I stand in the snow, my boots buried in white. The intense mid-morning sunlight makes me squint behind dark lenses. I turn and look back at the expanse of snow over which I’ve come. My tracks pockmark the trail broken by some unknown snowshoer days before. The air is cold this morning, but the sun has softened the snow. I break through the glazed surface with each step. Every so many steps I stop to cough. It’s hard going through the deep snow in this deserted park.
The river lies up ahead, just around the bend in the trail. It won’t be long before I reach the bank, only a short distance away. Once again I stop and cough, then wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my coat. Keep going, I tell myself. Don’t stop now. Once again I look over my shoulder. It’s a long way back to the dirt road at the park entrance. I take a deep breath and trudge on.
Finally, I round the bend. The river lies ahead, shimmering through last year’s red briers along the bank. The edges have iced up. Out in the center water flows quietly beneath the over-arching blue sky. Bare trees stand along the bank in the distance. My eyes survey the scene, then stop. There, on a distant branch halfway up the trunk, rests a dense dark mass, accentuated with an unmistakable dab of white.
I lift the glasses from my nose and strain to focus through the cold. My eyes water and the image blurs. I reach into my pocket for the handkerchief that is always there. I wipe my eyes and replace the glasses on my face. The form waxes and wanes.
When I raise my hand to my mouth to stifle a cough, the black form drops from the branch. Two long lines shoot out from the bulk, pivoting on an invisible point. Suddenly, in this graceful spiral of descent the lines become wings, the dab of white becomes a head. The wings beat down, and as the bird rises against the grey backdrop of naked tree trunks, I see the white triangular tail flare. A few strokes more and the thin silhouette fades into the blue sky.
I pull my shoulders back and stand up straight. I stuff the wrinkled handkerchief into my pocket and thrust my fingers into the glove. I lift one foot, shake off the snow and take another step. It won’t be long now.
Soon I will reach the river.