Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter Wonderful—You Choose: Wheels or Feet

(All photos by author with
Nikon app that turns an i-Phone into a Wi-Fi remote.)

The Eskimos have 50 words for snow, an idea brought to light by anthropologist Franz Boas who traveled to Baffin Island in northern Canada during the 1880s. We can understand this is easily possible when we consider the Eskimo languages of Inuit or Yupik use polysynthetic grammatical constructs to pack the wallop of many words into one. (There might be a word for snow falling softly on cedars.) Many linguists have weighed in with numbers much lower and higher, raising questions about what the word word means. Anyone who has lifted a shovel of snow knows the very different qualities snow has—its varied density, texture, water content. Enough said, today I’m going to stick to my favorite word for snow: wonderful.

Rallycross in the snow at Canaan Motor Club.
This past weekend we finally saw some measurable (more than two inches, time to plow) snow—four inches in town and six or more on the mountain. The snow was just in time to add some interest to the New England Region Sports Car Club of America Winter Rallycross held down the street at the Canaan Motor Club. Toyotas, Hondas, and, this being New Hampshire, lots of Subarus, lined up to take their turns on the newly expanded track, fresh with snow. Looked like fun.  
I, meanwhile, opted for a different mode of transportation. It was time to try out the pair of Atlas snowshoes waiting in my closet since August for just such an eventuality. I had never snowshoed before and with Doug’s Achilles tendon healing and his mode of ambulation strictly crutches, I was going solo on my maiden trek.
Ready for snow. 

Bundled up with poles in hand and camera in pocket, I set off down the hillside trail on our patch of Tug Mountain. Pretty soon I was giddy with delight. It was so easy, energetic yet effortless. I was float walking on top of snow, on top of rocks, brush, and small trees. The challenging surface differences inherent in the wilderness habitat had been smoothed over, erased by snow. The aluminum bumpers on my snowshoes guaranteed I would not stub my “problem” toe. The snow softly swirled around me and I was alone in nature. I’ll be back for more soon.
Word geek alert: For anyone impressed by Eskimo word counts for snow, the Sami people of northern Scandinavia and Russia have at least 180 “lexemes” (various forms of a word including nouns, verbs, and adjectives) related to snow and ice, according to Norwegian linguist Ole Henrik Magga writing in the International Social Science Journal (March 2006). They really go crazy, however, when it comes to their beloved reindeer with as many as 1,000 words for reindeer based on sex, age, weight, head, antlers, feet, and personality. So if someone calls you a leami, don’t think it is a term of endearment; it’s the Sami word for a short, fat female reindeer