The Grouse Hunter
This second day, the trail quiets, and opens. Instead of everywhere in mind and memory, I’m also here. I’ve been out on the trail a lot the last three weeks and perhaps it’s why it doesn’t take so long to feel the heavy fog lifting between me and what is here to take in. I see it today – the brown and green leaves beneath my feet, the scattering of pink flowers on the edge of the trail. Find myself here with the gray weathered oaks, bright green moss, blue and white sky.
The bird twitters.
The brown and white shaggy nose appears sniffing. He found me again.
The orange hat and vest coming slowly up the trail below.
Now three long shaggy noses sniffing. It’s the second time today they’ve found me and not the grouse they’re after.
These old trees are nice, the grouse hunter tells me, but not for animals, birds, growth and grouse. For a rich undergrowth, the woods need fire or logging like they do in Maine and Michigan. Up there are where the grouse are; here, I’ll walk 150 miles to find 5.
I remember the only times on the trail when I was frightened
Startled by the sudden flapping of grouse taking off through trees.
How it is that freedom does not come without cost
And flight leads to both life and death
Of all I need to die to,
To let go, to be here.
The little boy leaps the rock
Knock knock jokes echoing across the valley
To the hiker below who bellows answers
On the other side of the door
Who says he never expected to see
A talking mountain goat out here.
You’ll meet few people like me out here, she says.
Mostly men, and hardly another Black woman anywhere,
But it doesn’t bother me,
Here is where I come to meet the Lord.
My mother worries about me out here
I tell her not to
Here on the trail you meet the nicest people
Who would help me if I needed it which I won’t.
What is frightening is not out here in the woods,
It’s what’s there at home.
Out here I find what I need
To survive in the city.
At the bottom of the hill
He waves me over
Do you want something to eat?
I’ve got Brunswick Stew
A Pepsi or Gatorade?
And here, take a chair by the fire.
You are the embodiment of Trail Magic, I tell him
But he doesn’t know what that is
Has never heard of the gift of surprise on the trail
Of food, water, rest and welcome.
Later we walk up the hill together to see the sunset
And on the way talk of the ways of grace
Of how it’s discovered through grit and grime
The losses that are life
Of how it is that heart-break can lead to heart-softening and opening
That for one to know deep joy is to have known deep pain as well,
As the man of sorrows kneels to smell the sweetness of flowers
How the final word is Love.
The trail breaks out into a wide field
But this is not it, we need to push on,
further up, the next ridge
To the scattering of friends on blankets
Couples taking selfies towards the sunset
Coloring the valley orange and pink.
That night the stars most glorious.
As he drives away,
And I turn back,
I jump at the sight of two bright red eyes in the field,
Flash my light at the deer,
So regal, so still,
Sign of unconditional love and grace
This good omen that your spirit guides have been near.