aesthetic best, perhaps, under a cleansing blanket of fresh cold powder that dazzles the eyes and frosts the pines and spruces, turning them almost black with contrast, especially in the post-snowfall deep cold that settles in and makes the air itself seem brittle and crystalline.

But there is a rarer and more solemn beauty in foggy overcast. Today is just such a day, a mid-December thaw that has collapsed the snow on the ground into greasy almost-slush and set the trees dripping so that the woods sound of a steady rain. The air is thick and heavy with mist that obscures the grander vistas but accentuates the depth of the woods by its shading, nearer trees standing out clearly and more distant ones losing first color and then shape.

Slowly the gloom can even become oppressive; apart from the tree-rain the woods seem silent. Unlike the crisp carriage of sound that cold clear air allows, this wet stuff muffles all noise and keeps it close. The residents seem to feel it as well. There are no chattering chickadees roving about and the rabbits and grouse and even the red squirrels are quiet.

An all-day late-season blackpowder hunt is my reason to be out in it. An empty freezer and a free weekend send me back into the woods for one last try. But the day soon seems to hold little promise. Presently everything, including my rifle, is wet. Will it even fire, if a soggy deer does cross my path?

I sit it out anyway. At the end of the day all I’ve seen are a pair of hurried grey jays and a raven that croaks and gurgles unseen above me in the overcast, his wings carving loud hollows in the thick atmosphere.