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Across the Field and Into the Woods (Part II)

We continued walking. Rocky, still opposite us, was close to the bottom of the ravine. Trees overhung the trail. Through an opening in the branches, we could look across the way to another set of bluffs, bathed in sunshine. Jesse paused to take in the view, I came up alongside him. He asked, “Why are there cedar trees on that bluff but not a single one on this bluff?”

“I don’t know.”

“Probably has something to do with this being a north facing slope and that a south facing slope. Maybe it doesn’t like shade.”

“That could be.”

Onward, we resumed our decent, taking in the trees as we walk. Looking up at the trees, at circular leaf bundles in the top most branches of a few of the trees, Jesse asked, “Are those squirrel caches?”

“Yes, they’re made by squirrels.”

“Why do they store stuff way up there? So that other critters don’t get them?”

“I’m not sure; I don’t know much about squirrels.”

“Well why not?” he teased me.

“I can’t know everything.”

We reached the end of the trail, Rocky had joined us for the last little bit. It curved northwestward, leaving the ravine behind, which seemed to curve a little to the northeast or meet up with another going east west rather than south north. The trail took us to the highway. I told Jesse we needed to make sure Rocky crossed the road with us. It took a bit of coaxing to get Rocky to come with us but once we had his attention the three of us crossed the road. I’m always fascinated by how much bigger roads feel when you are walking on them rather than driving. Across the road, through the ditch and back into the trees, Rocky wandered away from us again, though staying mostly in sight of us and heading the same direction. Jesse immediately led us eastward up the bluff following deer trails. We were looking for a specific spot, which we hadn’t approached from this direction before. We wanted to go to the big pile of limestone rocks made when blasting was done to build the new road. We no longer had the luxury of an open trail, the trees were closer together and crowded the very narrow deer path; requiring us to do lots of ducking under branches and pushing branches aside. We were poked and grabbed at by branches as we passed. Some places we were trying not to be tripped by brambles. And upward we climbed, a most difficult path certainly, and yet the difficulties were what made it an exhilarating adventure, compounded by the good exercise we were giving our bodies. Up, up, up we climbed. We sometimes stumbled, grasping on to trees to keep our balance, being stabbed with thorns. The bluff side above and below us was steep, losing our footing and sliding down would be quite painful. We were now far above the road and ditch. We seemed to be walking on the very edge. Rocky walked above us, having a much easier time at it. Jesse wondered several times if this was the best way to go or if we should go further up. But we decided to keep on our present course. Sometimes we were bent over so far we were practically crawling. We halted a few times but only for a moment. The snow added to the difficulty of the trail. We didn’t travel with ease, elegance or agility as the noble creatures who created this trail. Yet following their trail though clumsily we were close to the white tail deer, their presence was all around us in many trails traversing the bluff, the tracks in the trail, the occasional pile of droppings, and sharing the experience of steadily climbing upward past the grabby tree branches, each step taken with care. And an even greater treasure and link connecting us to the majestic creatures was given to us.”I found an antler shed!” Jesse said.

“Really?” I asked excitedly.

“Yes, really!” Jesse replied, picking it up and turning around to show me.

“Cool! I’ve looked for sheds a couple of times and haven’t found any.” We examined it very closely. I was eager to feel it, to hold it and have the connection with the magnificent buck who’d dropped it. Jesse held it as we looked at the markings on it; something had been chewing n on it. Jesse wondered what kind of animal had chewed on it and if it was for the calcium, like dogs chewing on bones. Jesse wondered about the age of the buck. We speculated it was of decent size and at least a few years old. Jesse also wondered if it felt weird to have only one antler – did it feel lop-sided? Of course, we decided to keep it. The ends were pointed and sharp. Parts of it were smooth and other parts bumpy. Jesse gave the antler to me. It felt heavier than I’d expected. Being a very tactile person, I loved the feel and texture of the antler. I felt instantly connected to the buck. I wondered about his life. It was amazing – I loved it.  Jesse took the antler back as we continued walking up and up and still ducking under tree branches. Rocky was below us now. We called for him but he didn’t listen. We continued onward, keeping an eye on him. He went even further down and was soon in the ditch, then across the road and westward a little bit. We called for him but he didn’t pay any attention to us. (At some point Jesse gave the antler to me.) He found something in the ditch across the road. We continued to call him but he was totally involved in whatever he found in the ditch.

“He must have found a dead animal or something,” I said.

“He’s pulling on something,” Jesse said.

“It looks like a piece of plastic.” We tried calling him again but he continued to ignore us.

Jesse asked, “Should we go get him?”

“Yeah, we should go get him. If he gets on the road he could get hit.”

We assessed the bluff below us to find a way down. It was nearly vertical, not much of a slope. Using the trees, Jesse more or less scooted down the hill, somewhat leaping into the ditch at the bottom. He looked back up at me and he told me it was my turn. Jesse had the advantage of height and both hands available. I stepped closer to the edge and paused to survey the way down, trying to decide how best to go about it. Walking down wasn’t an option, staying low was the safest way. The trees stopped halfway down, perhaps sooner. And I had to go down with only one hand for support. “The challenge is not stabbing myself on the way down,” I said, getting low to the ground and figuring out the best way to hold the antler. Jesse encouraged me as I began to scoot down, and continued to do so my whole way down. At first I grabbed hold of the trees with my hand, and then stretched out my foot to the next tree down to slow my progress. All too soon though there weren’t any more trees to hold on to. I eased my way down further, using rocks to catch my feet, almost spider crawling my way down, cradling the antler in one arm the whole time. Rocks dislodged and skipped down the hill to land near Jesse’s feet. I really wasn’t nervous and was quite enjoying myself, with the great outdoors as my playground my whole life, this wasn’t my first time doing this, not even close, but it was my first time scooting down a steep hillside while holding on to a pointy antler. When I reached the spot where Jesse had more or less leaped down, I paused a moment. Jesse said something about catching me. The last seven or so feet was much steeper. Jesse would have helped me if I needed it, but I was determined. I was now completely on my backside, clutching the antler to my chest, I slide down a little further, once I was a bit closer to the ground, I leapt down, hitting the ground kind of at a run. That was fun! To be sure I’ll be doing that again, though maybe not with the antler.

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