His eyes were curious, his ears inquisitive. I wondered if he was a fan of Taylor Swift or if the sound of the ukulele touched at some primal memory. Or, maybe like me, he just liked the sound of the small waterfall that cascaded down the smooth time-worn granite on the other side of the creek. Maybe this was where he, like me, came to be alone with his thoughts.
It had been a fluke discovering this place. One of the last hikes I’d made before the winter snow had set in. I’d discovered an overgrown trail off the fire road that ran behind my cozy little one-room apartment. I’d taken great pains to remember where it began. Or thought I had. Of course, time and events did their best to erode my memory.
Winter drifted in, and then the holidays brought the usual distractions with them, but I kept that lost pathway in the back of my thoughts the entire season, recalling little details that had delighted me. The small bluff that rose on one side, wildflowers dotting the edge. The small fall that spread out like kinetically charged fingers as it tumbled down the rocky cliffside into a shade-covered pool that might have, for all I’d known at the time, been bottomless.
Behind the veil of water, I’d glimpsed a darkness. A depression, perhaps, or more. Something to explore when the sun was high overhead and casting patches of shy shimmering light on the tips of the small waves lapping at the shore. Always in motion. Much Like me, at least three quarters of the year. Winter was always a time to pause, perhaps even reset, knowing that the restlessness would begin to build soon enough as the promise of spring made itself known.
Last year was different. I’d spent the evenings staring out of frost-coated panes with visions of sugar plums and exotic locales dancing through my head. California had been on the list. The Azores. Paris. Greece perhaps. An unrealistic list, perhaps, but an inspiring one. How unrealistic, no one could have foreseen as we learned a new vocabulary, one that included lockdown and quarantine…
I began feeling like an animal, trapped in a cage. It was all very dramatic, considering it was a very comfortable cage with all the amenities I could have desired, but the feeling persisted. Hiking, something I’d always loved, quickly became my only outlet, and the memory of the small recently discovered pool began to call to me.
It was just as I’d remembered it. Peaceful despite the sound of it splashing over stone, and into the dark restless waters below. The bluff was a perfect place to dangle my feet while eating hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches. The water was too cold for any sane person to brave. Thankfully, sanity had never been a strong trait in our family. Stripped down to bra and panties I’d taken the plunge several times, even exploring the small cave that I’d glimpsed earlier. It wasn’t very impressive. Deep enough to sit in and gaze out through the curtain of the falls. Of course, armed with imagination, it was much larger. An entranceway to a pirate cove on some occasions. A doorway to a lost civilization on others.
Afterward, I would sit on the large table-like rock at the far end of the pool and let the sun wrap me in invisible arms, sometimes dozing off into hazy dreams. And sometimes I’d just relax at the top of the bluff and play along to the pop songs in my head, thankful that no one could hear me sing out of tune.
Today, however, was different. His ears were cocked as I whisper-sung the lyrics. I wondered if it was in judgment, stifling a giggle at the thought. He was only a fox, after all. He was probably curious about why I was here invading his territory. Or maybe he was looking for a hand-out. He seemed unconcerned by my presence and I wasn’t too worried about his, so I kept at it, picking some more upbeat songs to strum, suddenly aware of the loneliness of the lyrics I’d been choosing for the past half hour. I was no longer alone and I had an audience that I could pretend was appreciative.
And so I sang as he sniffed around, seeming content to explore for a while before pausing once more, close enough that I could see the sunlight reflecting off his dark amber eyes and his orange-red fur. He stared at me and favoured me with a sly smile, or so it seemed, before his ears pricked again and he trotted off into the trees behind us, obviously having something more important to do than listen to my caterwauling. Long enough to ease that feeling of isolation that had taken root within, tangling over time with thorns and sharp-edged leaves. Maybe even long enough to get me through another winter.