It was early afternoon and quiet. Nothing stirred and yet the snow on the ground had been pinched by countless legs, some coming in fours, others in twos. Soon after we took the trail through the trees, it became a game.
‘Yes, see the poop next to it?’
Poop mentions always draw big laughs. Yes, it will be like that for a while. It’d better.
‘Oh, maybe a bobcat?’ Are there any here?
‘Are there bears here?’
A reasonable concern. But nope, we tell them. They’re asleep. We hope…
Walk some more, it’s quiet and less spectacular for action-loving boys.
‘Can we sled?’
We follow a side path, it’s an old snowmobile track covered in fresh snow and occasionally intersecting with an animal-only track running across. I wish I could understand them and the stories they hide, all the paws and legs that festoon the forest unseen by humans.
‘Shh… be quiet for a bit. Listen.’
A woodpecker raps against a tree not far from where we are. Then a soft trill of an unknown (by us) bird follows swiftly. Then it’s quiet again. We wait. Again. Woodpecker, unknown bird, silence.
The boys’ eyes, barely seen under the thick hats, grow big and round. How could they not. The unseen world revealing itself just enough to make them look around more carefully and scan the tracks with increased determination.
One boy goes classic-style, facing forward at all times and appropriately concerned about landing. The big brother, a thrill-seeker, tries everything: he sits backwards, then closes his eyes and the anticipatory afraid-but-loving-it screaming makes us all laugh. He rides on his riding on his tummy. Too wild, too bumpy, too tempting not to…
Once more and then we trek through the woods some more, just to the opening…
So we do.
They can hear us. We can only imagine their presence. The unseen creatures, quietly crowded in spaces no man could crawl into, listening, breathing and listening and perhaps inching their way to the secret entrance once our voices and loud thumping depart.
‘Can we sled again on the way back?’
Our tracks will be sniffed for a long time. Animals will tilt their heads and look in the direction of our trekking through their woods.
Be quiet, never leave more than just tracks, even those are disruptive enough to the fine-nosed creatures here.
We’re visitors. We are grateful. We are given beauty and silence. Joy and laughter too. But mostly, the sense of wonder that only a walk through the woods in mid-winter can give you.
We veer onto the highway and I wish there was a sign that said ‘You are now leaving the magic behind. On behalf of the unseen creatures whose marks you saw and wondered about, and whose woods you did not disturb and whose paths you did not purposely unravel, we thank you.’
I felt privileged.