My boots are slightly too big. My feet slide a little bit inside as I walk, forward and back. By the end of my half hour roundabout they will have had a thorough falling-out with my socks who will have slouched and slid down and made annoying little ridges under the arch of each foot. My big boots make a crumping noise on the crushed crystals of the frozen snow. It's dark but for the puddled glow of the streetlights, strung like beads along each path and road. There, where the path curves away into the trees, one bead of light is missing. It's a little spooky walking the snail trail tunnel in the dark all alone. Crunch, crunch, crunch goes the ice beneath my boots.
Suddenly, I realize that I can hear crunching that ISN'T MINE. Is there someone following me through the shadowed snowscape and the wintry winds? I strain my ears and slow just slightly to throw off my stride and differentiate between my crunching and this new, not-me noise. Crump, crump, crump CRUMP. It's probably just someone walking their dog, the snail trail is a very popular place for dog-walking, since it's nearly the only non-paved, tree-lined path in the village. Crump, crunch. Earlier I passed Leo, the big-headed Rhodesian Ridgeback that lives across the street with our neighbor Tobias, but they were headed the other way, back toward the warm lights in their windows.
I can't take it anymore and swing around to look; the noise is RIGHT BEHIND ME.
There's no one there.
The little creek that runs beside the trail is silent and still though the water isn't frozen. It's a black shiny snake between the white banks. Someone took a snowplow through here a few weeks ago, the treadmarks are still sculpted and patterned, trimming each side of the path neatly. There are bootprints and pawprints between the icy patches. Evidence of new year revelry lies charred and forgotten beneath the birches. I keep moving, because it's too cold to stand still. There it is again. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Suddenly, I realize where the noise is coming from and laugh: it's the little box of Tic-Tac's in my coat pocket, swinging back and forth with each step.
My chin stays tucked into my scarf, which is tightly snugged around my throat. I detest hats so in a concession to the elements (don't say it, idahoswede!), I've got a winter headband on, adorned with what else? Moose, of course. My arms swing freely, and by the end of the path I can feel my back and neck muscles loosening and lengthening with each stride. This is a good way to end the day, pulling out all the tensions and the bad posture and sending them flowing down each leg to be flung to the ground and stepped on, crunch crunch.
Ahead, the black silhouettes of a dog and a walker (rendered gender-free by the neutral blocking bulk of a down coat) pass over the street to the meadow and disappear. There is no one else about, until a child appears, walking rapidly toward me, an incongruous blow-up rubber boat hoisted over her head. "Hej," she greets me, without breaking her stride. "Hej," I return. There's no attempt at conversation with anyone on these walks; I suspect it would be different if there was a dog at my knee. My breath puffs and fogs, my glasses opaque and clear repeatedly.
Turning toward home, I turn into the wind. Holy snowballs, it's COLD. The fringe from my scarf reaches up and pats my face with soft and chilly fingers. My earlobes are so cold they feel pierced. I can hear the wild laughter and shrieks of children playing, the wind has picked up the sound and carried it clear over the village. I turn the corner around the library and see small capering forms lit against the white sheeted background of the meadow slope: they are having a snowball fight. A girl in a red snowsuit heaves a handful of packed roundness, no one will ever tell her she throws like a girl. It flies under the streetlamps, lit like a comet and whumps into the plowed piles at the edge of the hill. The boys jeer, relieved to be out of range, I suspect.
I am hungry now and head for my reward, virtuous with my half hour nearly gone: Anders has brought home sushi for dinner, the darling man!