I pulled myself up the steep dirt steps and stopped. The trail looked uncertain, unsteady and untouched. The woods above were daunting. My mind entertained thoughts of bears, wolves and people waiting for stupid hikers like myself to venture into the trees on my own. I took a few steps more then stopped again. Disappointed in myself, I turned back towards the main road and continued on a path that was paved and safe.
The next day I asked Michael (my host dad) if there was any risk of bears in the woods around where we were staying. After silencing my fears, I decided I’d set out that day for the same trail again. The only problem was we received almost about half a foot of snow the night before.
I climbed the same steps up to the trail. This time they were covered in soft snow instead of muddy grass. Today was better because today I saw footprints leading up the trail. There’s a sense of comfort in knowing someone else has already traveled down a path you’re considering.
I marched on confidently. The views were stunning. The snow silenced any chance of movement in the trees above. I tripped several times, but I always stayed in the stranger’s footprints. After all, why go through the trouble of sinking into new snow when someone else already did it before me?
I stopped for pictures, stopped for breaths and stopped to take in every view. Suddenly the trees stopped. The mountainside opened onto a vast space of tree stumps. Although the view of the mountains across the way was breathtaking, I felt exposed in such an open area. I hurried on for the cover of trees again, but just before I reached them I looked down to realize I was creating my own footprints. The prints I was following unexpectedly disappeared. I couldn’t trace them.
Determined to find more dazzling views, I drudged on. I looked back at one point to see nothing but my sinking footprints in the snow behind me. In a sense I felt proud of myself. In another sense, I felt foolish for having gone so deep into a place I knew nothing about. If anything did come out of those trees I was forfeit. The snow was too deep for me to run. Rolling down the hill was a possibility but not quite practical.
I reached a split between four different paths, none of them easy or even feasible for me. I attempted one and nearly slid down the mountain. I attempted another only to realize the trail was lost in the snow. I could not see a clear trodden path.
Ultimately, I turned around. The snow disguised any signs of a right path. My only option was to follow the path I had already made.
I came again to the open space and stood for a few minutes taking in my last moment of solitude. I was oblivious to my surroundings. My eyes weren’t fixed on the trees around me but the mountains ahead.
Then, a crack. It echoed through the mountain. I turned suddenly to see two deer darting out of the trees and sprinting over the stumps. I froze.
My body wouldn’t move, not out of fear but out of wonder. As far as I know, the deer had no clue I was there. They weren’t running out of fear of me. They were running and playing as if it were only them, and that is what made me marvel at them. I witnessed nature as nature; not nature that knows it’s being watch but nature as it truly is.
But I would be lying if I said the (unfounded) thought didn’t cross my mind that these deer were running from some terrible bear. Still in awe but also wondering about the bear, I rushed down the path back to the starting point.
I swiftly passed over the steps again and nearly fell onto the road as I had lost all control of my leg muscles at this point.
My legs somehow regained strength and led me all the way back to the house. I smiled dumbly replaying the scene of the deer.