A Sign

Feb 24, 2024

Dear Animal,

I imagine there are snowdrops now back home. Signs of spring. And daffodil trumpets. When my kids were toddlers, we would stop before a ‘daffy’ and listen hard. We thought we could hear them shouting—wake up, get moving, spring up—and since then, I think I hear shouting from all spring blooms. Tulips are coming soon, I reckon, and they are even more raucous. And you have rain, right?  Rain in all the verb tenses, was, is and will be. Here in Sunshine, the last rain we had was August. Sometimes, living here, in the arid, high desert, I go through the car wash for consolation.

A car wash with green lights

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The car wash helps my desiccated heart, but it’s practical too. The snow melts, the dirt roads turn to mud, and the car gets caked up to the door handles. I haven’t really figured out how to manage the mud. And it comes and goes with the cycle of snowstorm and melt. When I am not in the car wash, I’m mostly in a snow cloud. 

A fence in a snowy field

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The sky is white, the snow is white. It’s the blank canvas upon which I am trying to make a new life. 

A table with a deer in the window

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The deer photo-bomb me pretty often. They come by, come close, and give opinions about what we are feeding the birds. I almost spend $20 on a concrete-block-sized ‘Elk and Deer Lick’.  Maybe I still will, the population is decreasing. The email on the community forum this morning was titled, ‘Mountain Lion Kill Near Us’ and came with photos of the deer. I thought about putting one here so you could see, but it is gristly. The last line of the email is, “Note the crushed skull!” A lion ranges over 200 square miles; so, it is good to know when ours is nearby. Yes, we stay a little closer to each other in Sunshine. 

But this missive is not mostly lion; instead, it is mostly moose. I want you to meet him, but first we have to get there, and so first, the journey. Climb in the Jeep with me, watch the mud (or wear a brown stripe up your backside), and let’s head out. You will be in the company of me and my beloved for a weekend in the unknown. I mean, almost everywhere in Colorado is unknown to me, but this time, I’m the guide, and I’ve done a bit of research. My fella’s favourite thing is a little time away, so for Christmas, I give him an off-grid, deep woods retreat, high up in the Rockies. But I don’t tell him that. I tell him to pack warm things, and forget his cellphone. He is game. We will stop in a mountain town to try to get a hot lunch.  

A red building with cars parked in front of it

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Of course, I chose the Stage Stop. Yeah, even though it’s probably stage coach and not proscenium. It reminds me of when I moved to the Sunshine Coast and first found the Prop Shop. I was impressed that the tiny town would have ample theatrical supplies available—and they were clearly good because the huge propeller out front was indeed very convincing—which was about when I realized. Prop Shop. 

I have my expectations set quite a bit lower for lunch, but they will have to dip a little, still. I read the sign. 

A sign with a picture of a horse and text

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Ah well. We sip coffee and start a crossword we find on the table, an unexpected luxury. Later on this trip, my husband will beat me at Scrabble. He is enormously good at games, so it is not unexpected, my defeat. Still, I take it personally. It is almost an affront not to have words on my side always. I will have to give the English language a stern talking to when I get home.

A newspaper with a crossword puzzle

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Especially since this newspaper puts the word ‘Trump’ in dangerously close proximity to the word ‘Colorado’, which is my here, my place, my home. On the battlefield of this broadsheet, therefore, I am extra pleased when ‘Canada’ shows up as the answer to 11 across. Maybe it’s a sign. 

A group of books on a bed

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Later on the trip, we will poke around a small bookstore in a town called Ned. I haven’t been in a bookstore for a long time. I appreciate the curation. You don’t get this on Amazon. I’m growing appreciative of the humour here. I also really like the proximity of the word, ‘easy’ to ‘journey to other planets’. It speaks to the travel and enormous distances I’m dealing with right now, and what it means to reside on the alien planet of ‘Merica’. 

A road with trees and mountains in the background

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We journey on; it is easy. We drive on a highway, then a smaller one, then a hand-shoveled drive through drifts piled high, then stop where the road ends at a tiny shack. It’s dark now, and the stars are so thick, they seem to tangle and mat. The key is hidden in the woodshed and sticks in the frozen lock. Inside: a woodstove, a card table, a shelf, a camp stove, two tin mugs, a loft, a mattress, six blankets, a lantern. Then back outside, a trodden path, an outhouse, and hung on the wall, last year’s calendar. Time might be moving backwards, the stars might swirl in reverse. The weekend has just begun, and we want it to last as long as possible. 

We boil snow for tea and sit on the floor in our snow pants and wait for the warmth. And it comes; by midnight we are wearing nothing and have opened the window and the door. The next morning I will do dishes with melted snow. Make Fire, Carry Snow. I imagine growing old in such a place. With a table big enough for two typewriters or two plates but not both. 

