The red morning sun was like an angry eye on the horizon pressed into a flat wide slit. The rain had been so hard I had the wipers on full tilt fishtailing over the pass, both hands on the wheel. And once at the trailhead there were no cars, no one anywhere, just snow plows and dark clouds, wind, blowing snow. Like so many times before my inside voice begged, please turn back: the weather had gotten worse, I’d never been on this trail, I was alone…but moving quickly to keep warm I duct-taped my heels, stuffed two bagels in my pack, slammed the hatch shut and stopped on the overpass to snap a picture, one last look at my car.
I kept the car cold coming down to not get too comfortable. I sat behind the wheel leaning forward, shivering. I’d learned that taking cold showers is best if you’re getting ready for snow camping, to condition your body for discomfort. And oddly, over time you start to crave the animal energy that comes with fighting the cold and learn how vital your body warmth is, a reminder we’re still alive.
I walked eight miles and didn’t see another soul. Another hundred and I’d cross the Oregon border. I got to the lake, cleared a ledge of snow off by a small stand of trees and pulled out my tent, moving fast to stake it out. I wiggled into my sleeping bag and cinched it shut, burying myself so deep I disappeared…and with the sound of snow on the tent fabric I remembered a night in December a long time ago, the Holiday Ball, a winter dance. I didn’t have a date but my ex-girlfriend was there and at the end of the night we danced and both knew we’d get back together. When we left it was snowing and I was so happy walking home, down streets with Tudor houses and Christmas trees inside, snow in the streetlamp glow. Stopping in the middle of the road to listen to it gathering. So quiet, so in love. Not everything needs to mean something because few things do…keep your eyes open for moments that matter, they’re few.
It got so quiet I realized the snow had stopped and the sun was coming out. I shook off the tent and laced up my boots, went looking for water. Caught the hook of the moon coming up over a cornice, wrapped everything so it wouldn’t freeze, stowed my bear canister away from the tent. Woke before dawn and saw a shooting star, boots so stiff I couldn’t get them on. Took a picture of tracks in the snow hiking out, tried to imagine what kind of animal it was, bigger than me. On the drive back I felt alive and strong sucking down a Red Bull and peeling oranges with one hand, picturing myself with Dawn and the kids at home later fixing dinner, curled up by the TV with a blanket, finishing my book.
The seemingly banal was not. Like flakes of snow, each one unique in shape and form. The look of the lake frozen over when the first light of morning came. Mars on the horizon at night: a warm, red eye. Every moment had its way of becoming something larger through the space between observation and portrayal. And in that space all was won or lost. Magic, or otherwise.