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March 23, 2017

Squirrel Tracks in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Squirrel

If the field in front of the cabin is my quilt and the spruce trees are the pins, then the squirrel draws the needle, leaving stitches in the snow. After the delicate embroidery work of birds, the tree-to-tree tracks of the red squirrel were the first I noticed.

It would be difficult to ignore the squirrels. They dart down tree trunks and jerk their furry heads at me, complaining in my face for walking into their territory. They fling themselves in front of the truck at the last possible moment, bolting across the road in a maneuver perfectly timed to spook me without, yet, killing anybody.

They like to fight and they like to play. The other day I saw one launch itself from the branch of a birch tree maybe fifteen feet off the ground, catching air like a platform diver before dropping into the snow and fastening its paws again to the world.

Four on the floor, here’s a full squirrel print along with tracks from Orrie and me . . .

Squirrel Print in Snow | Out West Somewhere

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Fox Tracks in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Fox

Stewart and I got married in Fairbanks on a rainy afternoon in August 2014. The ceremony was three-minutes long, officiated in Linda and John’s garden gazebo where John read some notes we’d written on a yellow pad in an airport bar the day before. Five people were present: Linda, John, Teri, Stewart and me. Stewart and I kissed over a bouquet of flowers and kale plucked from Linda’s garden. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

After lunch we drove north and turned right at a tiny town called Fox, climbing the long hill to Cleary Summit and the old musher’s cabin at the Mount Aurora Lodge. My strongest memory of that place is the two of us walking out into a misty twilight, grazing wild blueberries on a low, rough ridge, then looking up to see a pair of red foxes quietly gazing at us. They were surprisingly close and completely at ease. When I think of those foxes now, I feel them turning slowly around themselves in my heart, settling down to rest in the soft, shadowed place where they live, noses tucked under their white-tipped tails.

Stewart was here with me last weekend. This trip pivots around his visit: two weeks gone, two more to go. It was wonderful to be with him for those few days at the center of things. One early morning we walked into the field and saw along the little ridge so many fox tracks leading to a den covered in snow.

Life continues to stitch itself together in ways I would never expect.

Fox Den in Snow | Out West Somewhere

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Moose Track in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Moose

The moose moves through the snow like a knob-kneed plow. Those twin-deep furrows are everywhere around the cabin, but I had no idea what I was looking at. Then one day I was walking in the early morning down the little outhouse path when I noticed a new track — a familiar one — next to my own. I’ve seen the prints of moose in mud and soft soil all around our cabin in the deep Interior; they look the same in snow. Now I followed the prints one by one until I came to the edge of the path where the snow banked up, and there began those two deep clefts.

So that’s what a moose track looks like! And this one wasn’t there an hour ago. With great excitement, I followed the fresh track with my eyes. If I got lucky I might see where the moose had disappeared into the trees. Instead, after tracing the path perhaps twenty feet, I found myself looking at the hulk of the moose herself, sitting in snow up to her shoulders, placidly working her enormous jaw over a dead clump of last year’s leaves.

Why is it that sometimes it takes us the longest to see the largest thing in the landscape? Or that an unbudgeable truth that’s been there a while all at once makes us fall off the outhouse steps? Even a smaller truth, like the young moose in the photo below. It will stand there so patiently in spring or in snow. It will look right at you: You there. Yes, you. You know what’s right for you to do.

Young Moose in Snow | Out West Somewhere

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Moon Over Fairbanks | Out West Somewhere

Moon

It made a strong impression, dropping full and centered in the cabin’s eastern window before vanishing into a dark tangle of trees. Impossible to follow yet still I wanted to run after it yelling out my wildest thoughts, imagining I might catch up.

A week later, on the morning of my birthday, it was a fat quarter moving far across the field — flatfooted, beginning to lose its balance. As am I, perhaps, starting to lean away from the center. Fifty-one feels like that. Another year’s sliver gone from my portion of life and I turn ever so slightly more toward night.

This morning it skirts the field again, a brilliant hoof-edge slipping through birch trees in the thin blue light of dawn. I stand happily at the window, fingertips on the ice-cold pane, gasping toward the beauty as it goes.

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  • Nancy March 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Your words speak to me in a very meaningful way ….so vivid, descriptive and full of deep emotions. Thank you so much . I imagine being there with all the snow and the tracks and the solitude.. May the rest of your days there be filled with ease 🙏🏻

    • Shae March 23, 2017 at 5:31 pm

      Nancy, thank you. And I hope you are finding your way through the transition back to home and a colder climate after what I heard was a stretch of unusually lovely weather, even for beautiful Moloka’i. Take good care!

  • Laura March 24, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I love your newest post. I can hear the silence in you.

    L

  • Annie March 27, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    sorry I forgot to wish you Happy Birthday on your special day this year Shae. So here it is, better late than never. Happy Happy Day that you were born. dear one. This writing is so special, I feel you have brought me with you to be in the wonder that is the north and the cold and the silence and the awe of nature. Bravo! So glad you gave yourself this time.

    Annie