In the outhouse, by morning light, I find a theatre joke scrawled on the calendar. My best friend back home is reading a book about signs. What she cares about, I care about; this is the bridge of friendship. And to find a theatre joke, before I’ve even had coffee—well, maybe it is a sign. Maybe, by coming up here, I am going the right way. A warm thought for a cold squat.

Soon, with snowshoes on, we head up the mountain on a small trail in the deep snow. Walking with snowshoes feels like an interspecies activity. I’m half horse, or duck, or spider. and I have to learn how to move. It’s awkward, and the air is thin and I’m a little lightheaded, and maybe for this reason, it doesn’t seem strange when a young guy with a sunburn bursts into view with half a moose rack in his hands, “Do you want to hold it?”

A person holding a large antler in the snow

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Others are coming down the trail behind him, piling up like balls in a Pachinko machine. Witnesses to a moose fight, and the young buck who lost half his rack in the battle. This half. It is odd to have in my hands this piece of the wild, and I give it back, but pocket the story, thinking of you, Animal. I always think of you in these moments of dramatic import, in this strange carnival of place and the everyday dramatic performances I encounter. We promise Sunburn that we will keep our eyes out for the battle ground. He says we can’t miss it. 

Soon, it is only the sounds of our breathing and the scuff of the powder as we climb.

A carved in a log

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I stop a lot; to catch my breath, to take a picture. I study a map made by a pine beetle for a long time. This beetle made this by mouth, without much of a brain, yet, it is a pretty good representation of the terrain. The pine beetle is of this place, so maybe that is the only thing it can make, more place. I think art is like that too. Someday, I’ll make a typewriter with keys for each pine beetle shape, and I’ll live in the cabin in the snow, with my love, and with two mugs, and get fluent in beetle and learn all the secret paths in this place. Like any map, this one orients me to the journey on the mountain and into the future. But, I can’t linger longer; my toes are getting cold, so, like the map, I bend to the curving path ahead.

A snow covered ground with trees and a path

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Baby trees, swaddled in snow, break the path again. Look at them, so very dear. Maybe all beginnings are so tender, I don’t know. Canada calls with jobs, and I’m tempted to take them, but also afraid to live one place and work another. Don’t I need to collect myself? Can I live a bifurcated life?  I miss Canada,, that temperate rainforest. It is what I see at night when I close my eyes. I take walks when I should be sleeping, along the beach, the creek, the forests I know by heart. I can walk them in my sleep. I do invest here,  I apply for grad school here, I gather ideas for art. I picture myself as an old lady in the snow. I’m thinking a lot about the future these days, but in a cloud, as I said before. Sigh, I still don’t know what to do with the dislocation of my heart. I do note, the shadow of the baby tree is pointing me back. 

A snowy landscape with rocks and trees

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I go on;  I take some steps, the path pulls me and the landscape opens up. When I stop, I have to find my phone, and I never remember which pocket it is in; I drop gloves, gators, like a little Gortex chaos, every time. I have been taking photos of snow drifts and want to take one more. I think about collaborating with the wind on a series of snow sculptures. A Museum of Snow. Maybe that is next winter. Can you imagine wandering through a sculpture garden like that? I start to see actors and entrances. I hear words and dictate into my phone.  I’m incomplete without landscape—you know that about me, Animal. How much landscape can I hold?  Um…two? 

A plant in the snow

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The snow gets soft when the day warms up. It’s a trudge. Moving at this speed, there is time to read the landscape. The rose hips speak in Morse Code. Dots and dashes. I can nearly understand. I walk at the speed of transcription, until my husband asks if I want to turn around, which I don’t. He knows me as a hiker with hustle, but time is thicker here, and the air thinner. Maybe we should stop. 

We eat soup, the two of us, from one thermos sitting in the snow. A fella treks by and tells us there is moose just ahead.  We walk maybe 20 paces. Here there is scat, and then, about the length of a moose away, in the snow, drops of blood. It is the counter to your Snowdrops, you west-coast Animal. Red drops in the snow instead of white ones on the lawn.

Red blood on the snow

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I didn’t think there would be blood when I held the moose rack back at the trailhead. I see tracks now, stilted leg holes, heading downhill, and there, maybe 30 feet from us, we spot him. The injured moose with half a rack. 




A moose lying in the snow

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I start to follow him, but the hill is so steep that even in snowshoes, I sink in the snow, and slip messily, and the moose swivels his massive head to look at me. 

I remember the sign I saw this summer. “A moose that moves slowly towards you may be attacking. Look for these signs of moose aggression: ears laid back, raised hair on back, may lick snout.” May lick snout? It is not what I might imagine as a massive mammal warning. Signs of aggression can be subtle, indeed. Creatures that you have always known to be benign can prove very dangerous. I have been learning this in my life. I squirm backwards up the hill, keeping my eye on his Mooseness. I get back on the trail, out of breath. The moose turns his head away from me and looks into the distance. With a burp, he brings up cud. Other than that he does nothing. He sits. 

