On Sunday, I was upset, so I went exploring. Returning to the forest is always a sure way to find comfort and peace. Instead of following the trails I know so well and have already trekked dozens of times (though I only moved here in October, haha), I followed an unfamiliar set of footprints off into the trees. I had never hiked in that direction before, and had no idea where the footprints were going, but I felt calm and confident.
The forest was silent and dark; it was snowing lightly. I had no idea how old the prints were, but I was amazed at their crisp clarity. Most footprints in the snow dribble at the back or the front where snow is accidentally kicked or dragged. These footprints were perfect.
I guessed that the prints were from a female human…they were solid boot prints with a defined heel and a pointed toe, maybe a size 8 or 9. The wearer had a long, steady stride and I could imagine her well-dressed and elegant. Maybe she had a long red cashmere scarf, and perhaps a wool pea coat, cinched at the waist with a belt. Boots with nice soles like that are expensive.
I glanced down at my beaten up sneakers, coming apart at the seams, with slashes from blackberries and a big hole from who knows what. I shifted my weight beneath my old rain jacket, with its duct tape patches, and pulled my home made knitted hat down around my ears. I stared at the sloppy mismatched stitches I had put in to keep my mittens from falling apart.
I tracked the prints a mile west through the forest, weaving around fallen trunks and over frozen creeks. I stopped where the forest edge met an empty cornfield, the old broken corn stalks just poking above the snow. The barn on the other end of the field was snowy too, picturesque and pastoral. I had a sudden longing for the familiar company of my camera, but then I looked down and saw that the footprints had stopped for a moment here as well, the left and right soles together, contemplating the field.
The footprints and I turned south and wandered along the edge of the field until it transformed into the peaceful darkness of hemlocks. There was a sudden drop off to the right, where the ground disappeared into a deep gorge. The footprints and I trekked lightly along the top of the ridge; we were both sure-footed as mountain goats.
We came around a bend and suddenly connected with another trail, this one more popular. The precise boot prints I had been tracking were quickly lost in the traffic of yak traks and cross country skis, wellingtons and large male boot prints, and the occasional dog paw or deer print.
I glanced behind me and saw two sets of footprints, side by side, leading off into the dark forest like old friends. I guess I was in good company after all.