Beneath the Christmas tree, wrapped in repurposed brown Kraft paper and tied with cotton twine, lay sets of identical gifts for every member of the family: Heavy jackets with flannel lining, Smartwool socks, and new hoodies. Each reindeer-emblazoned stocking yielded a pair of gloves and a knit beanie. We’d relocated to the Ozarks from Southern Nevada and our already-grown-up kids were having their first real experience with winter.

“Am I really going to need this?” one 19-year-old eyebrow lifted as an ice scraper was unveiled. My eyes met my husband’s over mugs of hot cocoa. A knowing smile was exchanged and we both remained silent. December had been unusually warm. They’d see.

Four sets of YakTrax were unwrapped, examined with varied levels of interest, and set aside. I put mine on the shoe rack next to my new hiking boots and waited.

January ticked by, cold but dry, and then it came: The threat of a Nor’easter that would leave us snowed in. The college sent out an email that all classes were canceled. Work texted: We’re closing; stay home. The city shut down government offices and the grocery store shelves were cleared out.

Courtesy: Marissa Lee Harris

The snow began to fall at dusk and we watched from the window as the deck, the chicken coop, and my fallow vegetable plot were quickly blanketed in white. By morning over a foot had fallen and it showed no sign of letting up when I awoke to the sound of the snowplow at 6 am. It rumbled across the bridge and up the winding hill, cleared the main street of our tiny neighborhood, U-turned at the end and left the way it came. A few daring drivers in 4x4s followed in its wake, compressing the freshly fallen snow into its tracks and creating the beginning of the ice sheet that would soon make the road far more difficult to travel.

The midday sun sparkled on the snow in the orchard as we watched the three boys from the corner house slide down the street on trash can lids. Their feet skated out from under them as they struggled back to the top. “Who wants to walk the dog?” I asked as I pulled on my puffy jacket.

YakTrax were unboxed with a mixture of excitement and skepticism. “These are for walking in the snow?” Up went the teenaged eyebrow. “No, you’ll be fine in the snow. These are for the ice on the road.” She stretched hers on over her shiny new fashion mud boots and headed outside with the canine. I donned my new hiking boots while my husband laced up his bulky steel-toed work boots. The YakTrax stretched easily over both and we headed out after them, into the cold.

A coonhound in the snow is a marvelous thing. Off they went, bounding down the hill, young lady and brown dog linked by an orange six-foot tether. They ran past a man with grocery bags and disappeared from view. He’d abandoned his car by the creek and was making slow upward progress, one cautious step at a time. We strode down the icy asphalt, sure of our footing in spite of the treacherous conditions. “I’d have been able to make it if I still had my four-wheel drive,” the neighbor told us as we approached. “That and tire chains,” I replied. “It’s all about traction.”