Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Path:Sound and Unbroken

When it is too cold, I look beyond the intricate ice fractals painted on the inside of the kitchen window. I seek that which hides deep within the core of winter – so obvious yet consistently inexplicable. Our Mother holds her breath while the trees, plants and surface of the snow are beyond still. The once jagged, granite rocks and random stumps in the field are strangely rounded, appearing soft under a glazed white blanket. The pond wishes to protest with a rebellious crack but refrains, reaching far into the depths of resilience. Creatures feathered and furred nestle tightly inside of nests, burrows and dens – leaving no tracks or stories behind. And at night, the moon peers through the unmistakably clear atmosphere, waiting for us all to exhale.

The next day brings new fallen snow and howling winds that blow down from the far reaches of the north; we exhale at last. Fractals melt into hesitant small drops that trickle down the window pane and onto the sill. Tracks of various sizes and gait bring life into focus. All possibilities meander into the woods, weaving through giant conifers and hardwoods and then out into the field near the edge of the pond. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of the fluttering wings of spirited Black Capped Chickadees as they fly from one evergreen branch to another.

I hurry to dress in my heavy winter gear so that I may go outdoors and bathe in life returned. I step into the wind and simply breathe. After two or three moments of deliberation, I decide which tracks to pursue. The story unfolds as I follow the largest tracks of three deer, which I determine to be a buck.

I observe many footprints of scampering squirrels, both red and gray. Their paths cross and end at the base of certain trees. I look up in hopes of seeing a nest or perhaps one of the agile rodents perched on a branch watching me, however each tree is merely the starting point of an acrobatic frolic amongst the limitless canopy of trees.

I wonder what makes the deer trust each step; I know that the forest floor is littered with fallen trees, stumps, limbs and rocks. I continue in his footsteps realizing this vast difference between us – I question and he does not.

I stop in the middle of the frozen marsh where it was impossible to reach the winter berries a month earlier. Tempted to pick a few, just because I can, I decide against it and continue following the deer path.

What if I catch up to them? The tracks appear fresh, but what does that mean in frozen time? Of course if they are nearby, they have picked up my scent by now and have fled.

I stumble across the rough terrain of the abandoned pine grove admiring the buck, for his tracks remain sound and unbroken. The path circles around to an opening near the pond where prints indicate that an Eastern Cottontail rabbit scampered through the long dead remnants of the garden before dashing towards the thickest part of the woods. My heart is heavy at the sight of merging coyote tracks and signs of a skirmish just beyond the Prayer Rock. The canine tracks continue on with a wide swirling line in the center.

The wind subsides, allowing the melodic tones of the main brook that feeds into the pond to crescendo. I break away from the deer path and wander towards the throaty new song. The ground is flawless – no tracks, leaves, twigs or fallen snow. I stand at the edge of where many streams hurry towards the brook and see that the woods beyond are peppered with a flurry of new tracks.

My heart jumps when the earth beneath my feet falls away with a muffled, low pitched crack. I have gone too far (without my walking stick). The icy snow disappears into the black water as it swallows me in one swift gulp. Breathless – I scramble to the edge of the opening and grasp the bottom of a young white birch tree while my boots instantly fill with frigid water. Grateful that it is not deeper, I am able to pull myself to safety. My walk comes to an abrupt end. I inhale the thin crisp air and wonder what the day would be like if I did not leave the deer path.

I head for the house stopping long enough to snap a few White Pine twigs for tea. Regretfully, my boots squish with each frozen step and my jeans have already begun to stiffen. I stare longingly at the smoke curling out of the red brick chimney and when I come across wild turkey tracks, I can only imagine their course.

Journal - Babies Breath