Nothing Much Had Changed At All

The cold and snow came early this year, grinding numerous projects to an inglorious halt, and leveling assumptions about what would get done before winter truly sets in. On Thanksgiving morning it was five degrees below zero, and not much – if any – warmer by day’s end. My younger son and I skied after dark, under the glow of a fat, bright moon, looping through the forest, then across the cleft of the mountain road to the apex of our neighbor’s sloping field and back down again, headlamps turned off to heighten the sensation of speed. Before we’d pushed off I’d made some inane comment about the vastness and beauty of the night sky; he’d merely grunted, and I’d felt old and foolish all over again.

We slid off the hill, then past the old church, over the bridge, and up the driveway, my lungs stinging from the cold. The next morning I turned 47, but it was still cold, still snowy, and it seemed to me as if nothing much had changed at all.


Only As Much

Last night I skied after dark, down past the pond, where less than three weeks ago (I remember the date: November 3) I’d taken my last swim of the season. The water painfully cold then, though surely colder now under its annual rind of ice and snow. I liked the way the beam of light from my headlamp illuminated the individual flakes as they fell. They hovered in the air, a slow descent, each so inconsequential, and yet there I was, gliding atop a foot-deep layer, an unfathomable count.  I remembered reading once that someone had calculated the total number of grains of sand in the world. I couldn’t recall what the number was (trillions? At least), deciding anyway (and on no particular basis) that surely flakes of snow out-number grains of sand.

I turned left past the pond and entered the woods. Not sweating yet, but I could feel it rising, just beneath the skin, that welcome flush before the pores open. The trees close around me, the short reach of my headlamp showing me only as much as I needed to see.





On opening day of rifle season, my son’s alarm rings at 4:00. I hear him rise, descend the stairs, crumple newspaper for the fire. A moment later, the crackle of flames. I lie a few more minutes, then follow him downstairs. He is cooking eggs and sausage on the wood stove. The cat is dozing in his preferred spot on the couch. The stove throws heat, and I stand near it, watching my son cook his breakfast. Not talking, just standing. The smell of butter and egg and sausage and still a little wood smoke from when the fire was young and the stovepipe cold and the chimney draught not fully established. I make coffee. We’re at the table, him eating, me just sitting. Sipping coffee. Still quiet. My son finishes his food, and we murmur about the day, and what it might bring, about the snow that fell in the night. He’s so different than me. It startles me sometimes.

At a little after 5:00 he heads out the door, wanting to be in his stand well before first light. After a bit, I tie on my shoes and head out into the dark, running through the snow down to the town road, which has been plowed but remains slushy. Soon my feet are wet and cold, but the rest of my body feels warm and alive, that delicious thrum of blood, the dark just now beginning to give way. I pass Danny in his truck, already heading to work in the woods on a Saturday morning, and then the road is empty and I run its center, the least-slushy part of it.

By now, my son is up in his stand, and I picture him there, sitting in a maple tree in the cold and quiet woods, thinking thoughts I’ll never know. And I am thinking about how even the people we love the most can sometimes seem so mysterious to us, and yet how we can somehow love them all the more across that mystery, across silence and time and distance, and how this must be the truest love of all, the one unbound by these constraints.

It’s nearly light now and I’m close to home, so I run a little faster.