I sit too, my husband too, we sit, human and moose in the snow. Stay, we stay. Drawn into his stillness and magnitude, we stay a long time. It’s an honour. I’m not scared now; instead I feel sort of protective of the moose that bleeds, the one that lost the battle. Companionship is something I can offer. Although, I question my assumption that the moose benefits from me. Last spring, a gardener friend of mine told me that plants hate to be touched. This shocked me. I had often walked through the woods touching fronds and tips. Her explanation was compelling and made me rethink all my interspecies relationships. Maybe moose hate being watched? Hell, maybe snow hates being pushed around by the wind. There are languages I don’t speak in the natural world. I look for signs. Nothing happens. It’s a good sign.

The shadows lengthen, and dusk hovers. The humans will head back, the moose won’t move. He might stay all night. Into the next day. Longer. Maybe the snow will cover him up as he sits. 

Later, I will tell my bestie back home all about it. Then she will forward this from Instagram.

A blue and white quote

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And the moose and Thich Nhat Hanh, and the season and the snow, the beetle and the swaddled baby trees, and the rose hips and the Instagram will gather now under this sign.  The capacity for rest. This is alive in animals, Animal, even the theatre sort.

A large rock in the snow

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Maybe rest will heal the split in my soul. These two nations. I stay here, with this. 

A snowy landscape with mountains and trees

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Later, heading back from the hike, I will see this frozen river. I will pay attention to the stillness. This waterway will be shallow and frozen to the bottom. Some fish will slow down enough to survive the winter here. I will imagine the melt, the trickle, what that coming back to life might feel like, if I were a fish. If I were a river.

A frozen lake with grass and snow

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A little further along, I will point out this mix of melt. I will marvel at the colour. If I were a painter and made this, I’d be satisfied. If I had it on my wall where I live now, I’d have a masterpiece. If I am to become a little old lady living in an off-grid cabin, I won’t have the wall space, I will have to walk outside to see it, and walk outside, I will. In my life in nature, it is one of a thousand beautiful things I will see. A million. A billion. More. My internal counter which tracks such things may break from this day alone. 

Eventually we will head back on the road. And will come to a cabin at the edge of the park. I did not notice it as we were driving in. Potbelly stove on the porch. Tin roof and stovepipe. Shutters painted red, nailed shut. Best of all, the sign over the door.

It reads, “FAR ENOUGH”. Oh yes, I get it. I imagine the man who got here, said that, and stopped. Who put that thought into block letters, yes, made a sign and nailed it up. Far enough, his wife might have agreed. Enough looking at places and trying to figure out what is good or guess what might get better, and settle finally and make a home. That push of migration, which I myself am part of, was part of, well, still am, as I immigrate and emigrate, go back and forth, and lie under 6 blankets in a tiny cabin with my partner and whisper plans of 6 years hence when we will move back and do it all again. FAR ENOUGH. 

Is it though? 

A calendar with a picture of a building on it

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And anytime we talk about the future, my love and I, we will know that we speak of aging, and what that means, of the mighty work ahead of getting the kids through university and then, after then, then after. Close enough to think about, far enough to know that things may change. Although change itself has a different pace in this ecosystem.  It is so dry that nothing rots; old things stay standing, thinner maybe from the wash of the wind. Moose don’t move. A rack moves down the mountain to become a curio on the mantle of a man with a fading sunburn. If I were that guy, I would keep that rack my whole life. But if I were that guy, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. I hope he has a friend, one of that Pachinko ball lineup, who takes it back to the field of the fight and hides it there. That would be a good move in a good life. Maybe Sunburn himself will figure that out and will bring it back and let it sit in the field where it was knocked, until the solid turns to dust and minerals fall into the earth. Still. 

A screenshot of a cellphone

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That’s the story. I meet Moose. And, as these things do, as everything does, it changes me. My word count drops and my step count. I sit like snow on the north side of the house. If I am going anywhere, it is at a glacial pace. But, you know, I’m a mom and there is still the school run. Still. 

I’m outside the high school. With 2,200 kids leaving at the same time, it’s always a crush. I pull into the kombucha bar parking lot across the street—because, of course, there is a kombucha bar across the street—and I wait. Another car pulls in beside me. I glance at the driver. 

A person sitting in a car

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He doesn’t get out to get kombucha, so maybe he’s on the school run too. I’m not sure why he is wearing a metal pyramid on his head. I’m hardly one to judge with my pine beetle map and other obsessions. Hey, I hope it helps him. I’m up for all remedies, living as we do in the abject terror of our times. I open my window because it’s warm and I’m a little curious. His window opens too. He smiles. I point to my head, and he knows what I’m asking. And you can guess what he says, right? 

“I’m waiting for a sign.”

Yours, ever,