People always wonder at me how it is I stay entertained in this blank canvas. Without the bustle of business, the tremor of transactions, nary a Starbucks in sight, how does one fill the void left by the sudden loss of the familiar hustle of humans?
Yet, without the clamor of a consistent chorus, the songs are still there. They simply play a different tune.
The quiet here opens up the possibilities to hear the faintest stories.
A vole scampering by on my way to the woodshed, diving out of my footstep into a snowy cave below.
A chickadee, grateful for our (or at least our seed’s) return.
And still, sometimes, the loudest song stories are those which require you to see, not hear.
A little over a week ago, while on a mid-day ski to the River, I happened upon a story I’d only ever been told, one I’d never read myself: the story of the Wolf.
You see, vole tracks, with their heart-shaped happiness dart about with the Arctic Hare in the arsenal of tracks I hold in my mind. Bear and moose too make easily identifiable imprints (though, much to my chagrin, I mistook a hare for a moose my first Winter. “Moose have been all over the yard!” I exclaimed as we jumped out of the truck that first night of my first Winter, so proud to identify it, incorrectly, first. The Chief gently suggested a bunny might be the more likely culprit, considering the print’s depth. I love that guy).
Yet the wolf, I’ve always been second on the scene to identify. Mostly because every time I’ve seen the tracks I’ve been in the company of my best guy friend who is a tracker extraordinaire. The day I beat him to identify a wolf track, I will probably pass out from giving myself too many high-fives.
The odds of identification were stacked in my being second to notice them for years until this year when, suddenly, I stopped in my tracks to notice…tracks.
And not just any track, a track that stuck out all its own.
This time of year, the neighborhood can get quite quiet (and truth be told, my tracking pal was out of the area when I spotted this find so I don’t think I’ll pass out from high-fives just yet) and this year is no exception. The only dogs in the area on the day of the tracks were tracks I knew. Full grown pups who leave what seems like a big print.
This was something entirely different.
As I stopped to take a picture, The Chief rounded the corner on the snowmachine on his way to Mail, his machine threatening to sweep away all the clues that lie ahead. I flagged him down and pointed, certain enough to be the one to say it first (à la the bunny tracks of that first Winter) yet still a little uncertain in my qualification:
He nodded and gave The Chief “Yep” and then mentioned that our neighbors too had just told him that they too had wolfy suspicions.
Bingo! Bunny mishap no more. My confidence was on-track (sorry, that one was too much but I couldn’t help myself).
I took a picture, using my glove as a reference point like a pulled splinter next to a penny, steered The Chief to the right of the tracks and kissed him “adieu” as he smiled a mischievous smile at me, knowing I’d be tracking the Wolf the rest of my woodsy wanderings.
Wolf of the left, Dog on the right. Same glove.
After my first foray into following tracks, one might think me a bit of a fool to follow in the footsteps of a furry non-friend (I mean, we weren’t friends yet), but I had read the first sentence and I was hooked on the story. Plus, it was mid-day and the wolf was probably long gone by now ((two things I wasn’t totally certain of at the time but have, after some research, verified. Wolves are indeed night-time prowlers and they move on through quite quickly minus the presence of an unearthed invitation to stay and thankfully, I didn’t think it had found one (trash, etc.)).
I followed the tracks along the trail that I myself meander each day, honored to walk in the prints they had lain the night before. That much I knew, these were fresh. The snow here sets out like a blank page upon which is written the stories of a secret world. We may often miss the first showing, but at least we get to read about it the next day.
I thought about the night before.
I too had been on the River Trail.
A non-stop day at work had left me sequestered inside and so, despite the falling of dusk, I decided to take a quick ski.
Strangely enough, despite how distracting that ski had been (I had actually been on the phone with a girlfriend had some verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry good news) I had kept stopping to look over my shoulder.
I just felt like I wasn’t quite alone.
Perhaps I wasn’t.
The tracks headed down to the River and led right out onto the River’s frozen surface, which was now shattered by the breaking of Hidden Lake (a glacial lake, which normally breaks in the Summer but for the last four Winters has also broken in the Winter). The path back was no longer but never you mind because the backtracking was not the goal of this endeavor.
The tracks continued…
Back to our neighborhood.
I followed the storied imprints towards home until our trails divided and I tucked myself into homeways while the Wolf continued on. As we parted ways I dreamt up a tale of the wolf’s passing through, its certainty in its steps, confident and steadfast.
From then on, I visited the tracks every day to see if I could unearth further clues. I visited them in better lights of day and photographed them, I found scat and photographed that too (because I am a weirdo and because it’s a clue!). Every day I returned until one day, I found a new clue: more tracks.
I quickly checked with our neighbors to make sure they hadn’t ventured in this direction lately (even though I knew the tracks were too large to attribute to any pup I knew).
A return visit.
Perhaps the Wolf had found something of interest in our neighborhood? When I consulted the interesting options, the neighborhood dogs as a snack were at the top of the list. We collectively kept a closer eye on the pups who roam about laissez-faire here from cabin to cabin visiting and exploring on their own free time.
Still, the tracks never led directly up to our houses and other than natural instincts, the Wolf didn’t tell me of ominous plans.
I visited the tracks every day again, looking for old clues and waiting for new ones.
And then, just like that, the book was closed. It started to snow, washing the tracks away, tucking them beneath the layers of stories already told and those still to come.
That’s the thing: out here, the story whispers at you to listen, to follow, to imagine and just as soon, before you know it, that whispered invitation is gone.
I guess that is the long answer to a short question of how I stay entertained. I like the stories this place tells and the urgency with which they arrive and depart. The scarcity makes each story louder, the closeness makes each one more personal.
Today, as I write, the snow falls thick again hiding all the tales since its last frosted ancestors fell, leaving a blank slate for stories anew, waiting to be explored.
With love (via heart-shaped vole prints),