February is not the most rewarding season for harvesting wild foods. Most green things are dormant or deep beneath snow or ice. Snipping early wild pea shoots in spring and picking pears in fall is easy. Winter foraging requires a tougher constitution.
Picking blueberries on a summer day is easy. Driving onto a pond to fish through the ice for yellow perch or gathering juniper berries on remote ledges before they are too deeply buried in snow needs planning. And when the roads are icy and slippery getting to our foraging destinations needs more than mere transportation. It calls for studs.
My little Altima was purchased for making the five-mile commute from Otter Creek to my studio in Bar Harbor. We have an aggressive Subaru Outback with all-wheel drive and winter tires for powering through two-foot snow banks and hauling the ice shack onto the lake. The cost and time to switch tires twice a year did not seem worthwhile for my car. But I have always had stud envy, and my commute, though short, has some steep and curving hills. This year I invested in rugged, studded, winter snow tires.
Grrrrowl. Why did I wait so long? My car rolls out of the garage, pauses, and we gun through the gritty pile the snowplow left at the end of the driveway. A cloud of snow fills the air, and I point the nose of my white chariot towards town. The tires bite into the road surface, noisily chewing it up. I feel confident and safe, perhaps even cocky.
My previously well-mannered and law-abiding vehicle has an entirely new side to its personality. The ride is loud, and I feel like I am riding a beast. A beast that responds to my commands—climbing sure and straight over a steep, slick hill, and hugging the curve of a black-iced corner without a shimmy of doubt.
The streets are almost empty when I get to town. At the grocery store the cashier is talking about the messy roads to the woman in front of me. The store is short-staffed. One worker did not come in because of the weather, another had to stay home with her son because school was cancelled. The customer sighs and talks about the first storm of the year, when every one drives slowly, daintily, as if they had never seen snow before. I think that first cautious readjustment is wise. After three seasons of warm, dry tarmac I always need to relearn how to respond to slippery slides and potential spins. But that first storm is long past, and now I have snow tires.
Yes, the roads are still treacherous, and caution is advised. But then I put my hand on the shift and feel the little Nissan champing at the bit to get a move on. I know a side road on the way home that leads to a cranberry bog, and tart berries would be perfect with the salmon my husband just caught. It is a rough track, but I think we can handle it.