Last month I went to my usual spot at the Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest for a hike. The path had been flattened by snowmobiles and quads. The ice was clear as glass and slippery like soap. I walked out into the marsh onto blushing ice drifts, so smooth it made me wish I had skates. I slid to and fro, looking at tiny animal tracks in places where the snow had caught in drifts. Sliding, breathing and listening to the still air, I heard a couple of owls with imperfect hoots. I realized realizes the naiivity of everything: of story, of passion, of work and life as we know it.
It isn’t that wild animals understand nothing of our complexities, but that we understand so little of their simplicities. It sent me back to the beginning; of my childhood with Dad, four-wheeling through the vernal pool; and of treading through snow and ice and frozen grass over the marsh with Stanzy, her paws slipping on the ice, and her worry obvious, but she wouldn’t leave me.
Traversing—not thinking about how I will make money, or what project I ought to devote myself to next—reminded me of that dream I had of becoming a wildlife ethologist: of studying animals in their natural habitats and getting it all down on paper.
I remembered why I walk at all, and what it means to me. I remembered that I am not just a writer. I am a hiker. A dancer. I am enthusiastic and compassionate, and often come across as frank or blunt. I am someone who believes in kindness and tires to practice it daily. I am a writer, but I am also a thousand other things, and writing is not my sole purpose for living.
It is hard to be quiet and one with the earth in winter, when I am bulky with long johns, and my windbreaker jacket sounds like a balloon rubbing against my hair. Sitting inside a noisy hood makes it sound like there is heavy construction nearby, and if anything were to follow or call to me, I’d never hear it. My boots are too big for my feet, and they crash down into the snow, shattering twigs and ice in their wake. When I finally hear the silence, and the profound scent of cold and nothingness, it rings true and pure; not a place I would like to stay forever, but a place I can bear to dwell for a bit.
Tufts of dry frozen grasses stick up through the ice in the marsh, and I howl to the sky, although there is no moon that I can see yet. A storm is coming, but I can’t hear it or feel it or sense it. I can’t taste it. Just on the other side of the marsh there is a house, lit up like Christmas lights, lighting the trees beyond and the grasses before it. It’s a reminder that I am not alone, however completely it feels out here in the 30-degree weather, bundled up and without a sound in the air other than the owls and my rambunctious jacket, which sounds like barking in the stillness.