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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: Sound and Unbroken

Deer in Winter
Deer in Winter

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.

Feathered and furred ones nestle tightly inside nests, burrows, and dens, leaving no tracks or stories behind. And at night, the moon peers down, 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, inviting us to finally exhale. Fractals melt into hesitant small drops that trickle down the windowpane 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 before disappearing.

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. They are curious and, except for the hibernating chipmunks, are the friendliest of those that inhabit the area.

I hurry to dress in my warm winter gear so that I may go outdoors and celebrate life returned. I step into the wind as it first threatens to take away my breath, but I resist and simply breathe. After two or three moments of deliberation, I decide which tracks to follow. The story unfolds as I follow the largest tracks of three deer, which I imagine to be a buck. Only seeing it would confirm this.

I observe many footprints of scampering squirrels, both red and gray. Their paths cross and end at the base of certain familiar trees. I look up in hopes of seeing a nest or perhaps one of the agile rodents perched on a branch watching me, sounding the alarm. 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 as fallen trees, stumps, limbs, and rocks are scattered about the forest floor. I continue following the tracks, realizing a vast difference between us—I question, and they do not.

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

I stumble across the rough terrain in the abandoned pine grove, admiring the thought of the deer, for their tracks remain sound and unbroken. The path circles around to an opening near the pond. Prints indicate that an eastern cottontail rabbit scampered through the garden’s long-dead remnants 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 footprints continue with a broad swirling line in the center. The rabbit tracks do not.

The wind subsides, bringing the main brook’s melodic tones that feed into the pond to a crescendo. I break away from the deer path and wander towards the throaty new song. The ground is flawless—no tracks, leaves, or twigs strewn about. I stand at the edge of many streams that rush towards the brook. 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 that threatens to swallow me in one swift gulp. It was just last summer that I had my pond encounter; only then it was in black mud. That was enough to instill caution, and the injuries are still healing.

Breathless, I scramble to the edge of the opening and grasp the bottom of a young white birch tree while my boots instantly fill up with frigid water. Grateful that it is not deep, I pull myself to safety. My walk comes to an abrupt end. Pausing to inhale the thin crisp air, I wonder what the day would have been like if I had not left the deer path.

I head for the house, stopping only to gather a handful of freshly-fallen 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) Image: CCO

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