The sun gods smile down on the snowscape that surrounds me while the snow keenly winks back with a blue glint in its eye. Vistas open as I round bends on the rolling trail and follow snowshoe tracks and paw prints. On the way up, I walk carefully, choosing my steps with caution as the week’s thaw and freeze has left an icy path in its wake. A lean and deft trail runner, Alaskan malamute leading the way, appears suddenly and breezes past as fluidly as a taut sailor keeling along wind and water. I gather his grace in deep draughts.
My lungs expand and empty, expand and empty, expand and empty into the hush of the forest. A surefooted rhythm emerges.
Snow owls are rumored, but not seen. Only the creaks of tree limbs call across the mountain, as if aching for their missing leaves, save for the oaks and beeches – their dried and tawny remnants from last year won’t molt until spring buds release them. It is myth that winter is barren and colorless, for as the angle of afternoon rays travels with haste across the brumal sky, silvery grays and mushroomy browns creep into craw and crevasse until the white all but disappears.
I climb a nearly two-story boulder, then chuckle at the metaphor. In woods there are no edifices of note, nests and dams aside. I glance down. Lichen curls like paint chips on the oversized rock, or, I guess – it curls like lichen. How long until I can truly see this wonderland? How long until the mountaintop stops laughing at me?
I pick my way on slippery rocks across a half-frozen stream, watching the pellucid waters swirl under shallow sheets that soon crack and fall into a tumbling current. On the far side, I crouch to peer at myriad architectures of ice and earth and wonder what universes are captured in these tiny crystal castles. Who reigns in these miniature kingdoms?
Like meditating, January quiets the mind. Thoughts slow. The cold focuses attention, the eyes narrow in scope and see with eagle-eye precision. A world, otherwise masked by the flurry and flutter of fertility, is revealed.
Now, I am aware of nose hairs and that soft spot in my right ankle.
I begin to remember…exactly why I came here.