Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ghosts of the woods

Fresh snow falls on the first day of May. Storybook fat flakes rush to the ground, flick coldly off my face and pepper the dogs’ backs, white on black.

Murdoch and Molly dig through the sloppy snow from the last storm at the trunks of trees we have not visited in some time. There has been activity here, rabbits, birds, deer, something of interest. I stand on the trail and wait for them, watch the snow fall against the dark backdrop of trees from a heavy grey sky that looks more like rain than snow. In fact, the snow smells like rain and I turn from where the dogs dig, breathe in the metallic ozone-rich scent filling up the spaces between trees with the flurry of white.

I look up the height of the trees, begin to speak, moved to tell the dogs, tell the forest, how beautiful it is, how real it is, this world of snow and spring and green on brown on white. But I don’t get far in my speech; a sweep of horizontal movement in this vertical landscape stops me.

A glimpse is all I am allowed, but I inhale that fleeting moment, revel in it, the silent glide of an owl flickering into existence and then out again. Brown feathers blending in to the surroundings, wings outstretched impossibly wide. How does it fit between the trees?

I have not seen the owls in some time. Not since last summer when the dogs and I, returning to our woods after a walk, stumbled upon the unfolding drama of a horned owl swooping down for a juvenile robin learning how to fly, the parents squawking in a flurry of snapping wings and outstretched claws chasing it away.

The owls have been here though, their dulcet voices, felt as much as heard, pulse regularly through the woods at dawn and dusk. They have chosen not to be seen, which makes this moment caught in the corner of my eye so magical, with the tumultuous white flakes filling the grey day and the silent passage. They move like ghosts in the forest, a trick of the light, they are there, floating past, but they make no sound, as though an afterimage of something that came before.

I scrutinize the trees against which the owl disappeared so quickly after its brief appearance. I blink and scan the vertical planes, how exactly the owl’s colouring matches the bark, how the shading on each feather stitches the bird seamlessly into the landscape, mimicking the distances and depths, the contours of the trunks.

I hardly breathe as I search for more movement, begin to question if I did indeed see the owl or perhaps I imagined it.

“Guys,” I say when the dogs meet me on the path. “That was awesome. Did you see it?” But they are distracted by more smells. We walk on in silence, they with their noses to the ground, I looking up into the falling snow, searching the treetops for the silent shape I have seen in the past sitting tall and still, watching everything.

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