Hannah leapt out of the truck, hardly able to restrain herself. Snow had come, winter had come! And here she was, about to spend a full afternoon cross-country skiing with Grandpa; the first time since last March when they had been forced to leave early due to the rapid melting of the snow. Around the parking lot, the deep woods looked inviting. Hannah followed the trail with her eyes until the first bend, and, wondering what secrets the rest of it held, she felt another surge of joy inside and wanted to sing, though she didn't dare break the delicious silence that surrounded her.
"Hannah," chuckled Grandpa's voice from behind, startling her and breaking the peaceful spell, "don't just stand there and dream away, but come wax those skis. It's going to be suppertime before we get skiing!" Hannah tore her hungry eyes off the trail and did as she was bid. The sound and smell of the sticky wax as she applied it made her sigh with happiness, causing Grandpa to chuckle again. Each of the numerous adventures in the woods which Hannah had experienced and gained knowledge from came back to her as she scraped a thick coating onto the bottom of her skis.
When both pairs of skis were waxed, and the picnic they had prepared was divided equally between Hannah and Grandpa, they set off down the trail. Hannah was in the lead, her skis pushing and gliding rhythmically down the shining trail as the sun's bright rays bounced off it. Hannah felt so lighthearted she was sure she could do the same. But the forest was peacefully quiet, and despite her gaiety Hannah felt strangely like an intruder, even though her skis made only a soft, soothing "ssssk, ssssk" as she skied along. She wished she could be a part of the forest rather than a visitor in it. She wondered if the animals of the woods were gaping out from the shadows, awed at these brightly clothed creatures who traveled the paths.
"Darn!" exclaimed Grandpa suddenly. "Snow is getting into my boots—I forgot to put on my gaiters!"
Hannah laughed at him for being so foolish and flipped her long, dirty-blond hair over her shoulder as she stopped and turned to look at him. "Grandpa," she said, "we've been skiing every year for seven years and you forget your gaiters of all things. How did that happen?
Gaiters are a waterproof garment used to stop snow from entering the ski boot in cross-country skiing. Hannah was incredulous, because Grandpa was an expert skier, and he had taught her everything she knew about skiing.
"I just forgot, honey," he said, grinning with his granddaughter over his stupidity. "I'll go back. I'll only be a minute, so you can go on, but when you reach the fork take the usual route." He turned and headed for the parking lot, and Hannah kept going, still smiling to herself.
Hannah Louise Richard had been born the youngest in a large, happy family, with her mother, father, and five siblings. But shortly after her birth, Mr. and Mrs. Richard had decided that taking care of Hannah's two-year-old twin sisters and her, plus the other three, was too much for them, and she had been sent to live with Grandma and Grandpa until they could cope with the situation and have her home. The time had come, but little Hannah had already accepted her grandparents as her guardians and wouldn't be moved from them, so with them she had stayed. One of the hobbies the three had always shared was cross-country skiing, and they had always done it together until two years ago when Grandma had died. Now it was something that Hannah and Grandpa did together.
Hannah had reached the fork, so she took the left turn unhesitantly (it had always been the way she and Grandpa had gone). The trail was a loop, so it would come right back to the fork. She began to sing softly to herself, enjoying being alone in her favorite place, and the time slipped softly by while Hannah, carried away in her own contentment, forgot about Grandpa until half an hour later when she sat down to wait for him. She remained there for ten minutes, and he still didn't show up. She had expected him to be close behind, but obviously he wasn't. On these trails it was easy to be close behind but out of sight as there were many small hills, twists and turns in the path. Hannah supposed he had forgotten how to put on his gaiters, and suppressed a giggle at the absurd thought. Then she started on the gorp which she was carrying in her daypack; she was famished after lots of skiing and saw it as a way to pass the time she spent waiting for Grandpa. But when he still didn't come, she continued on without him.
As she began to ski again, Hannah felt a growing triumph inside of her. She was alone in the forest and having a splendid adventure. She didn't know where Grandpa was, but she knew he'd be OK, however far behind he had become. Although his age was going on seventy, he was in good shape and looked young enough to be her father, and she knew nothing could have harmed him.
Another half hour ticked by, as Hannah skied through the still forest, the moss- and lichen-covered deciduous trees bare but possessing a certain gentle beauty despite their lack of summer greenness. She was still enjoying herself immensely when she heard the coyotes. Their high-pitched yowling echoed through the forest and Hannah halted. They sounded very nearby, and she knew it was a whole pack. She also knew they probably wouldn't hurt her (it was rare for them to carry off even a small child), but their wild, eerie cries made her shiver. It wasn't a shiver of fear, exactly, but more one of excitement, and amazement at the thought that she was sharing the forest with those creatures. In a way, it made her feel as if she belonged to the woods, and its hidden world, for weren't the coyotes letting her hear them? And the sound wasn't aggressive, it sounded almost mournful. Hannah waited until it subsided to go on.
She was still thinking about the coyotes when she reached a small but steep hill and began to sidestep up it. She wondered what it would be like to live like the coyotes, away from the smelly, hectic city where she lived. She wondered if . . .
Hannah gave a small cry of surprise as Grandpa appeared at the peak of the hill . . . his figure loomed closer as she scrambled out of the way to avoid a painful collision, quite worth escaping. She lay gasping in shock as he sped down the hill, slowing as quickly as he could. For a moment they remained silent, staring at each other confusedly. Finally Grandpa remarked, "That was close, wasn't it, Hannah?"
"It sure was," agreed Hannah, giving a nervous giggle. "Why—why did you go that way?"
"That's the way we've always gone, isn't it?"
"No." Hannah grinned. "We've always gone the way I went, you silly goose."
"Maybe I'm just being forgetful today," Grandpa told her apologetically.
"Now that I think about it, I believe you're right."
"Oh, well." Hannah smiled and got up. "Did you see those coyotes?"
"No, but I sure heard them," replied Grandpa as they sidestepped up the hill back the way he had come. "Were you afraid?"
"No—not really," decided Hannah thoughtfully. "I was just . . . kind of entranced, I guess." They skied along, chatting. Hannah had learned that skiing was fun alone, not only with company, but now she was glad to have Grandpa with her as they absorbed the beauty of nature together.
Back at the parking lot, forty-five minutes later, she and Grandpa removed their equipment, packed up and were on their way. But as they left, Hannah internally murmured a soft goodbye to the trail, and to the silent woods, where she meant to spend much of her life—skiing—with the cries of the coyotes ringing in her ears.