One of three journal posts I wrote on the three and a half years I was in long retreat.
Little bird tracks. Squirrel tracks. Mouse tracks. Slippers and boots and some large, unidentified paw prints. There is a fine dust of snow on the breeze way, and there is a map of who’s been where since the last snow fall. It’s January and we leave nuts and seeds for the animals.
Somehow the birds know exactly when to come. The Stellar Jays are looking for butter. They will find it and when they call out, their companions will join them. They are electric blue, noisy and smart. Some of the animals come in the night. The small ones. The vulnerable ones that can’t run fast enough to escape the swift and shadowy birds of prey. They have taken tiny bites out of the tormas. They have taken their time in the luxury of darkness. Two friends have stopped for a conversation on their way to their cabins. I know the imprints of their shoes. Maybe it was uncomfortable; they shifted a lot. Maybe they were cold.
In summer, these same animals come and go, but their wandering is invisible. But in winter, every step leaves a trace. Their footprints are a kind of calligraphic map of their movement.
I go to my room. I stop at the door and look back down the breeze way. There are my footprints: same old slippers as last year, mouse-eaten wool. The soles are worn on the outside edges. I can see I stopped near the big tree and turned to face the kitchen. I had forgotten something.
It’s all there in the footprints, frozen for anyone to see.