By Roxana Robinson
In the afternoon, I went for a walk up the path behind our house. This stands on the hill at the head of Northeast Harbor, and the path goes straight into Acadia National Park. It leads up a steep hill, through low blueberry bushes and up into the deep woods, dark firs and soft pines, a few oaks and maples. It passes gray granite ledges with soft sprawls of pale green lichen.
The paths are covered with pine needles, which muffled the sound of my footsteps. No one else was up there; these paths are rarely used. A thrush was somewhere nearby, sending out lilting sprays of trilling notes, tossing them into the air as if he were seeding a field. I climbed up to a ridge and walked along its rise and fall. Then I descended into the woods again, walking beside a steep granite bluff that towered forbiddingly above me like the cliffs at Angkor Wat.
I saw no one. The paths were empty, as though I were the only person in the park. I wondered if animals, too, were elsewhere, or if there was an animal somewhere nearby, waiting for me to pass.
Once, I was hiking down Parkman in the late afternoon, and I heard a loud rustling in the bushes. I stopped and waited. A porcupine came bustling through the shrubbery, waddling, noisy and completely indifferent to the bystander. He walked past about 20 feet away, dragging his tail behind him like a blow-up mattress, as though he were at home in his bathrobe.
And once, a raccoon slipped across the path in front of my friend, just ahead of me. But these sightings are rare; usually the paths are empty of animals.
On the way back down, walking through a stand of low blueberry bushes, I caught an animal scent. It was heavy and rank and so strong that I stopped dead. Someone was right here next to me.
I stood still, inhaling deeply, taking in that rich musky smell. Who was it? Maybe skunk or porcupine? Fox? Bear? I looked cautiously up and down the trunks of the nearby trees but saw no dark porcupine lump. No one.
I stepped forward and sniffed; the smell lessened. I stepped backward; the same. Where I was standing was right in the midst of the pungent current. He was within steps of me, hidden somewhere in the low shrubs nearby, sweetfern and blueberry.
I stood still, waiting for him to move. He stood still, waiting for me to move. Time passed. A pair of furious red squirrels chased each other up and down a pine tree nearby. There were no other nearby sounds, no footsteps, no rustling.
I was hoping that the deep forest would reveal itself to me, that this animal, with his rich powerful presence, would give me a glimpse of his mysterious realm, as the thrush had given me that musical glimpse of his. But he would not. My animal was motionless, his secrets intact.
I took a last deep curious sniff, trying to memorize that wild scent so I could hold in my mind the moment our paths crossed. Then I went on down the pine-needle path, and, wherever he was, a few strides away, he watched me leave.
He had won; I was glad.
Roxana Robinson is the author of nine books: five novels, including “Cost”; three collections of short stories; and the biography “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life.” Her work has appeared in “The New Yorker,” “The Atlantic,” “Harper’s Magazine,” The New York Times, The Washington Post, “BookForum,” “Best American Short Stories,” “Tin House” and elsewhere. She is a seasonal resident of Mount Desert.