The snowshoe is holding its own in our complex technological age even though it's 6,000 years old.
There is something in the shoe's simplicity and its closeness to nature that speaks directly to an increasing number of people who attempt to live with nature, not subdue it. Archaeologists have not been able to date the origin of either snowshoes or skis, but the best evidence suggests that the first device to serve as a foot-extender for easier travel over the snow originated about 4,000 B.C. in Central Asia.
The snowshoe and ski are inventions that rank in importance with the wheel. Without the snowshoe, aboriginal peoples would not have been able to expand over and then to occupy some parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
Most snowshoes today are used for recreation. It's a good way to relax the mind and body and to enjoy the winter landscape. It helps firm muscles that don't often get enough of a workout in a sedentary world.
Many years ago my dad, brother David and I drove from the Twin Cities to Itasca State Park in Park Rapids, Minn., to enjoy its winter splendor and to snowshoe. Because of the wind protection offered by the vast forests, the snow comes straight down and forms thick layers, and it was 2 feet thick on picnic tables and deeper in the woods. We needed our snowshoes to travel anywhere. We traveled beneath large red pines, through spruce groves and over beautiful Lake Itasca. We saw wildlife everywhere: weasel, mice, snowshoe hare. A memorable day.
Jim Gilbert worked as a naturalist for 50 years.