Nature Walk/ Crazy Talk/ A Lovely Afternoon

by Serge Bielanko

"It could be a buck deer with a whole hippo on his back and a, and a, and a, and a PIZZA!"

I'm not sure what to do with that, but she's pushing four and you don't nudge back at 'pushing four' with too much setting the record straight or whatever because, frankly, they don't really give a shit and that's how it should be.

Violet looks down at the tracks in the snow and does a little happy jig around them in the snow. I think they are dog, the tracks. But they could be a coyote for all I know. Or a fat raccoon or a muskrat. There's a bunch of dogs that people bring down through here though, to sniff around at stuff in the snow. Dogs love to head out in the cold weather and do giants rails of deer piss; sometimes I wonder if their is a human equivalent to the happiness that it brings them, if there is something that could get me and you off as much as dogs get off on sniffing deer piss, or squirrel piss or other dog piss or bum piss, but I've yet to come up with anything.

Random sex with strangers in the Old Navy changing rooms, maybe?

I dunno.

I try and move up the trail a little bit because this nature hike is taking forever. We've barely come even forty feet down this side trail along the trout stream and it's looking as if we might not ever make it back to the big trail where men jog by us in their man-leotards and old ladies with golden retrievers with strange bumps the size of Dunkin' jelly Donuts growing out the sides of their necks politely say hello. It's the afternoon weekday crowd, I figure. They don't bother with the animal tracks.

"Dad, LOOK!" Violet's voice brings me back.

I look around and she is pointing at another track in the grey snow.

"What is it?" I ask her, interested.

I'm hoping she tells me it's a rabbit. I just taught her what rabbit tracks look like and yeah, I know, it isn't important at all at this stage in the game whether she remembers that or not, but c'mon. Secretly, I want her to remember. Down behind my lungs,where I keep my dreams dude, I want her to be the best animal tracker in the goddamn world since Jeremiah Johnson, you know?

She stares at the four long marks in the crust and mumbles something to herself, her voice switching over to steam at her chapped lips.

I wait. (It is a rabbit, by the way; I can see that from here.)

"It's a rabbit!" she hollers at me.

YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!I slow motion that shit with that deep-drawn out voice of tape being slowed waaaaaaay down.

I pump my fist into the air and she smiles, working her way through the awkwardness of her father as best she can. She is proud that I'm proud, I sense that. But my reactions are hard to gauge sometimes, almost as if they're totally wrong for the occassion and she is young and processing embarrasment and  joy and confidence all at the same time are hard for a kid. Hell, it's hard for me too.

Whatever though.

My daughter is a wildlife tracker, ya'll. And that's not a sentence of words that I ever thought I would write down in this lifetime, you know?

"Good eye, kid," I tell her. "You sure know your rabbit tracks. That's a really good thing to know, too..." my voice tails off at the end there because, in all honesty, I don't have any ifdea how valuable tracking rabbits is anymore. Not much, is my guess. There was a time when a young woman that could track a rabbit through a snowy wood could easily have found herself being courted by upstanding men because of it; men who could blacksmith and men who could dive off of steep ledges into rocky streams for summer fun and men who knew how to call squirrels with a blade of grass.

But there was a time when people knew what fucking color rhubarb was too and that time is gone.

"Hey Dad," she says, and I know what's coming.

See, the other interesting part about this nature walk, I'm finding out, is that my little girl spots a track/ names it/yells at me if I tell her she's wrong/ and then comes up with an alternative fantastical possibility of what it might have been waltzing along here through the snow a few days ago that both amazes me and reminds me that she is indeed my kid and that each of these tracks is something I wish I could stick in the pocket of my old Woolrich coat that I wear for sepcial outside days like today and keep in there to remind me of right now for the rest of my life.

How cool would it be, every time I went for a hike by myself or whatever, Violet away at college, to my hand down in the warm darkness and wrap my fingers around that same exact rabbit track from all those years go?

"Daddy! Look! This could have been a rabbit with a string of candy canes around his neck and a wild turkey for a good friend in the morning together, right?"

I'm stunned. Unintentional poetry bazookas me into the next world.

"Oh yeah, you bet, kiddo," I manage to mutter to her.

After a few minutes, I coax her into moving ahead down to the water's edge with me and I know that isn't easy either because in order to end up there she has to walk over like 455 more tracks cutting across the land beneath her.

I get the feeling that if I let her, we'd both perish there eventually. They'd find us curled up, fast asleep together right there on the tracks of this crazy switching yard for dogs and deer and mice. I point her at the stream.

"Look out there, see that broken tree," I ask her. "If I was a great white shark living here in this little stream that's where I would hide right there," I say pointing at the dark green pool of cold beneath the trunk.

She stares at the spot intently, the tender gears grinding above her think-frown.

"If you were a trout," I ask her, "would you be a nice trout or do you think you would be grumpy?"

That is the level of conversation at which I seem to operate.

She stares at the hole. It looks so fishy. I can tell she maybe feels that way too and that makes me giddy like I can't even explain; maybe she'll fish with me one of these days. I want that so bad.

"Grumpy!" she blurts out and turns to me, her face maybe three inches from mine. I can feel the warmth from down in her belly escaping her.

"Ha!" my voice bounces of the rock ledge across the stream. "You'd be a grumpy trout! Perfect! I like a grumpy trout, they're so cool!"

"A fisherman!" Violet shouts it out.

To my left I catch a bit of movement out of my ninja eye and I look and it's a fisherman alright: a fly fisherman watching his pea-sized orange indicator float slow across a shallow ripple on this cold cold afternoon.

I wonder what he heard us saying. I ask that on my inner PA system.

We turn away from the water before we start chucking rocks or something like that. This fisherman and us, our peaces collided but in the best kind of way, really. We eased into each other's paradise chasing down our own. Nothing wrong with that. But somebody's got to back off a bit and so we do.

Me and Violet turn back to the snow behind us/ Me and Violet turn back to the world before us.