From my upstairs window, dotted trails in the snow look bluish in the slanted light. There, the spaced-out tracks of a rabbit; here, the ricocheting path of an anxious squirrel. The feral cat who lives on the creek has checked a sheltered spot where my husband leaves him food. We’ve named him O.C., for Occasional Cat.
Near the feeders, hundreds of bird feet leave tiny triangles in the snow. That slashing trail was a mallard duck who skidded in to scoop up free grain. Though the backyard is empty at the moment, I conjure these visitors easily based on their tracks. Others are not so clear. Are those the skinny feet of a coyote or stray dog?
The opossums and raccoons rarely show up in the snow; they’re snug in their dens for a long winter’s nap. But after dark, a skunk the size of a beach ball waddles in. I fear a pregnancy, but perhaps she’s just wearing her extra fur coat. We run an equal opportunity feeding station: everybody’s welcome, but some are more welcome than others.
This winter’s snowstorms have given me cabin fever and extra pounds. Sometimes I didn’t get out for days. It’s an ideal time to get a lot of writing done, but I’m restless and I can’t settle in. I pace from window to window, dreaming fictional lives for the critters who left their imprints on the snow. Where do they sleep? How do they survive the cold?