Yesterday I took Stanley back into our favorite woods, the forest above the Montague Farm where we lived and worked. I’ve taken him there for 13 years but always stop when the winter snow gets too deep. Most of the snow has melted, and yesterday a voice whispered: Time to get back to your forest.
He knew it as soon as I let him off the leash by the barrier on the road. I’m sure these particular woods are home to him, his territory; nobody else knows it like he does. He wagged his tail with joyful vigor—he looked five years younger—as he rounded the barrier and walked up the road, first towards the Farm itself, and then further up towards the upper pasture and the woods behind them.
Once in the forest he goes off on his own, never bothering to check up on me like he does elsewhere; we know the trail very well, and if he is diverted by a smell I know he’ll find me soon enough. He knows that if I wish to take a photo or examine certain animal prints on the ground, eventually I’ll end up where he’ll end up, at the pools at the far end, wide and large now due to the rain and snowmelt.
The rock is there, where for years I’ve sat and looked far out to the other side of the pools in search of my Arctic wolf. I know it doesn’t make much sense to sit on a rock in Massachusetts and look for an Arctic wolf, but I’ve done that all these years ever since the time over a decade ago when I saw what looked like a white wolf far out in the clearing. And if it was just my imagination, my imagination is just as real as some naturalist’s facts.
So what if I look far out for the impossible, the unnatural, what makes no sense? I will keep on sitting on that rock and stubbornly gaze far into the distance. Perhaps it was a unicorn, not an Arctic wolf at all.
On the way to the pools there we see trees that fell this winter (photo above). They obstruct the path and we have to circumvent them, going around splintered trunks and flattened limbs, creating a new path along the way. So much life and death happening, and almost no humans to take notice.
Stanley was overjoyed. He and his Pit Bull friend, Bubale, played here for a decade, chased a coyote pulling them away from his den, and were in turn chased by a big mama bear all the way down to the creek. They’ve chased down deer and growled at a large moose on the other side of the pools. They’ve splashed after ducks and were almost mauled by a low-flying ruffed grouse eager to get them away from its nest on the ground. They leaped over fallen tree trunks never thinking once about what died there, and they raced down in hot summer days to drink from the creek.
Stanley practically danced all the way. At his age it’s not clear he’ll survive the winter long enough to make it back here in spring. His companion Bubale took her last walk here one warm March day, the first walk since fall, and never again; she died 3 weeks later. Stanley will have more than this one jaunt this springtime, and it seemed as though he’d lost five years of age as he trotted happily, tail wagging without stop, in his old hunting grounds.