Out Divine Corners Way
by Jonathan Shimkin
For a few days after a fresh snowfall, we can trace the lines of animal tracks emerging from the woods and meandering around the grounds surrounding our cottage. In the absence of the animals themselves (far fewer sightings this year, it seems to me, than in seasons past), their prints remind us that we are neighbors to wild things, who are out and about on wintry nights: deer and rabbits; squirrels and feral cats; other prints of unknown provenance. My neighbor calls the tracks “a timestamp of the wildlife activity of the night before,” a retrospective gloss on activity we never witness. We know of the animals’ presence by these signs of their absence.
The tracks move in unique patterns, not a straight line among them. They zig and zag, circle and swoop, turn back on themselves by some unfathomable logic. Straight lines, it seems, are the province of humans, who impress geometric grids upon the land: square lots connected by lattices of right-angled roads. The animals move in lines that remind me more of the linear stylings of Aboriginal art – animated, not static; unpredictable, not calculated.
Aboriginal artists receive inspiration from their experience of dreamtime, that visionary realm where lines of creative power trace across the entirety of continental Australia. The lines are mapped in songs, and are known as songlines, or dreaming tracks. The songs aren’t composed so much as discovered, dictated by the contours and geographical features of the land itself. The swirling lines I observe in the snow might be the Divine Corners version of Aboriginal songlines. If each individual divot could be transcribed as a note, and those notes played, who knows what music might be heard, what knowledge released into the air?
Much of the activity in our yard looks like mere territorial wandering, but one corner shows signs of great intent: the convergence of multiple tracks from every direction upon the compost pile. All creatures, great and small, go there. Whatever green and leafy matter – rind, root, or peel – gets added to the pile one day is likely to be gone the next. Left over are some old sprout-riddled spuds; the animals apparently found them as unappealing as we did, and left them to freeze. They remain, rock hard, and will make their contribution to the health of the soil when they thaw.
The snow-tracks remain visible until wind or rain or sun render them illegible, or until the next snowfall comes to fill each indent, topping them all off and stretching taut the blanket of snow again. The eroding snow-prints are like memory traces gradually vanishing under the accumulation of experience. We all leave tracks and traces as we go, some recoverable, some not; writing is one attempt to retrieve and preserve our traces, but time will eventually erase the fragile imprint of tracks on paper. One way or another, the white board of the world is wiped clean and made ready for fresh impressions.
Early one morning I see, through our kitchen window, a flash of brown fur: a rabbit bounding over the grass, across the driveway, disappearing behind the house toward the field beyond. It’s the first rabbit I’ve seen all winter. I was happy to greet it in person. It was one of those sub-zero mornings; the snow on the ground was frozen hard; the rabbit skittered over its surface like a skipping stone on water, leaving no trace.
Jonathan Shimkin, writer and editor, may be contacted at email@example.com, or via his website: jonathanshimkin.weebly.com.]