Wisps of fog cloak the valley. Spider-webs glisten among the tussock. Cold inhibits smell. Early rays sneak across the paddock, consuming darkness. Nothing else moves.
A lyre bird’s mimicry sends reverberations of song around his territory. Branches shudder in the awakening bush, dropping crystal tears. Wafts of damp earth and rotting bark rise from dew-soaked leaf litter.
A vixen tip-toes out of the copse, head down sniffing for food. Her tail-tip twinkles with silver dust from frosted grasses. She leaves a delicate trail of meandering paw-prints behind giant ogre shadows.
Morning light glows on her russet coat and reflects from her predator’s eyes. She stops, front paw raised. Her pointed nose turns to a huddle of trees, shivering their leaves in the rising breeze. Following the scent, she lopes across the frozen ground and ducks under a fallen log on the edge of the forest. An echidna turns in hibernation, stirred by flickering sunbeams.
The fox digs. She scratches at the debris, lumped together in tangled rot. Her victim curls tighter and tucks his head beneath his body. The disturbance continues, hot breath brushing his face. He raises his prickles and dashes backward. The fox concedes defeat – she has no tactics against such weaponry.
The treetop chorus climbs in decibels as if laughing at her failure. Vulpes vulpes turns and heads back across the open field. Her body ripples with every stride, golden highlights over ochre. Her tongue lolls as she bounds from track to rock, rock to riverbank. She pauses to look around. Distant hills take form, layers of deepening greys against an azure backcloth.
Winter warmth loosens ice, freeing the stream to burble over pebbles of sapphire, topaz, and amethyst. Mini-icebergs tumble to oblivion in the current. The vixen laps at the water, careful not to wet her face. Trout rouse from their torpor, a shimmering rainbow mirage, cautious of the invasion. Hungry eyes follow their path, but the frigid waters discourage venturing further.
The sun climbs to its zenith, barely above the tops of the eucalypts. Moss-covered rocks absorb what little heat reaches the ground. Tired of the hunt, the fox lies against a boulder and luxuriates in the shelter. She dozes, but hunger is a cruel master. As shadows lengthen, she rises and continues on her way.
Rabbits graze in the valley below, laying on reserves before the snows come in earnest. The last of the afternoon sun blends their bodies with the short dry pasture. A magpie’s shrill cry penetrates the air. The cony cease nibbling, heads raised in alarm, whiskers twitching. In a flash they are gone, scurrying down tunnels to await the passing of danger.
Darkness stretches across the rolling fields. Sounds dim and hues fade. The vixen shivers and trots hungrily on. Stillness settles with the sun, gone for another long winter’s night.
‘Winter Sunshine’ by Paula Boer was first published by Indigo Dreams Press in their Winter 2010 Anthology Visible Breath.