Dogged Persistence of Cross Country Skiing
Overly friendly White-Tail Deer, Goose Island County Park-- Paper from Grassroots
Storytelling isn't the topic of this post. Instead, it's a story, of sorts. It's my blog. If I want to babble about my day, it's my choice!
This so-called "winter" we've had has been a source of frustration, to say the least. While others are cheering the minimal amount of snowfall, I have spent the past two and a half months in mourning, grieving the melting of the white stuff not long before Christmas. We had a pile of snow last week; we even had the kids' and people who teach kids' joy, a snow day. Unfortunately, along with that snowfall came record low temps. All I could do was look out the window and dream.
Yesterday, I'd decided this was enough. I packed my skis and clothing in the car along with my school bag, determined to do a little skiing after work, taking in the small trails at the county park close to my school. When 3:25 came, I was in one of the teachers' restrooms, changing into my ski pants and anorak.
I realized that as the weather had warmed, even with our snowfall yesterday, things would probably not be ideal. How right I was. Stepping out after being trapped indoors all day, it felt balmy---and I could see large patches of dead grass all around.
So what? I was still going. Getting to one of the trails, I changed into my ski boots and was all set to go----through the leaf-covered, barely snow-covered trail. Is there no justice in the world? There were places where the snow had completely melted, forcing me to step over those sections of the trail. I would just get settled into my rhythm, only to be confronted with another bare leafy patch to catch my ski and nearly throw me to the ground, much as catching a tire on a sandy patch can throw a car into a ditch.
This was the point at which I told myself that if I'd wanted to ski a world class trail, I should have sent my money in and been on my way to Cable for tomorrow's American Birkebeiner. Since I hadn't, I could take another approach; enjoy hat-free skiing, the light whoosh of air across my skin and any sights that chose to present themselves to me.
It wasn't long after that decision that my first sight appeared. This park is well known for the extremely tame deer that live here. Look at the photos here, and except for a little touch of snow, this is the scene that greets anyone driving through the park. It was different today. I was in the woods on a trail all alone, when suddenly, right in front of me, a deer stopped in its passage through toward a pond. We looked one another in the eye; I didn't move. The deer appraised me, then calmly continued its journey across my path. Two quick kicks, and my skis were covering the tracks left in its wake.
Heading over to another trail, I hoped that the greater amount of shade would afford me a bit more snow. Not really. Slapping on another layer of wax, I headed into these woods, experiencing similar frustrations, followed by the resignation I'd felt about an hour before. I studied the signs of life here; large rectangular holes in dead trees, sure signs of Pileated Woodpeckers. Raucous calling across the forest, White Breasted Nuthatches sharing the news. A wild rattling call overhead told me a Belted Kingfisher was heading toward open water to fish. I was just about finished with my little jaunt when I heard it; a clear but distant "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?" I've had conversations with this owl before in this place. Though it happened two months ago, it is still a vivid and magical memory. Maybe I could have that experience again! Finding a deer path off the trail, I undid my skis and walked slowly in. I heard it again, a bit closer this time. I tried calling once myself. Moving a few feet at a time, scanning, watching, listening, I'd hear a call. Perhaps it was a female on her nest. I didn't call anymore. Simply listened. Moving further and further in, I saw and heard nothing more. I'd nearly crossed this part of the park to some open water, when a sound startled me in the final moments of sunlight. Looking toward the sound, a deer at water's edge had frozen. For several long moments in time, we watched each other, never moving. I hadn't met my owl again, but a deer and I communicated on some primeval level of the sort rarely experienced by those of us living in the rush of modern life. For a few moments at the end of the day, I felt what those who were here long before the artificial boundaries of a county park must have experienced on a daily basis--connection with a wild creature. Though the skiing was lousy, this was a window to the past for which I am grateful. Sometimes dogged persistence gives unexpected rewards!