We stood and surveyed the scene with binoculars and the naked eye. Eyes can play tricks in the half light. Logs take on new forms, become animals. I was convinced the incessant dancing and swaying of a branch in a draught of wind far off on the opposite side of the valley was a bear scratching itself. But it wasn't. Dark dots in the snowfield became deer. And then I was seeing deer everywhere – deer bushes, deer shaped fallen trees, deer snow mounds. Dark, stick deer. The longer we looked the more the wood subtly seemed to shift into life. Obscure forms morphed from the forest edge, lynx-shaped, lichen textured, bear loping figments of my unreliable vision, my sleep deprived imagination. And we waited in hope, rubbing our hands, withdrawing fingers into gloves to keep them warm. Breath, smoke in the cold air.
I wanted to see an animal, I so wanted to see an animal.
The croak of two ravens sounded over the valley; there may have been a kill or carcass nearby.
Then I did see an animal, a real one at the edge of the wood, black on white, a dark, slender shape of grace. It was moving, pricking its way, ankle deep. A roe deer. Then there were three of them with sleek, long heads and large ears. Alert. On guard – or one of them was, the other two grazed.
The dark deer could easily have become a dark burrow, a hole in the snow, a silhouette, an absence. But they were real and good to see. Now I wanted to see a bear.