Taking advantage of a break in the weather, you loose the canoe from the old dock out back,
and push off into the twilight.
The neighbors’ house lights twinkle in your wake
and the oars drop silently, the water dark and thick with cold,
freezing, but not frozen.
The sun isn’t quite up yet, but the sky is clear.
Snow from the last storm sits high on the banks.
You got out early to follow the river, not sure where it goes—
maybe it dwindles to an impassable trickle.
Maybe it dives under a service culvert.
Maybe it goes all the way to Lake Michigan.
On the shore, you sense movement:
A neighbor is out, dressed for ice fishing, ignoring the conspicuous lack of freeze.
He waves you over and you steer for a nearby shoal,
sinking your oar into the ground to hold you still.
“Nice day,” you say, though the chill is still deep, and your fingers feel frozen to the oar handles.
He looks up at the growing color in the sky, and you look too.
“It will be,” he replies and seats himself on the edge of his cooler.
“How can you be sure?” you ask.
He laughs heartily, revealing a crooked picket fence of yellowing lower teeth.
“You can’t be sure about some things,” he says. “Others, you just know.”
You and the neighbor are silent for a moment, studying the horizon.
“Are you going to the holiday parade today?” he asks.
“If the weather holds.”
The man looks at you, and when he speaks again his voice is softer, as though wistful for a better time.
“It’ll hold,” he says.
You wish him good fishing luck and push away from the shoal,
following the sinuous waterway, wherever it takes you.
You pull in the oars and flex your hands to chase out cold numbness.
You turn to look over your shoulder,
at the dark water rolling out before you, the bare trees reaching up to invite snow.
You drift a while and wonder how far away you are from home.