F-stopping by the woods

It was a beautiful day for a snowshoe trek, sunny and in the minus single digits, so I had thoughts of busting trail through the bush.

But I neglected to bring either my energy or my knee brace from home and it’s supposed to snow 15-20 cm tomorrow anyway. So I decided to put my ambitions on ice and take a snowshoe saunter instead.

Because I didn’t forget to bring my little point-and-shoot, I thought I’d put together a little instructional photo-essay on How to Find Your Way Along a Snowshoe Trail in the bush. (By the way, if you were to lose your way on the trails my neighbours and I have made, you could wander about 100 km in an easterly direction without running into a house or road, so it’s generally recommended that you don’t lose your way.)

Back in the bush, the snow from a couple of days ago was still sticking to the trees as if it had been painted there by one of the eight members of Canada’s Group of Seven. To show you, I took this picture:

Then I gave it back, because this Lawren Harris image cost somebody about $1.5 million.

Actually, I took this picture, which is almost as good, though my brushstrokes are a little clumsy:

This brings me to my first tip for finding your way along a snowshoe trail in the bush: Don’t spend all your time looking up at the treetops. If you do, you’ll almost certainly walk straight into a tree trunk.

No, you should look around you in all directions, because there are delightful sights to be seen. And if one of those directions is frontward, you might actually see some of the signs that show you which way to go.

The first of your low-tech GPS trail-finders is the blaze, or as veteran hikers refer to it, fluorescent flagging tape. You can see it in this picture if you really look hard or if you’re clever enough to realize that there isn’t a lot of fluorescent red/orange in nature at this time of year:


In the old days, woodsmen and woodswomen marked trails by cutting triangular shapes into the tree, using an axe. But as the trees grew the blazes moved farther and farther up in the air. Before too long people had to crane their necks to see the blazes. There were many accidents with people walking into tree trunks. So they invented tape.

But trail-marker lore has it that if you wrap tape around a tree one year, that tree will be lying on the ground the next year. So you should look for another signpost, a tree that has had all of the branches on one side lopped off in a uniform manner. Like this one:

This lopping is done by beavers, as a public service toward their human friends. They also do it because beavers believe that the faster they can get humans out of the forest the better it will be for the environment.

If you can’t find one of those trail markers and fear you are lost, one good strategy is to follow animal tracks. A fox is a good choice, because sooner or later he or she is going to lead you to your birdfeeder. Here are some fox tracks:

As you can see, following fox tracks through the bush can be tough sledding, particularly since the average fox is not 5’8″ tall and 185 pounds, so can go through some narrow passages and under fallen trees. If you do encounter a fox that’s 5’8″ tall and 185 pounds, you’re toast. And foxes will eat toast.

There’s one other snowshow-trail-strategy you might try, as a last resort. Look for the path that other snowshoers have followed before you. It will be a sort of trough, indented well below the level of the undisturbed snow. Follow it. Don’t lift your snowshoes high enough to step out of it. It’s a longshot, but this might give you a chance at survival.

If you follow the trail I use, eventually you’ll come to this structure:

You might wonder if you’ve stumbled across pre-Columbian architecture way back in the bush. Then you might wonder if the First Peoples invented poly rope, since that’s what’s holding the poles together at the top.

Okay, this tepee might not have historical or architectural or anthropological significance, but it’s a great place to replenish your body’s depleted levels of chocolate, nuts, butterscotch and perhaps beer. That’s vital.

After all, if you neglect your physical wellbeing, all the trail smarts in the world aren’t going to drag your sorry ass back to the comforts of home.

Try something humerus this Valentine’s Day

(A version of this column appeared in The Sault Star Feb. 8, 2019)

Valentine’s Day lurks around the corner, with its annual invitation to inflict disappointment on those we love.

No more pleas. With humour you’ll rise up off your knees

Many couples aspire to make beautiful music together on February 14. And if you two have a violin and viola, or even an accordion and ukulele, by all means go at it. Those couples who play the timpani and triangle might consider humming as well, or instead.

For many people, what “make beautiful music together” is a euphemism for is “making whoopee.”

