I went for a walk alone.
It was brightly cold, and a slow wind made the skeletons of last summer’s coneflowers, bee balm, and sunflowers shush. The bare branches of the trees at the edges of the meadow clattered in response.
The trail that meandered from the meadow through the woods and the wetlands was alternately a wooden walkway, frozen dirt, and ice. In what little shade the trees provided, the clear ice was decorated with a dusting of flakes, although the ground itself was free from snow. In more open spaces, the ice had lost its fairy dusting, as the clear, bright sunlight had melted that which the fingers of wind had not blown away. The cold of the air and the ice beneath had refrozen the water into a sharply smooth mirror of icy glass.
The trail led me through the stiff meadow grasses into the narrow woods and over the frozen mud, rich and dark from the decay of last year’s leaves. It led over the wooden walkways that bridged the marshy wetlands, where the moss still showed bright green through brown, fallen cattails and remnants of grass on the small islands of semi-solid earth. The trail crackled under my weight, but the ice was thick enough not to break altogether.
Few birds called in the soft clicking and shushing of the wind. The cardinals were silent. The crows sounded sharper than they had a few months ago when they were accompanied by red-winged blackbirds and robins.
In the frigid sunlight, a few blades of grass were stubbornly green, not emerald like the moss, but a drab faded green that still refused to surrender, just yet, to the grey-brown of winter. Nothing seemed to move. Squirrels hid in their nests on high. No robins searched the ground. There was only the hint of water, slowly trickling under the ice.
I stopped, as something small jumped out of the bushes, onto the trail.
It was a fox: small and grey; its tail bushy, thick, and black-tipped; sharp ears alert.
The fox bounded forward and dashed down the trail. It navigated a sharp turn back into the soughing cattails and the greying stalks of last year’s flowers, just before the trees thinned into the marshy wetland. The fox seemed to have melted silently into the dullness of faded summer.
I waited a moment, then tried to walk forward silently, but my boots crunched and cracked the glassy trail. The fox had left paw prints and skid marks on the narrow streaks of shadows on the snow dusted ice, right before the boardwalk resumed.
The quiet and stillness were again broken by the crow’s raucous call. Fingers of wind stirred the remaining cattails to sigh in response.
I smiled: in spite of the cold still biting my face, I felt warm.