Everyday I don my snow boots, my neck gaiter, wool hat with the flaps, boiled wool mittens and puffy down jacket to walk into the Carson National Forest. It is .5 miles from the Shepherds cabin where I am living this winter.
At 8,500′, tucked among the mountains of Northern New Mexico, the snow flies regularly. Temperatures dip to single digits at night and peak at 28-30 degrees F during the day.
With a foot of snow encasing my car and covering the land in diamonds, it is easy to follow animal tracks that criss cross the pastures, and then enter the forest. I’ve been noticing coyote tracks outside my door. A small furry animal met the end of its life, a faint trail of tiny, weightless feet dead ending at the woodpile. In the forest I noticed tufts of dark fur on a barbed wire fence and tracks that looked like a bobcat.
Toby, self proclaimed animist, anarchist, with an Aussie accent, came to dig out my car the other day. He splits his time between his small hand built home down the dirt road, and the big city of Albuquerque where his two special needs daughters and wife live. We had a lively conversation. He loves the mountains of Northern New Mexico and has lived here for 28 years. I imagine it gets lonely, even for a grizzled, diehard landscaper. We spoke about the animal tracks and who really lives in those forests that I tread daily.
Yes, the big cats, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, and a population explosion of rodents—particularly voles this year. I felt the shadow of anxiety as I asked him whether there were cougars. Yep. “Don’t worry”, he laughed, “as long as I’ve been here there has never been any encounters with humans. They stay pretty hidden. Oh, they’ll see you, but you won’t see them!”
I laughed in relief. Still. They were there.
Today, on my journey, I noticed that my boot tracks from yesterday, into the forest, were intersected by wide padded paw prints, claws curling into the snow. I felt my breath catch. They followed along past the barbed wire fencing for the horses and cattle, finally peeling off deep into the woods. I called out, sang and shouted, mostly to keep from scaring myself silly. Here I was, alone, and the city of the forest was being revealed. The highways of tracks and crossings and dwellings was a maze of animal prints. What was usually invisible to humans, was written in bas relief on the pristine diamonds of the snow. It was both exhilarating and frightening to see so clearly. I am not the largest mammal in control here, I thought. As the sun quickly slipped down towards the western horizon, framed by pines, I gingerly stepped back down the sloping path, emerging out of the forest and down the dirt road towards home. I felt my heart rate slow and the sigh of my shallow breath begin to deepen again.
Monday, December 21 is a special conjunction of the planets, Jupiter and Saturn. Evidently this celestial event hasn’t happened for 800 years. It will shine as brightly as the star of Bethlehem, which came to rest over the biblical manger scene of Christ.
Tracks in the sky, tracks in the snow. After a such a horrible, terrible, no good year in 2020, I can only imagine that the heavenly bodies are revealing that we are not alone on this small earth. There are movements and galaxies, planets and portents that are beyond words. They are evolving, silent trackers of a universe much bigger than what we comprehend. We are accompanied as we head into 2021.
Meanwhile, I will continue to track my thoughts, the paw prints, and the seasons up here. It feels as though I am forging into virgin wilderness. Most days uncertain, curious, wondering, trying to find ways to stay balanced and warm.
May you also find peace, balance and warmth this season, tucked in wherever you are— tracks on your soul’s landscape calling you forward.