Before I leave
I check the straps
that secure my feet
on last time.

The air outside is brisk
and tugs at my scarf
as I stand,
ungainly
with too-huge feet.

There is finally
enough snow this year
to go snowshoeing.

I set out
across the wide,
white field
and into the
narrow wood.

As I tromp along,
the sun shines brilliantly
but low on
the misty horizon.
Reflected off the snow
the light is near-blinding.
I should have brought
snow goggles.

But soon I retreat
to the shadows
of the wood.
There, the wind dies
down and all
is quiet.

It is tough going
in some places.
Snowshoes get tangled
with fallen branches
and dead grasses
and I fall
and am stopped dead
many a time.

Still, I go on
searching for something.

Then, I find it:
in the new-fallen snow,
imbedded deep,
are the dainty tracks
of a hopping mouse.

And there!
Small tracks that look
like human hands:
a raccoon was here.

I push on
towards the river,
careful not to ruin
the dramas played out
on the snowy white stage.

On the steep shore
I find the heart-shaped prints
of dainty deer,
crossing the frozen river
to the other side.

I wonder,
is the river frozen?
Is it safe?
I test the waters
with a huge log
sent flying.

THUD!

The waters seem safe,
for now.

I venture out,
gingerly,
onto the frozen spanse,
keeping away from the cutbank
where the water runs
fast and deep
beneath the thinner ice.

I walk along,
the rhythm of my flipping snowshoes
a quiet flapping
in the deep silence of the wood.

High above the river,
above the treetops,
the wind whines,
angry that the twisting bends
of the snaking water
won't let it come and play
with the soft snow.

I admire the soft,
glittery snow,
and the way my snowshoes
defy gravity
and don't sink.

Then, there!
Out in the middle of the river,
a flurry of tracks.

Twiggy turkey tracks
leading out from one shore,
almost at the other
when out of the wood
come the sneaky paws
of a coyote
or a dog
or even a wolf.

BAM!

The tracks melt from clear
into blurred action,
feathery wing prints here,
all four jumpy paws there,
and then a deep depression,
a fallen body,
a sprinkle of blood.

The wolf won.

Sobered
by the realization
that not all the wood
is beauty and goodness,
I turn to head back
and see my own tracks
long and deep
like smooth swan wings,
strange footprints
of a stranger animal.

I smile wryly
and wonder what the animals
will think,
if they will follow my tracks
as I have followed theirs.

Just to be safe,
once I am home,
I will leave out a sheaf
of winter wheat,
perhaps an apple or two
at the end of my tracks.

But no meat.
That much I know,
the forest provides.