The Crane, the Hare, and the Sinkhole
I was walking along my most favorite path. It’s a narrow little path, between a beaver creek and the Trout creek. In the winter it’s a crisp white. Everything is outlined and crystallized in a crust of sparkly Champagne powder. In the fall, it’s dusty. The path is packed hard like cement but your foot drags on a familiar rock of clay. It feels steady. In spring, the trail is fudgy cake–you know the kind. The kind that leaves your knife coated in fluffy, sticky, scrumptious cake crumbs. Don’t lick the knife, your mom always said. Hopefully come June we see rolling hills of green and a constant rush of water through the cut. If not, we’ll brace for the burn.
Today, the trail was spring. She was as moist as the carrot cake I made for Easter dinner and as punchy as the bourbon I drank with it. She was laden with creatures soaking up the fresh fallen dew into their skin and into their bodies to lubricate what was feeling dry. Two cranes (they never travel alone) stood in the valley between two creeks. One cawed and the other stood guard. Hal took off across the valley–the fastest I’ve seen him chase–and the birds, their long necks and spindly legs dangling, spread their massive wingspans from east to west and glided across the landscape. A mere jump for them, a 200-yard bound for us.
As we continued our plodding and pumping along the four layer cake with cream cheese frosting, crumbs of mud sticking to my boots and dog’s paws more resembling flippers, the snow began to fall. Big, fat teardrop like snowflakes that absorbed instantaneously into the ground–earth taking a long drink of sweet iced tea–so similar to my Eastern evening rainstorms, the kind that coat the black top underneath the streetlamps with a familiar reflective sheen. Sometimes we’d call that slippery when driving, yet I hadn’t experienced West coast ice yet.
Hal and Rye are explorers on their own expeditions lost in the sage brush and willows that stand guard on either side of the creek. The willows grow up in thickets of thin reeds–growing more than four feet in a single year. Invasive you may call them, like the poison berries that grow in Eastern forests. Probably thinking about climate change, a hare (yes, they turn brown when the snow melts), bounds from behind my right shoulder and I startle, chuckling at the sight of him. He’s exactly what you imagine when you think of Tortoise and the Hare–a rabbit, a creature with too much energy for his own good, speeding by you like a bullet missing all the beauty with his every bounce. And off Hal goes again. This time Rye can be bothered and joins the chase. They take off out of eye sight. I smile and continue plodding. My boots now covered in chocolate pudding.
What I’ve been following for the past mile and a half, at this point, is a one-lane, technically double track, trail carved by the wheels of a side-by-side (a.k.a. an ATV but you sit side-by-side). I tend to walk from one wheel track to the other. Hopping up and over the center where the earth hasn’t been cut too deeply and then plop back into the other side of the track. I think about bison tracks. I think about human tracks. I think about those hares and the tracks they make in the snow. Each one of their tiny feet in a sort of football post outline as they hop. And then I come upon it–a giant sinkhole. Or what I would imagine a sinkhole to be. It’s as if the earth gave way to the weight of the dirt sitting on top of her and said enough is enough and a little piece of her skin folded in on itself, not able to bear the weight. I’m even afraid to walk across it, picturing myself falling into the city of Ember.
Hal bolts across it. I test the tip of my toe, like you would when testing the temperature of a body of water or the local swimming pool, and press lightly. It doesn’t give way. Maybe it’s not a sinkhole. Either way, there’s one thing for certain: I wouldn’t want to drive a vehicle across it. I make a mental note, because after all, we are on a path that deceptively wears a different costume for each season of the year cut by the wheels of an all-terrain vehicle.