Friday, March 18, 2011

Moonlight Snowshoe Hike Builds Memories

By Eileen Alexander

BETHLEHEM — Tromping through snowy woods on a bright winter’s evening was exactly like a scene straight out of an old-fashioned postcard — or a Robert Frost poem, with a few tweaks to account for 21st century tastes. Crisp air, towering pines, the clack and creak of our snowshoes on the snowy trail, brightly colored ski clothes, deer tracks in the snow, nervous laughter when someone stumbles over the unfamiliar terrain, a little huffing and puffing on the uphills, and oohs and aahs when the clouds part to reveal a full moon.

I’m on a moonlight snowshoe hike with about a half-dozen other guests at the Adair Country Inn and Restaurant. I’ve been on snowshoes before, and I’m the only one in our group with any experience – not counting our guide, of course -- although experience is stretching the truth some. Years ago I’d done some snowshoeing using the old-fashioned wood and gut snowshoes, but this year I have a brand new pair of lightweight aluminum ones and I’m eager to try them out. The day before the hike I strap on my snowshoes and hike the field next to my house just to be sure that I can a) put on the snowshoes without falling on my face and looking like an idiot, and b) can make it around the field without keeling over from exhaustion. I manage to accomplish both without any difficulty so I figure I’m all set for my outing.

We’re a nice group of women, some of us young and some of us older. Everyone is keen to give snowshoeing a try under the guidance of Nigel Manley, the manager of the nearby Rocks Estate, a 1,400-acre conservation property that is managed by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. So, not only are we going to have fun on our snowshoe adventure, we’re going to learn a little bit about conservation, forest management, and the creatures that roam the woods and whose tracks we can identify in the snow. While we don’t see any moose, bears or turkeys on the trails we follow around the 200-acre Adair property, there are plenty of deer tracks to marvel over, as well as lots of fox prints – they always travel in a straight line, Manley tells us – as well as some teeny, tiny mouse prints that seem to evaporate into thin air. Not so, Manley says; the mice have burrowed into the snow at the places where the tracks end.

Adair is managed for multiple uses including recreation (hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling) and conservation (it’s a tree farm), to best enhance and preserve its fields, forests, soils, water and wildlife for future generations. During our hike we traverse some of this landscape – forested land along the trail opens into a small meadow; in other open areas downed trees have been left to provide food and shelter for birds and small mammals; we tramp along a snowmobile trail that crosses one edge of the estate; and stone walls are evidence of long-ago farming activity.

Innkeeper Ilja Chapman has filled us in on some of the property’s history. Adair, a beautiful, three-story Georgian-style building, was built in 1927 as a wedding gift for Dorothy Adair Guider, the only daughter of Frank Hogan, a famous Washington, DC trial attorney. Mrs. Guider lived in the house until her death in 1991, where she hosted everyone from presidential hopefuls and Supreme Court justices to actors (Helen Hayes was a lifelong friend) and sports figures. It became a nine-room inn in 1992, and is now owned by Nick and Betsy Young and managed by Ilja and her husband Brad Chapman.

We get to experience some of Adair’s legendary hospitality during the buffet that precedes our snowshoe hike. A hearty and appetizing buffet has been set out for us in the Granite Room, so called because of its stout, granite-clad walls. Dozens of photographs and newspaper clippings recall the career of Frank Hogan, but there are also plenty of comfortable couches and chairs, games, books and a pool table that could easily beckon guests to relax and linger in front of the fireplace on a rainy afternoon or after a day on the slopes. Tonight, though, we enjoy the food but are eager to head out to the main event. Guests are welcome to bring their own snowshoes or borrow the Adair’s. There are plenty to go around and not too many difficulties getting us all strapped in and set to go. The temperature is around 20 degrees, cold enough to be stimulating, but not so cold anyone wished they’d stayed home.

We set off with Nigel Manley, our interpretive guide, for an hour’s hike along easy to moderate terrain. I’ve brought my ski poles to help me balance (a good idea for the over 50 crowd!) and I lend one to another older woman who’s not too steady on her feet. There is a lot of laughter and camaraderie on the trail, we each find a pace that works for us, and many of us remark on the unfamiliar feeling of being outdoors under a full moon. We’re too used to going from the warmth of our cars to the warmth of our homes, and few of us spend any time outdoors at night.

The evening concludes back at the inn with s’mores and hot spiced cider around the flickering fire pit. Cameras come out and we snap photos of each other as the fire crackles and sparks add some interesting effects to our pictures. It’s the end of a memorable evening, and we’re all feeling cozy and a bit tired, but wanting the night to last just a little bit longer to savor all of the good sights, smells, tastes and new friendships.

“Committing to an activity in the cold was a challenge,” says fellow snowshoer Colleen Moritz, who was there with her sister. “However, we were pleasantly rewarded with a great fun evening. We can't wait to go again.”

One woman, who was there with her daughter as an early holiday present, noted that the evening was a reminder that the best thing to invest in are memories and that is why they had come.

Her feelings were echoed by Aliza Anvari, another guest. “My friend Ruth and I had a blast for first time snowshoers and visitors to Adair Inn. We vow to come back with more friends and family to create more lovely memories!”

I couldn’t have said it better.

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