By Kristina Boyd
For over a thousand nights, I had slept in the same position in my beloved mummy bag: left forearm squashed between my belly and the ground, right hand cushioning my head, left leg straight down and right leg tucked up almost to my chin. Thirteen springs, summers and falls had seen me working in the woods in all types of wild places and sleeping wherever it made sense that week. There was no other way I would have preferred to spend my time than roaming in the wild.
For six of those years I tracked and radio-collared wolves throughout northwest Montana. It was one of my most independent and nomadic positions. But during my last field season, a couple of summers ago now, I brought a tag-along with me. And one night as I shimmied into position in my familiar way, my belly decided that it could no longer abide that trusty sleeping contortion.
Pregnancy, and all of the domesticity it implies, can be an unnerving rite of passage for women who are born with the wind in their veins and pine boughs as their bower. But finding a new ground sleeping position? Now that was really getting personal. I lay on my back and listened to the evening, trying to quiet my mind. The flute of a Swainson’s thrush came first, rising like a leaf in the breeze. Then a northern waterthrush skipped his song out like a pebble over a pool. A waft of pine passed through my tent, my daughter pressed some appendage against my ribs, and I felt peace. Sleep steamrolled over my discomfort, as it usually does after a long day in the outdoors.
There is a lot of hiking involved in tracking wolves; on beautiful trails and those that have seen better days; on knapweed-smothered roads and those that brought me to my knees to cruise the alder like, well… a dog; and on the untamed forest floor getting from points A to B in the shortest distance but inevitably the longest time. And there is an awful lot of driving on rocky forest roads. An awful lot. Before and after every hike, during each trapline set and check, and in the evenings over boxed instant whatnots with a splash of hot sauce added for pizazz, my colleagues would check in with me. Were my ankles swollen? Did I need more food? Was I over-tired? Yes. But if they had asked me if I was on cloud nine, my answer would have been the same.
With fresh air and a pumping heart elevating my thoughts, my hikes were occasions to share feel-good endorphin boosts with my daughter, rather than the stew of trepidation and frustration that sitting at home tended to simmer up. And the cadence of my movement settled her better than any song. Even the long dawn and dusk trap-check drives seemed to soothe her with their jaunty rhythms.
But it was not all routine and humdrum. We had some pint-sized adventures together too. My favorite was the mama grouse who burst out of the alder like a shotgun and chased my waddling frame and screaming, laughing banshee wail for fifty raucous yards. Another interlude, during a morning bicycle trap check up a steep closed road, was the moment when my little joker decided it was a good time to finally flip head-down and knock me off my bike in alarm. And then there were the rare times when we stood motionless and took it all in as the penetrating howl of wolves reverberated through our cores.
Two years have passed since that summer ended and our shared rite of passage began: one that does not allow for much roaming in the wild. In my veins, I feel the stillness where the wind once ran. My pine bower has been usurped by an oak rocking chair. I struggle with envy toward those who have the time and energy to wander the woods. But I also see touches of the wild in my daughter: the way that only a swaying bounce would soothe her as an infant, her love of fear and effort and log-walking, and the softly whispered “wow” that she utters at the scents and sounds and sights of nature.
My husband and I took her camping for the first time just a few weeks ago, on her second birthday. Even as she slept, tucked into her own tiny sleeping bag, I could see phosphorescent traces of the light in her eyes that had shone so brightly that day. I shimmied my way into my neglected mummy bag and a surge of peace coursed through me. I turned over and tucked my right hand under my left cheek, my left arm under my belly, and my right knee up almost to my chin. We would do this again, many times. The wild is waiting.
Kristina Boyd works for the Yaak Valley Forest Council.