White powder swirls and twirls in the howling wind. Air that’s barely there and dry as old bones cuts through multiple different types of fabric layered one upon the other to try and protect my skin from this brutal environment as I stare out into the miles of blinding snow. Movement. A black speck in the vastness jolts me as I spin my head around. I squint my eyes before covering them with high powered glass allowing me to enhance the image until I make out the white, furry creature plastered against a background one shade lighter than it seems to be. His back bows up like a furious cat about to strike out in revenge as his small legs prance beneath him. It’s like a cross between a rabbit and a deer with ears plastered back against his head, nose pointed, and despite the wind pummeling its face with ice crystals, his black, beady eyes are focused on whatever lies ahead.
He slows his trot. At a snails pace, he comes to a standstill, turns his head back in the direction in which he just came, and lifts his nose up just enough for me to notice. Another step here and then there. I wonder what’s caught his attention. His nose twitches a bit before he pounces again and again at the frozen ground. Front legs crash down as he claws at the ice, snow, and solid earth in search of something, anything, that might fill the gnawing stomach crying out to him.
My heart stops when another white creature many times larger than the one previously captivating my attention comes into my viewfinder. I fear for the snowfox, or perhaps for my own life, but the polar bear doesn’t seem as interested in the two of us as we are in him. Once the threat is gone, I watch as the snowfox curls tightly in a ball and wraps his long, black-tipped white tail around his bundled up body like a comforter. I find myself jealous of his God made shield from the ruthless beating of nature as I search out my own shelter while trying not to lose the ball of life I came here to find.
Defeat does not quiet the fox for long. Warmth brings back another surge of energy. That or the grumbling of his tummy interrupts his slumber. Regardless, he is back on the move. I watch the swirling white powder and wonder in which direction the wind will blow my scent. Leave too soon, and I will spook him away. Stay back too far, and I will lose sight of him with no guarantee of another sighting this season. He’s a mere speck in the distance when I step away from my own resting space. My legs are numb and heavy, slowing my stride. Anxiety creeps up and tries to strangle me driving me forward while trying to hold me back.
The glass brings him closer and closer to me until it seems I can reach out and touch him. He creeps as if he’s in slow motion before he comes to a stop with one paw resting barely above the snow. His back legs stiffen and his tail seems to flatten out behind him as his front legs get closer and closer to the ones behind them. Like a sudden explosion, he springs through the air like Tigger in the classic, Winnie the Pooh. His front legs crash into the hard ground with a thud before he frantically starts clawing and scratching the surface away.
Suddenly, he stops the madness. His nose sniffs the ground first and then the air. He’s on the move. His quest to hush his stomach far from over.
The next half hour is quite comical. He bounds through the air with all his might only to crash face first into the soft snow burying his face along with his front feet. His back legs and tail lash out in distress, frantically thrashing about in an attempt to save himself. He rolls out of his own disaster, but it doesn’t stop him from trying again and again. This time he springs feet above the ground only to smack his face into the hard, frozen soil. He shakes his head back and forth as if he’s recovering from a concussion. His nose seems to recover first. Then, his instincts kick in second. After that, he bounces feet above the ground again. First, he plants his face into a snowdrift before somersaulting out of it as if he does it all the time – which he does. Over and over again, he springs through the air only to slam his feet into the ground beneath him, or bury himself into the blanket of softened snow, or face plant into the frozen earth. I laugh deep within myself but maintain the control needed to keep the melody from ringing across the artic plains.
Instantly, something changes. Not like a dramatic change. But a quiet and nearly unnoticeable change. Pinks and purples begin swirling in with shades of white glistening in the jewels of this cold haven. The fox stops jumping. He quickly sniffs here and there and moves along a straight line. His stomach has to be yelling at him by now as he cocks his head one way and then the other as if he’s wondering where his dinner has gone.
I watch as he prepares himself to liftoff. He flies up into the air and comes crashing down. His entire face is buried beneath the snow, but this time he doesn’t seem to panic. There’s something unique about all of this. His legs wave in excitement instead of fear. His tail wags with zeal. I know before I ever see it with my own eyes – today’s going to be a great day. I can feel it!
There it is – the lemming hangs limply from his mouth. A smile of pride and gratitude lighten the mood and calm the wickedness of the wilderness. The hunt is over for today, but in order to survive, he will have to hunt again tomorrow. But today . . . today, he beat the element. Today, he won!
I put away my binoculars and grab my camera. I snap the picture of white creature against white canvas and know whenever I get home, I will be on my own quest to find the reason for my adventure and subject of my laughter. I’ll squint into the blinding whiteness of the photo in search of this magnificent creature, the reason I stand frozen in the empty, silence of this quiet section of the world.