I don’t know why I think they are fox tracks. Maybe it’s the way they wander along beside the river, sometimes following the trail, more often not. They circle a clump of weeds, looking for mice maybe? I imagine that I can see places where a furry tail has brushed the new-fallen snow. Then I find a place where the tracks plunge down the bank and, avoiding the patches of open water, meander to the other side. I don’t think a dog would do that.
Bica is very interested in these tracks, whatever made them. She sniffs them carefully, backs away. Hmm. Maybe they are coyote tracks. I scan the woods around us just in case. Sometimes, when the river is frozen like this, they cross to our side. We hear them at night, hunting in the woods behind the townhouse, or at least we hear the screams of rabbits. But the woods, the frozen river, the flats on the other side are deserted. Bica and I are alone, as far as I can see.
Yes, it’s well into January and we are still in Waterloo, where we spend Christmas each year. But this year, I was laid low by the flu, I’m still as weak as a kitten. We decided to stay in the warmth and comfort of the townhouse for an extra week. Which means we’ve been away from the boat for more than two weeks. Chris has been back a couple times, to check the lines, to make sure the bubblers are keeping ice from forming around the hull. All is well, he reports. There is a wistfulness in his voice. He prefers the boat to any sort of dirt dwelling, as he calls them, even in the dead of winter.
And it is proper winter now. Bica romps along the path ahead of me, burying her muzzle in the snow from time to time, looking back to make sure I’m still coming. Why are you so slow? Not that she is particularly fast these days. She drags her back leg now, I can see the funny track she makes in the snow—three clear paw prints then a long smudge. A couple of times her bad leg gives out on her, she falls over, but gets right back up as if nothing has happened. I meant to do that.
I scan the flat grey sky, looking for eagles. I think a pair is wintering here. I’ve seen them several times since I’ve been well enough to creep along the river, a little further each day. Would an eagle take a dog, I wonder? A lame dog, maybe. I call Bica back, keep her closer to me. She looks up at me as she trots along beside me. What?
The ferocity of this flu took me by surprise. Christmas Day I was fine, then I was flat on my back in bed, didn’t rise again for almost a week. I didn’t think this could happen. I’m never sick, not even a cold. How did this happen?
And if this can happen, what else can?
A cold gust of wind sweeps down through the woods, out across the river, snow whirls ahead of it, is whisked high into the sky. The patches of open water are black and oily, the river boils up briefly, then is forced back under the ice. A fox wouldn’t have a chance. Or a dog. Or me, least of all.
But I am getting stronger each day. Tomorrow we will move back to the boat. Only three more months of winter. If we’re lucky.