The Past of a Winter’s Day

Above is a picture of my hike earlier today. Bitterly cold. Sharp wind. Ice forming along the edges and creeping out across the water. I make this hike two or three times a week. Weather usually doesn’t affect it. Today is proof of that.

My dog and I weren’t the only ones out traipsing around. You can see from the picture that another creature had been there before. Look close. Those are the tracks of a great blue heron. We’ve seen him before. He lives around here. He fishes the lake, just like I do in warmer weather.

The tracks put me in the mind of history. (OK, I know you’re thinking: so what else is new, Dan?)

The tracks were made in the past. Since the snow fell last night, the heron must have flown over the lake, landed in the water, and walked up onto the shore between some hours and some minutes ago.

That’s the past, regardless of the age.

But sometime soon, perhaps tomorrow, the temperature will rise above freezing. The snow will melt. When it disappears, the tracks will disappear with it.

So do no tracks mean no past? Nope. I saw them, likely the only one to see them. It was just me—besides the heron—that saw evidence of the past, recorded it in both my mind and my smartphone’s camera, and bothered to convert the thing into history. I told you a story about a part of the past, built around my deductions, suppositions, assumptions, and experience.

My reference to experience reminds of a tiny part of my own past.

My dad and I shared a love of the outdoors, of the woods. When I was in the third grade he and my family moved to a small farm with a hundred acres—like Winnie the Pooh, I guess—with much of it covered in woods. One day, he and I were walking along a natural stream that wound through the land. He stopped suddenly and pointed up stream. “Is that a man standing there, standing in the water?” he asked. A stranger in our woods?

With a stick-thin body and wearing feathers? Not exactly. It was a great blue heron. We felt sheepish and laughed at our mistake. Real pioneers, we were.

Every time I see a great blue heron, I remember that story. It’s just as vivid today as it was then. That heron made tracks, too. They run deep in my mind despite all those years flowing over my memory. 

I’m done. Thanks for taking the time to share my thoughts on the heron’s tracks and the meaning of a winter’s day.

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