Sara Muirfoot, preface to the "Muirfoot Guide of Animal Tracks". Ed. This World is Theirs, 1993. © Sara Muirfoot, 1994
I was born is a farm, near Natoma Lake, Nebraska. My parents were fervent Congregationists. Because we lived in a Baptist county, we were quite isolated and did not go out and see our neighbourhood. Our only valuable belonging was a pick-up truck that my father rode to Natoma Lake twice a week. He sold some produces from the farm and bought what God authorized us to buy. Sometimes, a minister of our Church came over to lead home the wayward sheep. I remember my old folks as good, humble people, but I realize now that they were suffering from the absolute loneliness their faith imposed upon them. I was only a little girl, and I lived in a quite different world from theirs. The life on earth was to them a daily purgatory, where the true believer atoned for the sins of the Philistines. Happiness did not exist but in Heaven, and was to be gained through blood, sweat and tears. I was fortunate that they spared me much of their dogma's austerity. I was quite free. What sort of sin could I have committed anyway ? There was nobody around within a 5-mile radius.
I know that it sounds preposterous, but my social life was limited to animals. Not the dumb ones we raised on the farm, those creatures of God we righteously killed, but the wild beasts. I only had two books in my life (this will change soon, so do not worry). One was the Bible, that I knew by heart. The other was the land, this palimpset of feet tracks and feather tracks, the everlasting page where the world is written and written again. At twelve, I could decipher a hare run, I knew all the gopher tribes, I was a witness to their dramas and furry joys. I could well recite the Psalms, but I had become the secret memorialist of the Natoma Lake warrens.
I took me some time to become aware of my duality. I would not tell my parents. They would have scented the Devil's imprint in it. I can hardly say they would have been wrong, though, because the Devil was soon to appear in my story.
In 1956, an old battered green Ford stopped in our front yard. A man got out. He was wearing a gray suit, a little rumpled perhaps, but of a genre unheard of in the Natoma Lake county. He was Uncle Zacharias, my mother's lost brother. He was never talked about in our house. If we had to, we only used his initial, , lest the Divine Wrath struck us dead on the spot. stayed awhile watching our door, his gaze hidden in the shadow of his fedora. For the first time of their life, my parents had a row, a slow one, rumbling like faraway thunderheads, my father threatening to shoot him, my mother begging for clemency. made the few necessary steps towards the door, knocked once, came in.
remained one week at our house. He was on a business trip to Sioux City, and he had made a detour to pass his sister's farm. My father kept his shotgun at hand, and me on a tight check. talked only with my mother.
On 's last day at home, lightning struck one our barns (a thunderstorm, can you believe that, had arrived for real). My father would never accept outside help and fought the flames alone. seized the occasion. I followed him behind the house. He told me about city life, about the people he knew, about the music, said he understood how I felt, and dropped a book in the front pocket of my apron. I was not to talk about this to anyone, even if I was threatened with hell, damnation and endless torturing. This very night, when the fire wasover, and his Ford resumed theirjourney to Sioux City.
's book was a psalter. The Tracks Psalter. He had all of them. Some I knew already. Most were tracks of animals I would see many years later. Who ever heard of an aardvark, or saw one, in Natoma Lake, Nebraska? And there was more. had added other tracks: fingerprints, handprints, footprints, with dates and names. Nizzi, on November 17, had pressed her slim, pretty and naked foot, covered with black ink, on a white sheet of paper, in a motel room in Columbine, Ohio. Beth had left lipsticks marks on the letterhead at Northwood Sunny Cabins, Northwood, Kentucky. And so did Zelda, Mollie, Laurene, and so many other women.
Years later, I left home, taking 's psalter and mine. I never discovered what had become of Uncle Zacharias. He seems to have wiped his own tracks off.
I give you mine.