Tire tracks in the snow say someone else has been here recently. Boot and dog tracks leading up to the cabin tell me who. I have no reason to wonder why. He and his dog came here for the same reason my dog and I are now here.
It’s March and time to greet the spring, even if it’s only coming in bits and spurts. And no better place, in my mind, to do that than at the cabin that three old friends and I own on one of Minnesota’s most historic waterfowl lakes. It’s quiet out here. The ducks and geese have not yet returned but there are plenty of other wild critters around to appreciate.
This will be our 22nd spring at what we affectionately call the “Coot Shack.” It’s in constant use during the waterfowl-hunting season, understandably, but we also visit often during spring and summer. Even when there is snow on the ground and you can see your breath inside, the cabin still receives occasional company.
I’ve come here ostensibly to prepare the wood duck houses for new arrivals. But more than that, I’ve come in search of something that seems so elusive elsewhere but is found so easily here.
The tracks of George and his dog lead first to the cabin door, then down toward the frozen lake. My dog and I take much the same path but where their tracks go to the right along the cattails, we veer to the left along a deer trail. While it’s a meaningless decision, I find myself wondering why I decided to go left. At that moment I realize I’m already finding what I came looking for on this murky day.
The utility bill, the hallway that needs to be painted, work deadlines - thinking about none of that. I’m pondering nothing more momentous than why I’ve decided to turn left. It feels good. Liberating.
Snowflakes are falling gently as we finally return to the cabin to build a fire. The easy chair has been moved so that it faces the wood stove, confirmation that George took a nap while he was here. George, it seems, always takes a nap at the “Coot Shack.” So do I, sometimes. When we were younger we never took naps. But then, we’re no longer young.
As the fire crackles and the dog stretches out on the floor, I wander around inside the cabin and study old photos on the walls. At one point I place a photo of me taken almost two decades ago alongside one taken in the duck boat last fall. It’s the same person in both pictures but one of them no longer exists. And that’s okay.
Sitting at the table and gazing out the window, I think more about the aging process. I find it a fascinating process. We look in the mirror each morning and look exactly as we did the day before. And the day before that. But then we come across an old photograph and it hits us square between the eyes, eyes that didn’t used to have crows feet around them but do now. It happens.
Glancing toward the kitchen I notice the mousetraps on the floor that were set in place last November. None have been triggered. Well, one did snap shut the day my lab Charlie stuck his nose into it. He let out a quick yip and then sat on his haunches staring at the trap for a long while, looking both ticked off and puzzled. I chuckle remembering it.
Time is passing too quickly this afternoon, I think, as Charlie picks up his training dummy and drops it into my lap. Again we walk down to the lake’s edge and I begin flinging the dummy into the cattails. He’s 8-years old now but seems to have all the gusto he had as a pup. A great companion, so many memorable times afield together. How many more?
Twilight is settling in as we head back to the cabin. The fire in the wood stove has died but the red coals still give off warmth. I sweep up the snow I’ve tracked in and give the place a final walk-through. Standing outside on the deck I watch as Charlie lifts a leg to bless the old oak tree. His way, I suppose, of saying he’ll be back. So will I.
What would the world be like, I wonder, bereft of wild places and wild things? A lot more people with cluttered, worried minds, no doubt. More medicine cabinets over-flowing with the latest remedies for relieving stress and anxiety.
I’ve found what I came here for and I’m sure George did, as well. When all that’s on your mind is questioning why you turned left instead of right, you know nature’s medicine is at work. Any worries I brought along have melted away like spring snow.