Sadly, too many valentines’ attempts to carry a tune for the ones for whom they carry a torch end in discord. Few cries of “bravo.” Even fewer calls for an encore.

It’s hardly surprising that Valentine’s Day performances flop, because in traditional relationships the burden for a romantic Valentine’s Day experience generally falls on the man. Perhaps that’s payback for the female belief that his share of the domestic chores might be a smidgeon less than hers.

If women were smart — I mean, even smarter than they already are (Whew! Dodged a bullet there.) — they’d handle the Valentine’s Day arrangements themselves, so it would be done to their satisfaction. They could even leave him out of it entirely.

The odds have been against men from the start.

St. Valentine, whose note signed “Your Valentine” got things rolling, was beaten with clubs and stones for his efforts. When that didn’t kill him, he was beheaded. His heart was cooked and eaten by Claudius II, who then complained of heartburn.

(So, men, if she ends up sobbing behind a locked bathroom door Feb. 14, at least you’re not groping around in a snowbank, trying to find where she chucked your favourite ball cap and the rest of your head.)

Modern society’s rules have made a minefield of Valentine’s Day gifting.

If a man forked out a few thousand for a set of kitchen appliances, he’d almost certainly be sneered at as a dinosaur who believes domestic chores are a female domain.

Pluck down $950 for one of those down-filled, fur-lined parkas ($150 for the coat and $800 for the badge on the sleeve) and he could be branded an animal-killer.

Safer, he might think, to stick with traditional Valentine’s offerings.

But how safe is lingerie in the #MeToo era?

And can he find fair-trade chocolates, containing environmentally sustainable fruits, nuts and cocoa and safe for women with peanut allergies?

Were those flowers grown and cut by Central Americans forced into slave labour after their caravan bumped up against Trump’s imaginary wall?

So he settles for a too-suggestive card (hemp fibre, of course) and a bottle of wine, scratching out the label’s reference to sulphites and hoping those Chilean grape pickers are paid minimum wage.

What a man should do is take direct aim at her funnybone.

If he can find it. In the adult female body there are about 210 bones, one of which was borrowed from a man a long time ago and never returned. 

I’m not about to draw guys a skeletal map of the female body, since they wouldn’t follow it anyway. 

Just ask Alexa or Siri and be told: “When you reach the shoulder, make a right turn and stay in the express lane until you reach the elbow.”

Technically speaking, it’s not a bone at all. It’s the ulnar nerve. But someone thought it would be humourous to make a pun on humerus (the bone in the upper arm), so funnybone it is.

The funnybone is the key that unlocks simultaneous whoopee. Genuine scientists say that, after they’ve done actual research.

As I’ve written before — if it works once it’s worth repeating forever, right guys? — psychologists have found that women whose partners have a good sense of humour initiate sex more often. Probably especially on Valentine’s Day.

Those women experience the Big O more often with funny guys than with other men, researchers found. The higher they rate his sense of humour, the higher they rate his sexual performance, popularity, creativity, leadership, intelligence and income.

So all you have to do, guys, nudge-nudge wink-wink, is impress her with your talent for humour.

The fatal flaw with this strategy is that many men have absolutely no talent for humour.

Women cease to find “pull my finger” funny about the same time they graduate from diapers. And I’m sorry to disappoint you greying guys but there’s no evidence they find it funny again when they graduate back to diapers.

This leaves those few men who profess a talent for humour — did I mention that I’m a humour columnist — in the catbird seat. “Catbird seat” is a euphemism for women hurling themselves in our direction, panting wantonly.

This happens a great deal to funny guys, or so they tell me. Almost alwasy it happens during REM sleep, but let’s not get technical.

So what do you do if you aren’t an accredited humourist like me?

Well, we humourists are fond of saying candy is dandy but a humour book won’t rot your teeth, make you gain weight or ruin your complexion. Did I mention I’m the author of a humour book? Feel free to steal some funny bits from my book, wrap them around a bottle of wine and give it to your sweetie.

If it turns out she doesn’t have a sense of humour either, at least you’ll have the wine to console you.