On the morning of my 51st birthday, I emerge from the woods on my skis at the top of the mountain road just as a man in a black Subaru glides over the crest and slows to a stop. His window descends. “See any tracks up there,” he asks, and I know he means deer because he’s dressed all in orange and it’s the height of rifle season, and when I say “no” (because it’s true, I didn’t see any, or at least not any to speak of), he smiles and says “I got one this morning,” and that’s how I end up shoulder to shoulder with a stranger in the middle of the road on the morning of my 51st birthday, me in my ski boots, he in his Lacrosses, peering into the hatchback of his Forester at a pretty little four-pointer with just that one spot of blood where the bullet entered. You’d think there’d be more to it, but no. Just that one spot. Just that small bloom of red.
A week later, and the snow is all but gone. A storm is approaching, the thermometer rising into the 40s. Before the rain, I walk a portion of the same route I’d skied the week before. Rifle season is over and muzzleloader season has yet to begin; there are no other cars at the trailhead. I have the woods to myself. The trail is a mix of hard-packed snow and open water; the sky a monochromatic grey, so dim and unchanging that my sense of time feels off. Have I been walking for 10 minutes, or 30? I know that it’s morning, but it somehow feels as if it could be nearing nightfall, as if I’ve been awake for 10 hours, rather than two, and the wind blows in sporadic gusts that sway the treetops but on the ground can barely be felt at all.