Snowshoe rabbit prints were hasty in their scampering need to keep ahead of the hunter. Powerful back legs thrust downwards, gaining purchase on the softness of newly fallen snow, as the animal leaped forward in fearful jumps.
Silently and without pause, the relentless pursuer followed. Only the barking of his slight cough punctuated the naturalness of the land around him. His pair of pine wood Algonquin snowshoes, weathered and pear-shaped, created their own impressions one determined step at a time. Dark shadows remained within craters, as if to mask any malevolence in the hunterās mind.
A willow branch hid beneath the crusty covering, a reminder from last nightās drop in temperature. Then scraping free from natural bondage whip-lashed backwards, thus announcing its presence in the crisp stillness of morning. A hand reached up to his face, remembering an earlier branchās sting.
The task of following newly laid rabbit prints in the snow began at six am. It was almost an obsession for the man, an act of perseverance in tracking down the owner of these prints. Working from experienced he created an āSā trail until he turned up fresh tracks. He noticed the animalās early morning jaunt had turned into hasty flight, since the man had been observed.
The rabbitās trail now proved more challenging than first imagined, as it drew from its own bag of escape-tricks. At first it was more like a game, the rabbit bulldozing its way under a stand of scratchy raspberry bushes; then ducking under overlapping spruce branches. To taunt his tormentor, the animal twitched its tail in derision dropping fresh samples of poop for the pursuer to ponder then circled around several times, crisscrossing its own path.
The animalās footprints led the hunter through a harvest of hardwood, stretching tall over a period of perhaps twenty years. From a rabbitās point of view, it was more like the perfect hideaway with a sprinkling of fallen branches gathered in clusters.
Hearing the continuing pursuit, the rabbit raced across an open expanse of beaver meadow and downwards into the darkness of a ravine. It was ideal since sunshine had little chance to penetrate clumps of brush and fallen trees.
The prey rested within the masking sounds of a trickling stream. The rabbitās animal-breath steamed, nostrils quivered a veteran heart jack-hammered. Seemingly loud enough to be heard beyond the ridge just vacated.
Was it too much to hope the "shush" of water provided a blanket of respite? Was it possible to cloak shivering sounds of fear as the animal trembled in the deep woods? Natural expressions from Natureās Book of Menus brought the pursued back to reality.
A hurried crunching from the chaser is like a summer thunderstorm in the quietness of this crisp morning. The hunter's approaching form sends new tremors racing through the tiny white body. And the animal leaned forward seeking new escape routes.
Ears strain for a return to earlier moments. It was once safe nibbling quietly on twigs bursting through a snow-laden field.
Slender branches now whipsaw noisily from the manās movements as he plows through their midst. Willowy limbs wiggle free from their icicle connections attached to the snowy land surface.
A restful pause allowed the hunter a chance to capture his second wind of energy. In that short period of time, the forest scene provided a sense of awe for both hunter and hunted. It encouraged one last opportunity to remind them of natureās beauty, before the main menu of the journey is complete.
The fierceness of this hunting trip is determined by scowls tumbling through the hunterās thought patterns. He tries to shy away from remembering his disappointment in missing this same quarry last time out. He was certain this was the same elusive foe. The man had carefully reviewed his topographical maps, determining where every ravine may lead. No longer would he wander aimlessly seeking his foe. Today, heās better prepared and the proof is nearby.
A hot bolt of determination decides it is time to push away the scenic beauty of Nature. And for him to focus on the present situation; to force new logic into the equation of this hunt. One leather mitt patiently pushes aside pesky willow branches, allowing a full panorama of the dense woods.
The view introduces a winding stretch of forest from Balsam and Scotch trees to Poplar stragglers, acting like a swath of darker white on white.
Scattered birch proud with memories, reach high into the sky. They accept reflecting sunās blink across shredding birch skin. Tamarack and others not yet named in the hunter's repertoire of knowledge also seize space aside the hillside.
A brown shade moves boldly across the hunterās view, gracefully stepping into a cove of trees. The suddenness of the deerās foray arouses an interest from the hunter. He is tempted to retrace his steps and return to his station wagon. Back there is a .30.30 caliber rifle, just the right answer for the haughty buck.
But, that adventure is for another time. The hunter surmises he already invested too much time and energy on the set of rabbit tracks before him. The sight of the majestic buck, however, prods old memories. On many occasions he and his father, now laid in the good earth, spent many seasons in these same woods.
The hunter paused a few moments to enjoy the view, reflecting on those past adventures. Then he selected a campfire-spot under a large blue-tipped spruce. It is fitting to share space within this beauty of virgin forest, where he and his dad once sat and talked about life.
After scraping away a circle of snow right to the ground, he placed a foundation of wood in preparation for smaller bits. Experience in the woods with his dad taught him the right types of wood to select. Placing wood tepee style was the best method to create the quickest start.
Before long, bare hands warmed over the fire. Curling flame produced a scent, reaching deep into his heart, encouraging the fondness of former memories. āAlways prepare a little fire, when youāre on an outing,ā his father said so often. āIt helps you relax, think, and remember.ā
The hunter looked at his weathered hands. They had been through much. He thought of his wife back home, and four children who depended on him. They understood his need to get away. The family went on trips together, but on occasions it was necessary to be alone, to reflect and gather his wits.
