In the morning, on my way to the outhouse, I noticed deep depressions in the fresh snow—footprints—passing within a few feet of my back window and heading into the forest. I stopped in my tracks and surveyed the tracks.

How could someone walk right past my window and I never noticed?

It spooked me—and puzzled me. I followed the tracks to the edge of the forest and watched the trail through the trees.

Creepier still: some guy walked past my house and into the woods?

I bent to study the indentions. Dirt was scattered around a few imprints.  Why some and not others?  And what kind of a man has such a long stride? Paul Bunyan passed by my house in the night and I didn’t notice?

Some tracker I’d make. I couldn’t be sure which direction the tracks traveled or whether it was a human boot print or a hoof print. I laughed at myself. I thought of the scene in “Last of the Mohicans” when Daniel Day-Lewis bends to the ground and can tell from a bent blade of grass how many were in the travel party, what direction they were heading, how much they weighed and what they had for breakfast. I’m exaggerating, only just though.

The thought of someone passing and leaving deep prints and nothing else stayed with me all day.

When my friend, Ed, and his son, Michael, drove me home, I mentioned the tracks. They were in a hurry, yet they sensed I was unnerved, so they got out of the car to examine the mystery trail.

“Moose, Cheryl,” Ed said. “Yep,  moose,” Michael said.

A moose passed by my window and I didn’t notice? I called my neighbor, Martha, later in the evening.

“Oh sure, Cheryl,” she said. “We have moose here.” She told me about discovering a moose in her driveway once.

The moose, then, are as silent and stealthy as the snow.  I had an image in my mind of an oil tanker slipping through the dark ocean with only the stars as witness.

I curled up on the couch. It was dark and quiet outside. All is calm and not-so-bright. I started a letter to my nephew and told him about the moose tracks.

Footsteps upstairs. An involuntary shot of adrenaline zapped my heart.

I went into instant assessment mode. I froze. I looked for my cell phone. Nope. Left it upstairs.

Too far from the land line to reach it quickly. Probably too far from the front door to make it, either. And even if I made it out the front door, I was certainly poorly dressed to venture into the –28F cold. I doubt I’d make it to my neighbor’s house.

Assessment: I was utterly unprepared for an intruder. I sat still. Held my breath. Listened. More footsteps.

You are kidding me. My mind surfed the adrenaline wave.  How could someone get in my house and upstairs and go unnoticed? Well, a moose the size of a boat cruised by my back window unobserved,  leaving only deep tracks in its wake.

Seriously. It’s late. It’s dark. And I’m hearing footsteps with a near-nil shot at communication or escape.

The burning wood in the fire pops and cracks. The heater hisses. All the sounds are amplified.

Long minutes pass. It’s not my imagination. It’s also not an intruder. A ghost? Definitely not going there.

I share my story with Ed on the drive to work, with my students in class and with Amy and Brian in the journalism office.

They all say the same thing: it’s the sound of the house, the wood in winter. Cracking in the cold. Popping as it dehydrates and shifts. They all had their own stories about bumps in the night. None were human in origin.

Just like the prints in the snow.

 

 

 

 

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