Tracking in the town forest

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(Host) Commentator Alan Boye takes us along on a snowshoe in his town’s forest.

(Boye) I’m snowshoeing up a logging road in my town’s forest. Everywhere I look there are tracks in the snow. I like to imagine myself as some old time trapper, but I’m a lousy tracker. Heck, I flunked out of Boys Scouts! But today even I can read the tracks in these snowy hills of Vermont.

The trail I’m on begins to climb up a steeper hill. My town is harvesting some of the timber from its forest. In front of me the double, tank-like tracks of a piece of logging equipment make a jagged path up the snow-covered hill.

I reach a flat area. All around me are tracks, tracks of hikers, and deer and other animals. The machine’s tracks end at a small clearing. This is the place where the logs are gathered to be taken down the mountain. The woods enclose me. I stop to study them and catch my breath. The town’s logger has thinned the woods. A number of strong trees have been left behind to keep the forest healthy.

My town’s forest is a jewel of a place, and I’m glad to see the careful job the logger has done here. I walk to the far side of the clearing and follow a mixed set of tracks deeper into the woods. Here there are boot prints and the tennis-racket-like prints of someone else on snowshoes. The woods close in on me, their gray shadows pale on the snow. All is silence save the squeak-squeak rhythm of my snowshoes.

I follow this mixed-up jumble of tracks until only a single set of bootprints remains amid the tracks of several deer. I stop where the two kinds of tracks divide. The bootprints continue straight ahead, and down into the next valley, but the deer prints turn sharply and climb a steep bank.

I follow them up onto a snowy ridge until finally they veer off and I walk on through unspoiled snow. My snowshoes are nearly silent. The pale cloud of my breathing lingers in the cold winter air an instant, and then is seen no more.

I am now deep in the town’s forest and alone. I follow no trail. The gray stately trees shelter me in their ancient arms. All around me are woods. I learned from reading an essay by the poet Gary Snyder last night, that the names of trees are some of the western world’s oldest surviving words. He lists a group of words that have not changed in over 12,000 years: Birch. Willow. Alder. Elm. Ash. Apple. Beech.

I stand in stillness, listening to the quiet beating of my own heart. The trackless woods ahead lie silent, deep in snow.

This is Alan Boye, just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.

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