Contemplations In The Cold

Kelly Nicholson  |   Friday Dec. 31st, 2021

It’s finally Saturday again. There’s no alarm to wake me before my body is ready, no rush to gather my wits for the drive across town to punch a timecard. It’s a day to rest as long as I need to.

Magpie complaints eventually rouse me from sleep and, with eyes still closed, I pull the heavy blanket to my chin and eavesdrop on their conversation. Is there an eagerness in their voices this morning? I roll over to open the blinds a few inches. A layer of fresh snow envelops the view–curved forms of hidden cars and impressions of angled roofs, sagging tree branches and undisturbed sidewalks. The magpies investigate suspicious shapes in the yard. I’d like to remind them they didn’t find anything good there yesterday, but I don’t want to spoil the hunt.

Coffee sounds good. Add a big scoop of honey and I’m on the move, wrapped in my oversized purple robe and shuffling through the house in down slippers, pausing every few paces to sip from my mug. What will I do with myself today once the important task of waking up is done? Stopping at the bookshelf, I find myself in one of my favorite spots in the house. So much possibility in front of me; so many journeys to take, without having to leave the house. Except that I’d really like to leave the house today. After another cup of coffee and some eggs.

A half-unfolded map catches toast crumbs as I scan the topo lines. It’s hard to get away during the week, so I’m looking for something a little secluded today. I find a less popular trail outside of town with a couple of options for distance. Perfect. I start to shift into adventure mode, pulling on base layers and mentally noting where my gear is scattered. I chuckle as I find myself agreeing with the magpies: it is a good day to play in the snow.

I slice an apple, fill a water bottle, and pack a few snack bars. After filling my Thermos with hot soup, I add some extra layers and bear spray to my sun-faded daypack, checking the bag for shoe traction devices and remembering to grab trekking poles–I am not known for my graceful movements. A small pair of binoculars rounds things out and I’m ready to see the world. It’s still overcast as I leave the city limits; it starts to snow again as cellphone service disappears. I find the brown sign I’m looking for, turn left, then right, and right again as the road starts to twist and turn, the old green station wagon happy to be trundling along in the woods once more.

The last couple of years have seen me return to a slower hiking pace. I stop more often, and I sometimes write notes. I take deep breaths and contemplate the trees around me. It takes me a little longer to get somewhere, but I’m in no hurry. Several miles down the trail, an aspen stand waits in silent reverie, shoulder to shoulder, separate above and linked below. I close my eyes and wiggle toes inside my boots, hoping that the trees will let me join them. The snow is deeper in this section of the forest and absorbs all sound. It’s eerily quiet here; I’m sure I’m being watched. Snow falls from a nearby branch, though there is no breeze. A quick glance at the map tells me I’m halfway out, so with hackles raised, I turn back the way I have come.

A strong wind greets me as I descend into a small meadow. There is more snow coming and my knees know it. My senses point me back toward the waiting station wagon, and I am still deep in reverie when I emerge from the woods. I grin when I realize where I am–there is hot soup and a down blanket in the front seat. Sitting inside the car, I watch the windows fog as I sip the broth. A few thoughts decide they need to be written down and I frown at my cold-handed scribble. The station wagon rattles to life a moment later. An old Dolly cassette is stuck in the tape deck, and I’m headed back home.

The drive back is just as beautiful as the drive to the trailhead had been, but now there are flannel pajamas, leftovers, and a half-read book at the end of the road. My body feels strong, and my mind is clear. I could use a whole week of these kinds of days, but it’s still Saturday, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

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