By now it has set in. The wind has been howling for days on end, snowflakes dominate the sky, and the frozen world around seems desolate. The days are shorter than you can stand, and that winter depression has settled in.
We love our winter weather in the Northeast—well, some of us do—but, regardless, every year in the middle of winter the world can seem empty and disheartening. One winter day several years ago, fighting off the urge to stay in my long johns all day sipping coffee while watching my favorite episodes of NCIS, it occurred to me that I had been hit with a serious dose of the winter blues. For weeks I had looked out the window at the bleak hills wondering how anything could live in that frigid, foreboding forest outside. I had not seen anything other than a few chickadees for weeks on end out that window, and I was beginning to wonder if all of the wildlife had died.
But then I saw it, a lone deer in the corner of our yard pawing at the snow. I wondered how that little deer could make it out there in that harsh environment and wanted to see where it spent its time. Breaking the pattern of couch and TV I decided to follow her tracks. I figured I had nothing to lose: if I got tired or too cold I could just come back in, throw a blanket over myself, and go back to watching TV. So I bundled up and headed out into the great unknown: the hillside behind my house. I began to follow the deer’s tracks in the powdery snow until I came across other tracks, astonished by what I saw. There were animal tracks everywhere. I found tracks from several deer, rabbits, squirrels, mice, grouse, and even bobcat. Before I knew it I was a half-mile from the house. I followed a random set of deer tracks to a lone white pine tree. There, nestled under the majestic tree, I found a fresh deer bed with tracks entering slowly on one side and leaving at a runner’s pace from the other. I realized I must have kicked it out of its bed. The ground in the bed was warm to touch, and the snow on its edges was melted to an icy film. Two deer hairs lay trapped in the ice. As I looked around I saw the town of Wellsboro spread out below me. From that vantage I could see Route 6 and watched as cars travelled to and fro. I couldn’t help but wonder what that deer must have thought of all of our hustle and bustle from up there on its perch. I sat down on a nearby rock and watched the valley below me for a long time. The distant yells and barking dogs seemed a lifetime away. My attention turned to two small gray squirrels, one chasing the other across a nearby log. Back and forth they went, up and down trees, scolding each other as they went. Then they were gone as quickly as they had appeared. I watched the sunset from that hillside, amazed by its harsh beauty, and a scene that could have been plucked from a movie screen. As I ventured toward home I crossed a cluster of fresh turkey tracks and among them was a gift: one long tail feather, in almost perfect condition.
It sits on the fireplace, a memento of my trip into the winter woods. Whenever I start getting the winter blues I just look at that turkey feather and smile. Most times I go back to whatever else I was doing, but every once in a while it prompts me to walk a new adventure in winter’s not-so-desolate forest.