He reflected on the death of his father several years before. It had been painful traveling from Nova Scotia to Toronto to attend the funeral. āA massive heart attack,ā mom said over the phone. Death was so final, this son thought. And now he was pitting his hunting skills against a most worthwhile foe, obviously a wily jackrabbit.
The man is proud of his wood lore, and his prowess at tracking prey. Determination mingled with patience is the key. And yet, raising a cold-barreled weapon of death made him reflect on his reasons for the hunt.
Beneath this majestic tree, the man is an intruder. As he mellowed in life, he wondered why he needed to continue proving his manhood. Must he always shoot deer, partridge and rabbits? Why such a desire to overpower, to prove manās dominance over nature? His questions were revealing and yet had no place in this adventure today. Or, did they?
The fire soon crumbled into a mass of smoking embers. And the man raised himself to full stature, stretched, and prepared to resume the hunt. It seemed no longer important to capture the marrow of this rabbit. He knew the creature was nearby, filling nostrils with wood smoke, waiting and wondering what the relentless pursuer was going to do next. The man checked his rifle making sure snow had not entered the barrel. Then he re-loaded the breech, flicking on the safety.
Making sure the fire was out he mounted his snowshoes, turned and began to follow the last seen tracks. Not far away was a collection of deadfall, with a scattering of brush perhaps hiding his potential target. The man approached in a steady rhythm, each lift of snowshoes easing forward, eagerly, anticipating.
Finally, the rabbit could stand the emotional strain no longer. His presence was made known through an explosion of movement. Bolting from the shadows came as a desperate last-ditch effort to shake off his stubborn hunter-predator.
The man was waiting for this precise moment. Stalking through the woods, patient in pursuit of a worthy foe, the prize now ran before him. The scene unfolded as if on replay from many times in the past.
With his father on similar hunting trips he often wondered about the level of fear from their victims. It was a hint of memory that attached itself to his thoughts. However, the man knew the daring dash for freedom was much too late.
Just as quickly he raised his .22 Cooey repeater to his shoulder in one fluid motion. Super accuracy in the hunterās skills was fashioned through long hours of practice from firing at tin cans and bottles, during his march from youth to manhood.
An energized series of rifle shots could easily create echoes of mutated sounds. And then reverberate with a melancholy throughout the valley.
The shuddering shock would soon be a painful memory as it penetrated tender flesh. And a second intrusion would forge a deadly intrusion between valleys of bone.
Hunter and hunted had finally met; one prepared to shoot, one accepting its fate. The script was a replay of intensity, captured from ancient tales of the Hunt. Chapters of strategy, in planning and stalking were now complete.
The humanās heart hammered with excitement, exhaled satisfaction arising from an inward cheer. And yet, at this precise moment the slender instrument of destruction was lowered. Like a breach of sunlight, smiling slowly covered the hunterās face.
Less than fifty feet away a jackrabbit panted with exhaustion. It was not yet laying on its side, crimson, nor thrashing in anguish. However, this veteran of many seasons was prepared to face a loss of future.
Time to a creature of the woodlands is measured in seasons and he had shared many with friends and family. And he would not be removed from their memories. There were too many starry nights on a myriad of trails dancing with moonbeams that would remember.
When was the hunter going to fire his weapon of anger? How soon would blood gush from a fatal headshot, staining the whiteness in an area of final rest? Purity and nobleness upon the white landscape would then be replaced by the finality of hostile cessation. Somehow Rabbit knew the mask of death approached.
The serendipity of this morning provided an air of uncertainty within the stillness of a proud forest. High above, a crow's āCaw-Cawā signaled a desire for a declaration of truce between man and beast. As yet the feathered creature did not wish to consider departure to a more tranquil valley.
Victory shouts did not rush from the manās grizzled throat. Instead there was gladness in the finality of the moment. With a lighter heart the man realized chasing wild creatures through the forest no longer was a reason for his being. Respect for this creature of the forest overwhelmed him as a blanket of compassion.
The man was certain his decision was an acknowledgement of success. And yes, father would understand. No longer the hunter, the man lowered his rifle, bullet unspent, a smile expanding beneath tears in his eyes. āThis oneās for you, dad,ā he managed to say. Uttered softly at first, words were barely heard by the rabbit awaiting a final sentence.
Suddenly the hunterās shout lifted high above the silence in the crisp woodland air. āDad, I MISSS YOUUUUU!ā is an echo of love, traveling from ridge to rocky ridge.
Snowshoe rabbit was uncertain of the momentum in this moment. And most surprised to be alive, and not expelling the last of lifeās breathing. The manās exuberant shout faded, thus accentuating the end of todayās hunt. Then turning towards home, he cradled an empty rifle against his chest.
And rabbit was allowed to live further lives in the domain of his inheritance.
* * *
Ā Richard L. Provencher
All messages for Richard or Esther can be sent directly to: firstname.lastname@example.org. They enjoy reading comments on their work. Readers are welcome to visit their website at: www.wsprog.com/rp/. Free downloads also available. They live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Many blessings on your loved ones.