With the festivities under way, it can be hard to find a moment or two of respite this holiday season. Not to mention the holiday caloric rollercoaster of rich meals and decadent desserts that seem to cover every surface within a tempting arms reach! And the music! Does the music ever stop??!

I find it even more important this time of year to take a time-out, and just quietly walk into the woods. Growing up in Alaska I am a fervent preacher of ‘don’t go into the woods alone’, but I am also guilty of doing just that. My poor mom has become very tolerant of my 30 second phone calls – “Hey mom, I’m walking up the (insert trail name) trail about a (insert distance). Just Barksalot and myself, but there are some cars in the parking lot.” Followed-up with the “Hey mom, turning around at the (some well-known trail landmark)” if I have service when I am at my halfway point. Then the standard “Just got to my car” call that I sometimes forget to make. (Oops.) But being the good mother she is, she usually gives me a little while before calling me to see where I am. Our older brother finds this unbelievably annoying and detests this level of parental involvement; but for me, I take comfort in the fact that if I were sitting in a puddle with a broken ankle out of cell service, or I took a tumble down a gully, my mom would call in the cavalry in a reasonable amount of time. I tell my mom I’m hiking with my dog, so I’m not reeeaaally alone, but Kiska can’t help dress a wound or help me gimp out. As much as she would probably like to try.

There are many trails in the Juneau area that are pretty popular, and even on a week night you can find at least one or two other people putting in the miles, little headlamp lights bobbing along the trail. So even though you may only be a party of one, there are other people on the trail that will probably pass you at some point. I generally keep track of the number of parties that pass me, and guess by the number of cars I saw how many people may still be on the trail. I’m sure this is not something unique to Juneau, but every town with residents that have an affinity for nature (or people with crazy dogs that need to run around and be wild little creatures outside to spare their house), as life doesn’t just stop because the sun is being elusive. In the warm summer months I live for the comradery of group hikes and shared experiences, and I still do love company on crisp winter wanders: sitting on a ridgeline soaking in the short hours of sunlight, painting or drawing in mittens, while drinking hot tea and cold beers. But I also revel in the silence of the snow thudding from branches above, and the soft crunch of frost beneath my boots. There is nothing quite like the laughter of friends breaking the silence, but also there is tranquility in nothing but the sound of the jays and the crows. And with so much seasonal stimulation, I have to run away for a time, to be able to come back to civilization and be a gracious adult.

Courtney Wendel has lived in Juneau since she was a year old. She has a twin brother and an older brother, and learned to enjoy the outdoors at a young age by following the boys into mischief. Graduating from JDHS in 2006, she attended UAS to receive her Literature of the Environment, BA English degree. When not at work she spends most of her time on the diverse trail system hiking, running, or camping with her spotted pooch and adventure buddies.