I realize we're still in fall according to the calendar, but last week's backpacking trip was reminiscent of cold, hard winter. Frost on the fly of my tent, no moisture in the firewood, and lovely frost flowers at the bases of the wildflowers in my campsite. Having set out in 50 degree temperatures the day before, I didn't pack well enough for the night, and my feet were ridiculously cold all night. Wildfire danger was high with absolutely no rain in the recent past, and I will NEVER be responsible for starting a wildfire because I'm ridiculously cautious with fire, but I can be responsible for containing one. My small stick fire surrounded by three layers of rocks, an established fire pit (created no doubt by Boy Scouts), was not going to escape. Nevertheless, when I left the next day, I piled rocks on top of the embers to make sure there were no rogue embers going crazy in the dry woodland landscape.
The shadows were long, typical of this time of year, but it's so nice to hike without worrying about seed ticks. One stray purple Aster laevis was still in flower but otherwise it was a winter botany hike, lots of blasted out Solidago radula, gattengeri, and so forth. I was there to flag firelines so winter botany wasn't my primary driver. My campsite was the focus that day, trying to get through the flagging to get to my campsite halfway through the unit so I didn't have to set up my tent in the dark. I set up coffee while the screech owls called and was in my tent when the coyotes started their howling.
Winter tent camping leaves a lot to be desired considering that nightfall occurs at 5:30pm, so you're stuck in the tent until you get tired. I once lived by nightfall and daybreak, but that was 20 years ago in a cabin in Arkansas. Pack enough lanterns, batteries, and secure enough kindling for fires, and camping this time of year is fabulous. The short daylengths get me down, make me want to go to bed at 7pm, but soon enough the days will grow longer, the time to comb the catalogs for new kale varieties, and seeing my strawberry plants come back. Meanwhile, I'm loving my white-throated sparrows hitting up the feeders every morning. They have such a low-key chip note but in numbers I know when something is not right, a Cooper's Hawk, a Sharp-shinned hawk coming in. Backpacking season is here, with winter allowing for backcountry exploration. Campstove coffee remains my favorite coffee ever.