A fresh snowfall had frosted our woods like a cake, smoothing all the furrows and swiping flat the pocked divots made from previous animal walks. My prints, broad and flat boot tracks, were the first the indent the surface. Soon, however, my tracks stepped alongside the cloven prints made by deer, their hooves sweeping away deep layers of snow. I was seeking a different trail, though–that of a fox. And, descending the ravine only about half way, I quickly found what I was looking for. Like the palest blue five petaled flower impressed in the snow, the fox paws dented a clear path across the ravine.
I stalked its walk, keeping my own prints distinct from his, yet following its same trajectory. The fox had moved under briers, smoothly where I had to duck, had stepped over a jumble of broken branches, had meandered along the edge of the creek bed but had not crossed it. My own tracks imprinted beside its until the ravine steepened abruptly; the fox had walked nonchalantly along the very edge of a drop off where the slope was so steep that my clumsy feet would not have been able to grip–I widened the gap between our trails, grabbing onto saplings for support, following a less precipitous route. Eventually the ground evened out and I once more tromped alongside the daintier, distinct pads of the fox
I was hoping to be able to follow the tracks to a burrow, but before long, the fox’s tracks muddled up with deer prints and I lost the clear true line I had been following. I wandered around, seeking a line that departed from the maze, and I finally found one, though it could have been the track of a different fox. Bending close to look, I couldn’t decide which direction the fox was traveling: northward as I was going, or south, travelling away. Each print was so carefully placed that there was virtually no kick back of snow to indicate direction–just a neat line of strewn flowers, laid at a determined pace.
I followed the trail until it slipped into a brier thicket too low for me to navigate. The fox had hugged the sagging wire fence and trotted along it for as long as my vision could trace it, but I was at the end of my stalking. The fox, in its element, was beyond my reach. It continued on and I swerved, stomping my own route back home.