(Host) Commentator Willem Lange recently got a chance to ski alone in the North Woods, and had an encounter with a pair of the forest’s most mysterious inhabitants.
(Lange) Four of us were skiing in a line on an old logging road. Ahead of us, it rose toward the ridge dividing this stream’s watershed from the one beyond. “This leg,” I thought, favoring a dull ache in my left hip, “–this leg is not going to get me up and over that ridge.” It seemed the better part of valor to let the others continue without me.
“I’m going back,” I announced. Nobody objected. I watched them pass behind a curtain of alders. For a few moments I could see flashes of color through the tangle. I felt like a wild goose, unable to keep up, left behind by the flock. But it comes to us all sometime, I thought, and the rest of this beautiful day is mine to enjoy.
I started back. A big clearing here was once a logging camp and a farm where they grew hay and potatoes for the horses and men. I slowly rotated, taking in the whole compass. Little showers of snow sparkled between me and the sun.
A mile farther on there was a little crest above a sharp bend in the river. Time for a snack. I put my pack down between my feet, pulled out a Snickers bar, and started to unwrap it. Then a quick motion to my left caught my eye. Ah! a gorbie! — or whiskey jack, or Canada jay, or geai gris. Name doesn’t matter. They’re great to have around. Symbols of the deep woods, and reputed by the old-timers to be the spirits of dead loggers, they’ll come right to your hand for a treat. Injuring one is sure to evoke a curse. This one must have been following me in hopes of a snack. As I watched, his mate settled silently on a branch near him.
I broke off a chunk of semi-frozen bar, ate most of it, and spread out my left hand with a small piece on the palm. He came down first — cold little claws gripping my fingers — picked up the offering, and flew back into the trees to eat it. Then a piece for the lady. Soon’s she was gone, he was back. We dined there, the three of us, till the Snickers was gone, and I resumed my slide toward camp.
A very small thing, but so much a part of these north woods: silent communion between two species native to the forest. Just before bedtime, I stepped outside to look at the winter stars: Betelgeuse, Rigel, Sirius, Polaris, and the tiny smudge of the Pleiades. The thermometer was dropping toward zero, the waterhole at the river skimming over. Somewhere in the dark woods two gorbies were tucking their heads under their wings for the night, and digesting a Snickers bar. Time for me to do the same.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
Willem Lange is a contractor and storyteller who lives in Etna, NH.