SOMETIMES IT FEELS good just to touch bare ground. Those sometimes for me are usually when the first days of thawing in March open up some small patches of bare ground underneath pine trees and on south-facing hillsides.

I know it isn’t much, but just being able to take a few paces with dirt, grass and leaves underfoot feels mighty good. Snow might still cover most of the landscape, but walking upon those bare patches gives me a good feeling knowing that real spring cannot be far behind.

When you have a 3-year-old yellow lab who lives to run in the woods, being able to take him for walks on something other than a seldom-used town road that is regularly plowed, but otherwise is mostly without traffic all winter, is a treat.

Gordie and I went for two such walks last weekend. Instead of town roads, we hiked a snowmobile trail, now quiet and deserted, for 3 miles Sunday afternoon. Saturday afternoon found us circumventing Crystal Lake then, over to Big Muskellunge, back to the truck through that campground on roads still more than a foot deep in snow that was crusted over enough for us to walk on top.

As we took that walk, I took advantage of every bare stretch of ground I could find. It may not sound like much, but being able to reach down and pick a couple of wintergreen berries still shining bright red after a winter under the snow was in itself a treat.

Scuffing the toes of my boots in pine needles 2 inches deep was something I hadn’t been able to do since early last November and it felt really good to do it. Though there was no sun to warm us, sitting with my back against a big Norway pine out of the wind was a welcome respite from the rigors of real winter.

Being able to move through a place in the woods without skis or snowshoes was a welcome relief for me and Gordie. He chased squirrels up trees along the edge of Big Muskellunge while I looked out on a frozen bay and recalled autumn days when I sat on an island or out on a point watching decoys bob on the surface of a steely gray lake on equally steely gray October days waiting for ducks to fly my way.

We took our time exploring this piece of woods and water or at least I took my time, but it seemed like no time at all before we finished 3 miles of walking and running; the lab doing all the running.

It felt so good to do that walk that late Sunday afternoon. With the sun hanging low over the trees, the two of us set out again. This trek was a 3-mile hike on a familiar snowmobile trail where the woods offered nothing but peace, quiet and beautiful scenery.

We covered a stretch of territory that I used to hunt often during deer season. Over that ridge yonder I still hunted well enough to kill a “next to last” day of the season fork-horn buck one year. Across the maple- and oak-covered flat to my right and down through a valley and up the ridge on the other side was where I killed a first morning buck one year at 6:58 a.m., the earliest I have ever killed a buck opening day.

The next year, I foolishly gave that stand to Tennessee John, who promptly shot a trophy 10-point buck. I still haven’t forgiven myself for that mistake in judgment.

Almost a mile back in from the road there were ruffed grouse, or as old guys like to call them, partridge tracks crossing the grade. Four more times in the next quarter-mile I found like tracks. I have not seriously hunted partridge in years, haven’t killed one in at least three or four, but seeing those tracks brought back a trace of the ardor with which I chased after those brown bombers of autumn in my younger days. More than anything, it felt good to know that some of these wonderful birds are still hanging around in what I consider my territory.

They weren’t the only critters leaving their mark on the snowy landscape. Circling back to the road, I came upon two sets of tracks. Without question they were those of one very large wolf and one a bit smaller; no mistaking them. I might have been a little worried about Gordie just then, but it was clear the tracks were at least a day or two old so on we soldiered up, down and around until some 3 miles had passed under our feet before getting back to the truck.

Daylight had pretty much come and gone as we emerged from the woods. Gordie was still ready for plenty more running, but for me, two days in a row with miles under my belt was enough.

It had been another good hike, just a taste of what is to come when the real spring thaw hits; just a taste of what we’ll do when all the snow is gone, and all our favorite places open up to walk upon free and easy.

Mostly on snow, the two of us trod, but here and there where the snow was gone, it felt good to put boots to bare ground.