Friday, January 20, 2017

A Walk in the Woods, Duck Pond Edition

The day after I landed at Dwayne's home in rural Nova Scotia nearly ten years ago, he packed up the four-wheeler (with his city girl and a thermos of tea and a blanket, plus stuff for starting a fire) and took me to the Ducks Unlimited duck pond way back in the woods. A few years later, we snowshoed back there on Valentine's day. It seemed like such a long way back yet twice this week, Abby and I have walked to the duck pond as if it were no further than our walk to Carrington Road and back.
I'm wondering why we don't do this walk more often but then I remember: deep snow, and bugs.

The writing isn't going well; I'm not hitting my stride (yet) in part because I'm working on publicity for a literary event I've planned in February. When I am fumbling for words, I head to the woods, so Tuesday afternoon, I told the dog to put her coat on, we were going for a walk.
"Let's go say hello to the beavers," I said, "that will clear my head." That's our usual walk, to the beaver brook and back home through the plantation.
But when we reached the brook, the dog kept trotting up the old road since I wasn't writing, I kept walking. The ground was nearly bare and frozen, and where there was snow, it was hard-packed thanks to rain and freeze; I simply swished carefully over the icy patches. We just kept walking, deeper and deeper into the woods. There seemed no reason to turn back.
"We might as well go all the way to the duck pond," I said when we paused at the top of the small hill by the middle clearcut. I hadn't packed any snacks but I figured we'd be okay; this dog isn't as concerned about snacks as my original country dog, Stella, was.
This is the perfect winter for walking through the woods. No bugs, no bears, no deep snow.

We aren't the only one wandering around the woods. We found raccoon tracks frozen in the snowy ice. It's mating season for raccoons; the tracks zig-zagged from tree to tree as the local male searched for and visited a variety of females denned up in the trees. I thought about this as I walked, how male raccoons are promiscuous, how the females have their cozy space invaded by a male following his biological urges. This is how the species ensures its survival.
I thought how, with humans, it's okay for the male to be promiscuous but not the female. Our thousands-of-years-old biological urges in conflict with our intellect and social awareness.
But I didn't want to think these kinds of thoughts deep in the woods. I wanted to breathe, to see and hear, with my brain on pause.
There were deer tracks a-plenty, lots of heart-shaped tracks like I write about in my book but my favourite are the partridge footprints wandering around, from one side of the trail to the other; years ago, I tracked a partridge through the woods like I was following one of the kids in a Family Circus cartoon -- all over the place, no start and no finish. My path may be straight but I wander like a partridge.
I am not alone when I go into the woods, that is true.

It took us 90 minutes to walk to the duck pond and back again, making better time on the way home since I wasn't stopping to take photos.
The next afternoon, another cold and sunny and perfect winter afternoon, we headed out again, no camera, just me and the dog and the wind through the trees and the traces of wild friends we never see.
"You need to take your phone with you when you go back that far," my husband said when I returned home. He knew I didn't have it because it burped with texts while I was gone. "You may run into a coyote."
We saw coyote tracks, but I never feel afraid in the woods. The dog stays on the trail, comes when she's called, didn't even chase the squirrel that ran in front of her. We respect the woods, we respect the fact we are visitors, just passing through, saying hello to the wind and the trees and the residents who never cross our path.

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