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.


Always on Our Way

On election night the sky is cloudless and a shade of almost-blue from the light of the moon. It’s the coldest it’s been in weeks, though no colder than one might reasonably expect this time of year, and I recall that two years ago, I skied on the morning of election day. Not this year. Not even close. Why, just this weekend, I swam in the pond, though it’s true I didn’t exactly linger.

I walk to the town hall to cast my vote as well as count those cast by others, the moon so bright I don’t even need the headlamp I’ve brought. At a distance, I can see the shadowed outline of the church, and far beyond and above that, the spinal column of the mountains to the east, and I think that it’s nice to be reminded that despite the crazed fever dream infecting so many who yearn for the power we might grant them, there remain still larger, more enduring forces at play.

One of my favorite things about counting votes is seeing how many of my neighbors have split their tickets. They’ll vote for our Republican incumbent governor (wildly popular, and about as moderate a Republican as one might happen upon these days, but still), then vote for the most progressive of the Lt Governor candidates, before veering Republican again. Or vice versa. For some, the votes are split evenly across parties up and down the ballot, an almost willful demonstration of independent thinking just to prove we won’t do what’s expected of us. Not here. Not in this town.

Ninety minutes later, I walk home, the moon just as high and bright as it was an hour-and-a-half ago, the sky still that endless blueblack color. I hear a large animal moving through a copse of trees at the road’s edge; a deer, most likely. Through those same trees, I see moonlight glinting on the surface water of the beaver pond and stop to watch it. It’s a new pond; the beavers moved in only the fall before last – built a dam, built a lodge, made a home – but already it seems like they’ve been there forever. Eventually, they’ll have felled the last of the trees within beaver-distance of their new home; they’ll move on, and the dam will slowly fail. Or perhaps it won’t fail, perhaps it will be strengthened by debris from upstream, making their way down the mountain and into the pond to be caught in that intricate web of sticks.

I hear a car making it’s way down the mountain road. I hear laughter and voices as others emerge from the town hall. Everyone on their way to somewhere else. Always on our way to somewhere else.