I walked in the woods. It was cold. The chill on my face was cold enough for me to notice. I thought that maybe it was cold enough to freeze condensation into my moustache. The snow was hard. It was frozen, molded by the beings that had trodden there before me. My steps were my own, but nearly every one of them landed where another had trod this space recently. My own passage through this place was loud and I wondered who, or what else, knew I was there. I assumed that all animals were keenly aware of my presence. When I stopped to tickle the depths of my throat with the crisp, clean, cold air, I heard nothing else. Save, the fluttering beech nut leaves that clung in the slight winter’s breeze to the twig that gave them life. Now and again I heard the pop of some piece of tree bark that finally succumbed to the temperatures. But for man, I heard nothing. I listened to my heartbeat as my eyes and ears sought out other sounds deep in the forest. The trickle of distant water half covered in ice seemed so loud even when it was still far enough away that I could not see it. The steps I took were in earnest as I couldn’t wait to get to a place where the path ran away to disappear somewhere around the next bend. Finally, after checking a spot along a trail that I had not explored before, I noticed that the foot prints in the snow ended, reversing themselves along the trail as they had entered.
Ahhh, I looked around and made no haste in determining my new direction. As a matter of fact, I even removed my heavy outer layer of clothing as I had created too much heat on my walk into the woods. I stripped down to my bare back in order to cool down and make sure all layers of my clothing were dry. I was worried that if my shirts were wet, and my pace slowed in the shadows of hills and forest, that I might quickly get too cold. It was only 14°F with a wind chill in the single digits back in the forest. I re-layered, and I wore the heaviest layer like a belt around my waist, because I knew if I was moving, I would be warm enough. I did not want to cut my time short, for there aren’t enough hours available to fully enjoy this landscape already.
Then I decided it would be the tiny deer tracks that I saw, tracks that made the faintest of impressions on the snow dust, like a thin layer of powdered sugar covering the crusted snow, was where I would follow. I walked in the woods. I walked on crusted snow. There were no other foot steps. There was no trail. I followed some animal tracks, but mostly just the lay of the land. The crusted snow was slick in spots but I thought of how much more difficult this walk would be in the summer months of growth. I knelt by a small stream to listen while my eyes searched for each instrument that played such a rhythmic trickle. I looked through the crystal clear sheet of ice and watched the water flow over the bed of the stream. I followed the land and its ease of passage feeling for the contours I would seek if looking at a map of the terrain. I came upon a large wetland that was fed by several small streams, a couple of which I had encountered during my walk. I skirted around the wetland checking the tracks in the snow and noticing the age of the massive fir trees around me. I noticed almost no hard wood trees and figured that the land had been cleared generations before me. Then as the ground rose, away from the water, I noticed a super highway of animal tracks. There were deer, muskrat, turkey, bobcat, coyote, otter, and another bird tracks that I wasn’t sure of. There was probably even more tracks that I missed. But during my time there, only the water, the wind, and I were moving. I stood in silence and let the sun warm my face, as I daydreamed of being there in that spot on some early, early morning to see all the activity connected to the tracks I saw.
I listened to the sounds, the silence found in the absence of sound. I talked with my Lord aloud. I figured the nature around me was already familiar with The Lord Almighty, and that it would be just fine to speak aloud. I prayed aloud. I prayed in reverence. I prayed a thankful prayer. I prayed for the vision and attentiveness to notice the awesomeness of the Lord’s works in so many people, places, and things that I encounter every day. I prayed for my Dad, for my whole family, and for many more. I prayed for our leaders to boldly go where true leaders must go. I prayed for God’s direction for them, for me, for my family, for us all. I prayed about a lot of things. I talked openly with God. Finally I prayed for more opportunities to be in such wild and natural places as often as His will would allow. For me, there’s a calming, encompassing, peace and a connection to God that is unmistakable when truly engaged in the forest. For all of life that whisks by us in a blur that seems to be an endless loop at times, I was so grateful for these couple of hours in nature. I knew I had other commitments that I needed to attend to, so I made my way out of the forest, reluctantly returning to reality. As I left the woods and was returning to the places I needed to be, I saw a large, beautiful, wandering coyote going about his or her day. I smiled and I thought, perfect, I am leaving, let the animals return to their business.