Animal Tracking


By: Arron Juang

Lately animal tracks threaten adventure. Critters crisscross networks of shoveled pathways between buildings, leaving footprints that switch my track from chores and lesson planning toward destinations unknown in the Hawley woods.


My students at Heath Elementary are veteran hunters at the age of tiny, but I first tracked animals exactly a year ago during my college’s winter enrichment term. Twice a week, we piled into vans and drove out of town into the forests, where we clambered over unfamiliar snow in the trail of otter tail drags and deer beds.


These days I don’t need a college or a van or a teacher to track, just my eyes on midnight walks to the bathroom or last minute runs from my bed to the parking lot in the morning. 


At least on the surface, feeling connected is so much easier here. We’re a part of the woods, not apart from them. Dark skies mean clear skies, the bright stars of Orion keeping me company when I’ve stayed up too late playing the broken piano. And of course there’s the eighteen of us living in a room in the woods.


Before I came here, the woods were always about solitude. A place to run to when things were bad, or whenever my other problems threatened to overwhelm. And I still love the shelter of the woods. But more and more I find myself looking for company on nighttime runs or bungled ski trips on the frozen pond. 


My work at my conservation placement, Red Gate Farm, is much like the work I did and loved at the college forest before Hawley: stop the place from falling apart faster than you can put it back together. But two months into my internship, something felt missing. I’d lost sight of the purpose of the farm and my work.


Two Wednesdays ago, we had a homeschooler out to the farm for the first time. And watching them do morning chores and snowball fight and animal track in the hills above the farm, I thought for the first time something I think has been coming true for me for a while.


The woods, the trails, journeys, destinations. They’re better shared.