It is the Saturday before Christmas and I am walking in the woods behind our house. Friday’s snow has melted and then frozen into a thin layer of ice that breaks with every step. I crunch my way up to the little clearing where Bev and I always look for animal tracks in the sand. As I scan the ground for fresh tracks, I remember my excitement the day I found a set of large and very well defined bear tracks crossing the clearing. Bev and I later made plaster casts of the tracks and to ease her mind I told her they were made by a “little” bear. I can see her face as the first person we showed the castings to blurted out, “Wow! That was a big bear!” There is little of interest in the snow today – it looks like the critters have started limiting their movements as calories become harder to find and easier to expend (the exact opposite of what most of us experience at this time of year).
I follow an old logging road up the hill to a small water hole. It has a skim of ice and looks black and barren and cold. In the spring it will be full of frogs and salamanders and I will hear the frogs singing long before I get within sight of their tiny pond. As I get close enough to see the water, their songs will suddenly stop and in a few more steps I will hear small, froggy exclamations and see a dozen or so splashes as they dive for cover. If I am not in a hurry and hunker down motionless for about five minutes, I’ll start to see a bit of movement in the water and pretty soon a pair of little golden eyes will emerge from the water with barely a ripple. By the time two or three of the frogs have surfaced, my legs will be complaining about the hunker and I will stand, sending the frogs back to the muddy bottom.
Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! I continue a few hundred yards past the icy waterhole and through the late December woods with its skeletal trees and naked landforms. I’ve not seen any wildlife and am pretty sure that I won’t, since I’m making so much noise and the sound carries so far in the winter woods. The forest floor here looks pretty much like it does everywhere else, but as I walk I am picturing it, not as I find it, but rather as it will look in July and August when the black trumpet mushrooms appear. It will be hot and humid and I will be sweating by the time I reach this area and slow my pace to look for mushrooms. I will see the delicate, curving edge of a trumpet hiding among the leaves and once I have found one I will begin to focus more. Soon others will appear – many in spots that I have already scanned. As I add them to my picking bag I will be thinking of pork tenderloin in a cream sauce with black trumpets and chanterelles. I might have sweat running down my back and the flies and mosquitoes will be chewing my hide but as long as I am finding mushrooms I’ll be smiling.
No need to worry about mosquitoes today though. With temperatures in the low twenties I can see my breath as I make the turn and head back toward the house. Before I get home I will have passed dozens of places that spark vivid memories and with each memory I will “see” the event with as much clarity as I now view the frozen woods around me. Over there is the place where Darren and I walked up on a mother bear with two yearling cubs. This knob is where I called a big turkey gobbler in close, and, when he went silent, I got impatient and decided to take a peak over the hill. Believe me, I can still see him tearing off downhill and out of sight. Just a little further on is the spot where my Brittany, Duke, retrieved a grouse that had been winged but was still able to run. I can see him trotting back with that bird in his mouth and looking very proud of himself, but perhaps not quite as proud as I was of him.
My glasses fog as I come into the house and call out “HELLO.” Bev answers, “HELLO, did you see anything?” “Nope” I answer, “it was too noisy.”
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© Allan Sutley 2015