Deep in the island’s silent wilderness, all was once again right with the world. Night fell and with it the temperature, briefly freezing Spring’s slowly accelerating work of melting Winter from among the stones and moss and lichens, the birch, poplar, spruce, and balsam trees, the red and white pines, and the snarling undergrowth. Moments before gloaming, along an ancient hidden pathway revealed by the weak seasonal sun and the day’s final rays, two intruders had nimbly fled, dropping laughter like bread crumbs and carrying the heavy smell of wood smoke in their hair and clothes. They had no way of knowing they would never find this track again. A smoldering circular scar – the work of the fleeing interlopers – sat like a giant and malevolently steaming toadstool in the rotting snow.
These embers and ashes were the cremated remains of last year’s pruned tree limbs and cut brush, amputated in the summer and fall and piled here before the snow flew. Burning this collection had become a ritual across generations. It signified the impending return of people and dogs to cottages and beaches, and warned the island forest that Winter’s peace, Pax Hibernum, was about to end. For now at least there was still time, some few moments, and the land could remember thousands of seasons ago before this strange species appeared. It could still pretend it was a wild and sleeping place.