February 28, 2013

The days are longer; still, cabin fever persists. We live in the mountains of Western Maine where snowfall is plentiful and deep, occasionally yet falling.
Snowshoeing this a.m. passed neighbors,’ up and beyond. We have followed deer tracks in deep snow, and they have followed our snowshoe trails. They move in twilight hours. We are invisible, so are they. Theirs is a stronger scent than ours yet they smell us better than we do them. 

I find out their lie-down places sometimes, individual oval hollows in the snow. We never meet, though I’ve spied some moving among trees, slow and stopping—up above the house, from my study window. They are camo-dark shapes up there, and branching, like the trees.

We test a snow-covered stream before crossing. They have no need to test. But snow-walking is hard on their tender feet and what we’d call their ankles, especially when the snow is crusty, icy. These are not real ankles but part of the foot above the “toes,” the split hooves. They walk on their toes, the two toes of a cloven hoof. We see trails behind these deep twin holes, where the dew claws of bucks drag, delicately. Distinctly. Their hooves are more splayed; does’ are more pointed heart-shaped, together.

The snow this a.m. is heavy, wet and deep. It sticks to our pole-tips and steel bear claws underneath the rawhide webbing of wide shoes.

In summer you go through woods, puckerbrush, if there’s no trail, and you get chiggers and ticks. The former dig in and parasitize, continuing to itch and madden. The ticks can carry disease, more than one kind. They swell like balloons on your skin before you notice them.

In winter you are free of defined woodland trails and most bugs, and you don’t get lost (or “turned around,” as they say), in the woods—because when you are tired you can go back on your track, following it home. So you don’t need paths in winter. And it’s exhilarating to move through softly snowed small beeches. You need only keep twigs out of your eyes. Some of these tips are reddening, and, today, coated delicately in snow. The track is pure and white, patterning, a thread weaving through trees ancient and girthy (my sister’s term), mighty and tall. Weaving up-and-down slope where small snowy streams have cut ravines. Or spindly, delicately patterning the white woods where your breath comes visible, puffy and misty as snow-mists . . .  but your own.