paw-prints-583794_960_720A fresh snowfall makes me conspicuous. Suddenly, my once invisible footsteps are evident, making my path easily traceable by the marks I leave. My size seven boot soles, fatly imprinted into the powder, illustrate my route and the slightly open stance of my gait, which I observe behind me, as if tracking a stranger in reverse.

The dogs leave their own distinct traces along the sidewalk as well, pristine dotted toe prints, perfect as any symbol for “paw,” wider and shorter distances between them based on leg-length. The wavy lines of their steps give away their tendency to veer, as they regularly curve off the pavement and onto lawns toward compelling scents. While I know from experience that walking a straight line is not their nature, it has never been so apparent. When they pull me, tether-bound, around a tree in a full circle, I laugh thinking what this would look like to others, our mess of footprints orbiting the trunk like a lopsided halo.

For once, I can see what the dogs “see” with their noses. They avidly follow a line of smaller, clearly feline, prints, and I wonder whether they are actually sniffing or looking, and guess at the former, as the power of our senses are opposite, at least to the best of my understanding.

I am pleasantly surprised when I recognize rabbit tracks: sets of two long parallel impressions followed – or preceded? – by two small, round, offset ones. I know the rabbits live here despite the somewhat urban setting. Occasionally, I see one scamper under the fence in our backyard or catch the flash of a white tail on a neighbor’s lawn. But it’s been some time since I had a good look at one, it’s round little brown body frozen still, pretending that it doesn’t know that I am having a staring contest with it.

I notice how many other dog prints are already here as well, along with the accompanying human prints, each in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. An odd sense of community comes over me, despite my lack of knowing who these steps belong to, and my being alone in the cold. The owners of these marks and I have a common habit.

Tomorrow, wind will blow the snow across our trails, rendering them invisible again. But tonight, the sidewalk tells stories.


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