Venturing out into the gray, the usual curious wondering in the forest, the usual chill, wet feet. I had a habit of following just one path, day after day, finding nothing but snapped branches and my own footprints. I did once encounter a muskrat, but it quickly vanished. Another time I found an enormous dead crayfish. Time spent searching, wasted on a slippery marmot and a dead thing. I wanted to know what went on. My longing to be liked by creatures, to be the exception to their doubts led me off one day into uncertain woodland. A mess of thorny vines caught my pant leg as I tried to follow a trail of Fisher prints. I felt clumsy, human . The Fisher navigated expertly, with grace. My presence was loud, unnerving, my shoes crushing saplings, squeaking atop rotted logs. I stayed on the path of the Fisher.
Deer, coyote, fox, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, rabbit joined the Fisher, and together these feet had worn a highway in the thicket. There was a deep borrow complete with fresh droppings, an entrance perhaps to extensive tunnels. There was a turkey feather in a Fisher’s hole. Countless tiny stumps had been gnawed into pencil tips by a beaver. A pile of pine shavings fresh from that day. My attention turned to the marsh, to his dam. Maybe he had hidden there, spooked by my arrival, maybe I could get close enough to see. I felt like a creature, like I might learn their secrets.
I sunk into the icy grasses along the shallows of the swamp. I balanced along grounded trees, grasping for sturdy holds. Standing on a bank, rushed, anxious, as though I was sure to see the beaver, I pondered the rushing water of a lively brook feeding the swamp. I confidently jumped, with a leg stretched out, and landed in the icy stream. As I climbed out, shocked, slow, I thought of how ridiculous I had been on this quest to befriend the wildlife. December air stung my wet skin.
Deer, coyote, fox, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, rabbit. I trudged away, they surely reappeared soon after. I am not the exception to their doubts. The creatures will always take cover in dens or holes, or flee with white tails waving. I am not the exception to their doubts, and I can never know them.