I walk and pause, walk and pause. Even if my wish is fulfilled I cannot take a picture for you, for I am waiting for a sound, an echo of beauty heard only in deep winter.
I might be holding my breath when I hear it; the sound floats down the mountain on my left, carried on a breeze whisper, echoing between the bare trees and my heart, the evocative call of the great horned owl. The sound is so haunting I wonder if it's real, and then the answer drifts through the shadows. I wait. One calls…pause… the other answers. At first the pauses are about ten steps long, and I walk quickly, "quietly," toward the voices, scanning the deeply shadowed woods, hoping for a glimpse. Today's snow is powder soft, and my steps are somewhat muffled, although I still think I sound like a very large two-footed something or other fumbling through unknown terrain. I doubt I'll be able to sneak up on anything. The calls continue, back and forth back and forth; the pause between notes shortens until the voices sometimes overlap in a duet. (Since I couldn't take a picture, I found this link for you: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/sounds/Owl_GreatHorned_Duet.mp3)
I'm not afraid on the mountain at night; I haven't watched enough bad movies to make me shiver walking among trees in near darkness. The only dangers I might stumble upon would be self imposed…
getting lost ("Just walk downhill;" this one bit of advice has forever relieved my fear of losing my way on our mountains)
or spraining an ankle (which my mom did when she was about my age…but she seemed much older. To me. Then.)
or falling (which I do before I reach the van, smooth ice beneath fresh snowfall, and splat, I'm dusting snow off of my camera lens and other places)
Behind me, the owls are still calling; overhead the moon shines, ringed with light, promising…more snow.
The night woods are still and peaceful and lovely.
I breath the cold air deep and hold my breath in the hush of the white snow everywhere.
The shining moon floats in a bowl of deep blue sky, surrounded by tree branch silhouettes, and I feel, feel the beauty of it.