In Dubois, we sleep soundly and don’t fear intruders in the middle of the night. But we do know that often someone is out there casing the joint while we’re snoozing.
It’s easier for us to track them, of course, in the dead of winter. This morning we woke to discover that a rabbit had been exploring the back porch.
Our neighbors across the highway set up a night camera, to capture images of these visitors that come by while we are quietly tucked in bed.
The folks to the north sometimes lose one of their chickens during the summer when the birds are free to range in the yard. This critter must be a bit hungry this time of year, when they’re safely cooped up.
Now here’s a startling image!
We know that mountain lions are indigenous to the area, and some people have actually seen one.
But who knew that they wander so close to our homes?
I wonder how this fellow lost his team, and came out so far ahead of schedule. I do hope they have located him by now, and have him well fed and ready to travel again.
I wondered why a horse would be on the loose so far up-mountain.
When I came down the steep, snowy slope a few minutes later, leaning on my walking stick, I could see why she had started to run.
In a spot like that, when you have strong legs and plenty of traction, it’s only natural to take advantage of gravity and momentum.
It was a beautiful winter day, but I hadn’t set out on my workout hike with a sense of joy or anticipation. You know how they say to seize the day? Sometimes it’s the day that seizes you.
For me this far, it had been all uphill. I had been keeping a close watch on the time, and my knees were complaining. A half hour up, I told myself, and then back down.
At the point when I’d clocked the half hour, I could see the road curve ahead and dwindle to a trail. I couldn’t resist. In hopes of a splendid view, I went on.
Then suddenly, the sound of galloping. Briefly I wondered why a horse would be on the loose, way up here on the mountain. But of course this was no horse.
There she was, huge and beautiful. She skidded to a halt, and I stopped too. We looked at each other, motionless.
I have never had the privilege of looking a moose in the eyes before. I do not try to get close to moose. They are powerful and unpredictable, I know. But we were staring.
Her gaze was like my dog’s–gentle, brown, and intent. I sank down on the steep slope beside the trail, hoping to look as much as possible like a boulder (an eggplant-colored Thermasilk-lined boulder with a fur-edged hood, wearing a houndstooth visor cap).
I risked snapping a picture. She watched quietly.
After several heart-pounding moments (my heart, I mean), she moved slowly toward me on the trail, then stopped and stared again. She turned hugely around and paced back uphill a ways. Then she reversed course and came slowly toward me.
What would she do? Was she going to sniff me? Or kick me?
Perhaps five feet away, she turned again and ambled down the slope into the woods.
I watched her descend and disappear into the trees before I rose from my crouch and regained the path. She didn’t turn to look back at me.
I stopped to take a picture of her huge hoofprints at full gallop in the snow.
Then I continued on up into the woods whence she had come, returning later down that same steep slope that had set her off on her joyous run.
A friend from back East has graciously lent me her ski condo in the late off-season. New trails take me to unfamiliar places, with sights I will not see back home in Dubois.
For instance: An unused ski lift waits motionless and silent, a ghostly reminder of another life. I recall the creak of the lift chair as it swings around to grab you from the rear. The reach back and up to grab the overhead bar and bring it down across your lap.
I recall the enforced strut of skiers in molded boots, conveying a sense of arrogance as they clattered past in the slopeside cafe.
I used to love downhill skiing. In fact, it was my enthusiasm for my first ski trip, at the age of 19, that made my husband notice me in the college dorm.
Once we took ski trips every winter, as a matter of course.
On this morning, at the spot where the lift chairs swing around and dump you off, only footprints led away. I remembered the exhilaration of the smooth, winding sail as the momentum carried you on downhill. The wonder (on the first run) of what awaited around that curve. The sense in my knees of being one with the slope.
For this one morning, I was a little nostalgic. I quit skiing a decade ago, after I got a mild knee sprain in deep powder.
Was that an early sign of aging? I don’t think so.
I didn’t want any more injuries to deter me from hiking, because I knew there are better ways to understand a mountain.
This trail led off away from the top of the motionless lift. I saw that a man and his dog had gone that way not long ago. It beckoned, and I followed.
Just as I can learn a back road far better on foot than in a car, I gain a much closer friendship with a slope by pushing off the boulders on my way uphill and sidestepping over the rocky gullies on my way back down than by gliding down a well-groomed avenue.
The challenge I seek is not for the speed downhill, but for the strength uphill.
The pleasure I’m after is not the joy of following a crowd or a well-marked route, but the difference between getting lost and just exploring.
Far better than the jostle of strangers speeding past is my own solitude, and the delight of unexpected encounters. In truth, I’m the stranger this morning, to the foxes and deer who own these slopes when there are no crowds.
Yesterday, we ran across each other in person. We did not stop to introduce ourselves; we just stared. This morning, I see they’ve been here ahead of me.