I’m 10 or 11, and I’m bundled up with Carharts over my red barn jacket, over long underwear, topped off with a knit scarf, mittens, a beanie and a too-big, blaze-orange vest sort of dangling off my shoulders.

Lined boots laced up tight over a pair of Dad’s giant wool socks keep my feet warm. The snow is up over my knees, and I’m navigating it by stretching my legs to fit my boots in Dad’s big footprints. One step at a time. I know I won’t quite catch up, but I’ll keep up, and that’s the thrill of the whole thing.

Because we’re after a big buck Dad just spotted in the draw, and we have to get on the other side of the coulee quietly and quickly, where the wind is right and we can sneak.

I’m 10 or 11, and I’m out there under that big sky that hangs over our ranch, watching the air I’m breathing freeze on the fabric of my scarf as I focus on being quiet, moving quickly and keeping up.

The familiar cow pasture has turned to a mysterious forest. Leafless trees look black in the shade of the hills.

This is an adventure now because we’re on the hunt for something wild.

I listen to the squeak of my footprints, look down on the trail cut before me in the snow and follow it up to my camouflaged dad. He stops in the brush and looks back, cheeks and nose red from the chill. His lips curl up into a smile, teeth white as snow. His gloved hand waves me along.

“Look here, now,” he whispers as he points down at the steep bank cut by the creek. “We need to get to the bottom and back up to the top before we lose the light.”

I nod, growing a little more confident in my ability to navigate the trees and the snow in 67 layers of clothing now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath.

He points behind me to a path cut through the underbrush and the tall ash trees. It’s not a winding path, like a cow or deer trail, but one cut smooth and straight, right down the bank.

“That’s a beaver slide,” Dad says into the cold air. “They use it to send the trees they cut down to the bottom there. They must be damming the crick.”

He walks over to the beginning of the trail, kneels down and leans back on his right hip, jutting his legs out in front of him, his arms extended wide for balance.

I step in behind him. He looks back at me as he starts his slide, whispering something about sledding and the fastest way down.

I mimic his stance and wish for slippery snow pants like the town-kids wear, and we slide down that bank, kicking up a thin layer of fresh snow and cold, damp leaves underneath.

In my memory, that beaver slide was a mile long and as steep as the drop of a cliff. Dad and I slid down fast, the ball on my beanie bouncing, his red neckerchief flying behind him, keeping quiet while wishing we could whoop and holler into the darkening sky.

I know the reality was much less dramatic, the path less slippery, our trek slower and steadier, and our scramble up the other side to the clearing an inevitable struggle for my short, bundled legs.

I can’t remember what happened next. I don’t know if we ever caught up with the big buck or if his meat filled our freezer for a winter of venison and jerky for our pockets when we were out feeding cows.

I could ask Dad when I see him next. He’s never forgotten a hunt, so he’d surely fill me in on the blank spaces, the long strides, between my footprints and his.

But I think I’ll just keep my own memory of walking in his footprints, the way the cold stung, the way our breath froze and how it felt to discover that our small world was full of so many remarkable secrets.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

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