Of mice and possibility

by Laureen on January 5, 2012

Snowless Winter, January 2012

New Year’s Day, 2012 – bright, crisp but not too cold, mostly windless. The kind of day when you want to set yourself an example for the rest of the year. I hosted a brunch (connection); put away the Christmas decorations, letting go of an entire boxful in the process (maintenance, living in the now); and grabbed a friend and went for a walk (relationship, physicality, being in nature). So what’s the big deal about going for a walk? Turned out this was a walk to heal fear and restore possibility.

Last winter was hard. The snow came in October and left at the beginning of May. Six feet of the stuff. It was terribly cold. Deer and pronghorn died by the herd, cattle suffered, even snakes and prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets decreased in numbers. Roads into Grasslands National Park were impassable; some of the roads into Val Marie nearly so. My well-aged Nissan Sentra, always reliable and usually better at judging circumstance than I am, had to be hauled out of ditches and drifts five times. My level of confidence in both car and person driving it (me!) plummeted. My fitness program, never robust, expired entirely.

But winters do end. Wildlife species keep going, roads and cars resurface when the snow melts, and even my teeny exercise regime slowly resuscitated. Except there was always this niggling awareness that I hadn’t walked down the Two Trees Trail access road in the Park into the river valley and back up, in months. In the summer you don’t have to walk a road. You can walk in grass across miles of rolling prairie, negotiating hills as you choose, but always with the option of winding around the circumference of one to its top. You don’t have to start at the bottom and go straight to the sky. In winter, if snow has been plentiful and wind has been usual (read strong and relentless), the grassy ways are almost impenetrable unless you’ve a fancy to plough out with one step after another, landing knee deep in crusted drifts until you fall exhausted. If that doesn’t appeal, you can walk down the access road into the valley.

Usually I don’t like road walking. Roads are flat, boring, and long, and you can’t really get anywhere. But this is one road I feel differently about. You walk past the trees and over a rise and suddenly you are into the hills. 70 Mile Butte, on the other side of the Frenchman River that created and divides this valley, seems to be almost in front of you. The river flats, normally far away and blocked from access by rough stands of willow, are close by on your left. Layers of undulating former grazing and hunting land, with now few signs that humans ever used it, open to your right. The sky is never the same on two successive days, and your only walking companions are deer and an occasional coyote. You find it almost unbelievable that you are allowed to enter here.

But this road goes fairly steeply down into the valley and therefore it goes back up the same way. It’s always been a climb, and in my reduced-activity state, I wasn’t sure if the climb would be too much. And I was afraid of the car getting stuck again. There’s a five kilometer drive off the highway into the Park there, and while last year that wasn’t one of the vehicle’s nemesis spots, it was awfully close once. That would be a long walk home.

Well, you can’t avoid the things you fear forever. Off we went. Car into the Park, no more than a few slithery bits to deal with, off across the fields on foot. Because this winter isn’t last winter. This winter there hasn’t been much snow so far, so you have your choice of routes. We strode across mainly open grass, breaking a little snow crust but not very much. We stayed on the plain for half an hour, then we walked onto a ridge that took us gently into the river valley, connected with the road, and walked up the road to the car. That was it. No hardship, no scary bits, no impossibility. Confidence replaces self-doubt, just like that.

I’d wanted some major wildlife sightings to go along with the sense of achievement, but it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. We saw three or four mule deer on a distant hill, too far away to fear us and run. We heard some remote coyote choir practice – yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay echoing back at us from somewhere. Oh, wait, there was the mouse. One small brown mouse appeared from nowhere just as we turned onto the downward ridge. It ran and hopped across my path until it reached a comforting tussock of long grass and disappeared again. One small brown mouse moving in its chosen direction without encountering anything more scary than me. Me too, brown mouse.

I hope your New Year’s Day brought possibility. If you’d like to tell us, we’d love to hear!


Dale Anne Potter January 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm

YES, isn’t it crazy from one winter to the next. THANKS for this AWESOME post, made me feel like I was right there with you walking.

Laureen January 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Glad to have you walking with me!

Eve Kotyk January 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Laureen, thank you for letting me know about your knew blog. It’s marvelous to read. The way you convey your walk, both the physical, psychological and spiritual draws me in, lightens me. Big thumbs up.

Laureen January 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Eve, thank you for the very kind words! Much appreciated.

Alison Gresik January 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I checked my animal medicine cards, and the Mouse medicine is Scrutiny. “I will touch everything with my whiskers in order to know it.”

I see this same quality in your writing, your painting, and your life — the close-up, the detail, the revelation of enormous importance in the seemingly insignificant.

I’m so glad you’re blogging. Thank you.

Laureen January 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Oh Alison. It was you that got this started, a year ago. Thank you!

And thank you also for the Mouse medicine metaphor. I knew she was important when I saw her. What a gift.

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