Hitting the trails: A winter walk through Pine Hill Park.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 2/24/10] My quest to beat the wintertime blues continues. This time, I decided to take advantage of the recent February thaw by heading outside for some fresh air. So I packed up my parents’ dog Kelsey – whom I’ve had the honor of dog-sitting while they’re down in Florida – and headed over to Pine Hill Park to explore Rutland’s vast 300-acre recreational retreat.

The parking lot at Giorgetti is sparse on this Monday; several cars sat close to the rink entrance. From inside, I can hear the playful hoots and hollers of children – on vacation, and enjoying one of the Recreation Department’s many programs scheduled for this week.

Kelsey leaps from the car with excitement. She eagerly examines the trailhead, jerking me left and right as she took in her new surroundings. While last summer turned me into a regular visitor of the park, I’d yet to bring Kelsey with me. (I’ve learned from experience that inquisitive golden retrievers make lousy trail running companions.)

Upon entering, I am immediately struck by how different the park looks in the winter months. The trees and leaves that give definition to the trails are absent, allowing you to peer deeply into the depths of the park, seeing its now rugged topography in a whole new light. What in the greener months appears to be so dense and impenetrable is now spare and vacant and beautiful in its emptiness.

Our footsteps crunch and pop as we walk over the packed snow and ice. Once we get deeper within the park, the din of the city fades, replaced by the cold quiet of winter air. Somewhere above us, the hammering of a woodpecker hard at work occasionally interrupts the calm.

For the most part, the trails are clear and easy to navigate, though, at times patches of ice require us to abandon the path for the snow and dried leaves along its sides. Eventually, we reach the clearing at Crusher Road. I take a few moments to explore Stone Crusher – the hollowed out and eerily intriguing structure that sits in the middle of the park. I always like to stop by here. It’s like Rutland’s very own DHARMA station – I half-expect the smoke monster to appear from one of the cracks in the building’s foundation (“Lost” fans will know what I’m talking about).

We head back to the lower trails, and connect back to the Giorgetti Loop. Without the leaves, I can see the playing fields below. Several kids are being entertained by a dog while others run about engrossed in some game or another. Ahead of us on the trail, we meet a young family with a hefty retriever of their own. The dogs exchange some friendly sniffs, and we move on toward the trailhead.

In the final stretch, we simultaneously encounter some of the snowiest and greenest trails of our entire walk. A well-packed and relatively deep patch of snow segues into a sunny clearing where a swath of green ferns, matted down by the snow, sprawl out on either side of the trail.

As the light scatters through the leafless canopy, it catches the ice crystals and the surprisingly green flora, creating a warm scene that tricks me into believing that spring was right around the corner. (Imagine my excitement when the following day brought us another round of winter whiteness.)

At the trailhead, I let Kelsey off her leash to run a bit before I turn her muddy paws loose on my backseat. With her head sticking out from the back window, my car rolls out of the parking lot.

Recharged and refreshed, the trip the Pine Hill was just what I needed. The brief thaw was a welcomed respite to the cold, and just what I needed to get me through these next few weeks of winter.

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