Kiffles, lepps & an enchanted woods


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

Winter officially begins this Thursday with the passing solstice. A few days later, we’ll celebrate another Christmas. Less than a week beyond, 2023 draws to a close as a brand new year begins—and we’ll embark on another circular journey through the seasons.

A few mornings ago, Daisy Dog and I were out for a long walk along a favorite portion of the Great Miami River Recreational Trail.

The day was sunny and bright, the overhead sky a vast and cloudless expanse of Prussian blue. But colder than it looked—one of those deceptively exquisite mornings that can fool you into underdressing for its actual weather.

When we’d parked at the trailhead to begin our walk, the outside temperature, according to the car’s thermometer, was a frigid 24 degrees. Nor were the weather pundits promising the mercury to climb much above the freezing mark for the day.

I spent the first mile of our outing wishing I’d added one more insulating layer. An embarrassing admission from someone who’s spent his life getting dressed to suit the day’s weather.

Age doesn’t necessarily bestow wisdom. The best I’d been able to do to counteract my inattentiveness this time around was to quicken our pace and try to ignore the shivers along my spine.

We usually walk to a trailside bench two miles from the parking lot. There, I sit a few minutes, give Daisy a drink of water, have a sip myself and maybe a handful of gorp, before we head back.

Our hikes are really purposeful meanders. The four-mile round-trip excursion usually takes us at least 90 minutes, depending on how fast we amble. A 60-pound dog eager to snuffle and dawdle is not going to be hurried by anyone who values their rotor cuff.

If it’s a warm and pretty morning, and we’re a little late getting started, we sometimes encounter a few folks—afoot or on bicycles—along the way. But early in the day, not long after sunrise, or when it’s cold, rainy, less than ideal weather—we generally have the trail to ourselves.

I was thus surprised to find a fellow seated on the halfway-point bench. Ours had been the only car in the lot. This probably meant the guy came in from the opposite direction—a much shorter distance, little more than half a mile.

We exchanged good morning nods and greetings. Daisy gave him a tentative examination…decided he was okay, and got back to her doggy business of investigatory sniffing the more interesting scent mysteries concealed under soggy windrows of browning leaves.

The fellow said as he’d finished breakfast, he decided to get out and exercise: “Burn some calories, make room for lunch,” was the way he put it.

“My wife’s Pennsylvania Dutch,” he explained. “She starts baking right after Thanksgiving. Cookies by the dozen, cakes, a bunch of pies.

I told him about Mrs. Moyer and her husband, George, who lived up the block when I was a kid. “They were Pennsylvania Dutch. She did the same thing—baked pies and cookies and gave them out to the neighbors. Some of her cookies had funny names.”

“You mean like kifflels and lepps?” he asked, chuckling. “I had those this morning. I ate cookies for breakfast!”

“As I recall, they were delicious,” I said, remembering.

“Oh, yeah,” he agreed, patting his not-insubstantial belly. “Too delicious!”

This prompted an exchange of seasonal traditions and celebrations.

“I like all of December’s hoopla,” the fellow said, “the lights and holiday decorations—and especially the food! I even like Christmas shopping—though I wouldn’t admit that to my wife.”

I chuckled politely. Then he added an unexpected afterthought.

“What I don’t much like is December itself. It’s cold, dark, colorless and boring—my least favorite month of the year.”

Huh! I was effectively dumbfounded—bewildered by such an unimaginable notion.

Sure, late December can serve up a few cold days. But overall, January and February are both considerably colder. I’ll concede that for total length, December provides the least daylight of any month—though I never really notice this lack. But what I can’t understand is why anyone might think December colorless and boring!

The trail’s namesake waterway was just a stone’s throw away. Sunlight sparkled in the riffles. Wet stones gleamed like jewels

Upstream and down, as far as you could see in all directions, lay the now leafless and open riparian woods. Many of the trees were huge old sycamores. Beaming sunlight poured through the leafless branches, setting their whitewashed trunks and main limbs to glow incandescently.

A spectacularly beautiful scene! How anyone could walk through such a magical landscape and remain oblivious and unmoved is impossible for me to understand.

While the spectrum may have narrowed a bit, December’s colors—its dominant hues and their nuances—are emblazoned everywhere for those who truly observe.

The classic nature-conscious writers, from Thoreau to Frost, Burroughs to Hawthorn, all recognized the revealed beauty of a wintery woods. They extolled this splendor in poetry and prose.

I’m certainly not imagining myself among their literary peerage. But like them, I long ago realized how resplendent and breathtakingly amazing a woodland during these dormant days can be.

That’s one of the reasons I’d chosen this portion of trail—to be able to immerse myself in what I find is an enchanted place. Surrounded by the seasonal beauty, I hoped to spend a couple of delightful hours refueling my weary soul while exercising my aging carcass.

But I didn’t try to explain any of this to the fellow on the bench. Instead, I wished him a merry Christmas and got Daisy pointed in the right direction.

“Enjoy those cookies,” I said. “And eat a few kifflels and lepps for me!”

Two miles ahead, through a gorgeous stretch of sycamore-dominated sun-drenched woods, a car with a warm heater awaited.

Merry Christmas!

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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