In the 60 years since the summers of 1951 to 54, when I have come across animal tracks, I think of a boy whose naturalist skills once astounded me. The boy seemed to come with the primitive cabin my family used during those summers at an Adirondack camp on Lake Kiwassa. He ran though the woods. sometimes, as I recall, in nothing more than a loincloth. He would drop down on one knee to point out indentations in the forest floor that would tell him which animals had passed there. Those summers I wanted to know what he knew, but when we changed our vacation spots in the coming years, I lost sight of that goal.
This morning, I wished I could find the tracks of that guy. Yesterday’s snow was criss-crossed with animal tracks. Even I know White-tailed deer tracks. But who left the tracks that emerge from under the porch and don’t belong to a bird? At night, something bangs around outside the living room windows and around the porch but I have yet to get a glimpse of it. Porcupines lived under our cabin in the Adirondacks, but the early colonists ended their populations in these parts. The likely candidates for those noises are possums. One had been killed on the road a couple of month ago.
Frustrated by the absence of an authority and my inability to identify the tracks in the loose, deep snow, I checked the family photo album for a clue about the Lake Kiwassa boy. Maybe I could identify him. My Mother had carefully pasted and labeled photos from the 1940s until the 1960s into several large maroon books. In all the times I’ve shuffled around in the early 50s book, I had not noted that boy whose naturalist skills I idolized was there: in a photo with my mother, and another with my father, and still a third with me. He’s standing in a row boat holding a model sail boat while I clinging uneasily to the gunnels. There’s even a photo of his mother, Janet. I still don’t know what animal left the tracks around the porch but I rediscovered that the boy was Dick Merkle.