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  • Winter Storm Pax dumped a Narnia of snow into our yard & the surrounding woods of our new home a few days ago. The surreal winter beauty and less-than-punishing temperatures finally entice me beyond our tree line for the first time, snow-shoed & parka-ed, traipsing awkwardly behind John as he breaks trail.

    He is an endurance athlete. I am not. An exciting adventure for him is skiing off-piste in the Alps. I’m more excited about finding local libraries or eateries or museums—I’ll walk to get me there, but otherwise my pursuits are slow-paced or sedentary and I like it that way. John is perpetual motion—biking, skiing, hiking, wakeboarding, skating, while I prefer to sit still in a comfy spot and read. How we ended up together, I couldn’t tell you, but it works in a way that only serves to validate my long-held suspicion that there are mysterious forces at play in this world that I can’t begin to understand.

    He is fun to be with in the woods. He spends a lot of time there, in all seasons, a regular woodcraft ninja, and loves to have an audience for showing off his favorite haunts, sharing what he knows about the comings and goings of the wildlife. He is very patient with my pace; I get the impression he doesn’t want to scare me off with too hard a work-out this first time—he wants me to want to come back.

    I know I am way too noisy for him, with my snowshoes clanking together, and the way I can’t help but make a grab for a sapling here and there as we climb the hill. When we pause so I can catch my breath, I feel alarmed at how loud my breathing and heartbeat are, and wonder if he’s inwardly cringing at all my noise out here in his sacred space. But when I look up at him, he is smiling and happy.

    He is silent as a shadow, even breaking trail, and communicates mostly in hand gestures. I’m pleased when I decipher a particularly animated communiqué to mean something like: “see how those prints were obviously made by a goofy, bounding animal? That’s just a dog”. When he does use his voice, it is barely audible, non-sibilant with no hard p’s, a low murmur in his throat that sounds like wind through trees. I only catch half of it over the pounding of blood in my ears, nodding and smiling, thinking: Yes—you do “show-and-tell", I’ll do "breathing."

    He leads me up to meet an old stone wall that we will cross before heading off in a different direction (he knows north or south, I know only the backs of his heels). I have past the point now where I think my gently-used heart is going to explode in my chest, killing me (I hope at least somewhat) instantly. My legs hurt, but I keep that to myself, pushing through, continuing the climb, the thought “Just so you know, this is still uphill, not down like you promised” a continuous loop in my mind that I can’t spare the breath to voice.

    In spite of my confidence that there is no way I will survive this activity, I eventually reach a point where I feel… good. My heart can handle this and my breathing is deep to feed it. My trusted guide has not killed me with his enthusiasm to get me moving. I have not allowed my grumbling thoughts to unseat the smile I have for him. My legs are stronger than I thought and we are immersed in an amazing snowscape together, clear-headed, happy. We eventually do head downhill and I can see the soft glow from the back porch in the fading light. We will go in and shed layers and cool our warm cheeks, and I will curl up with a good book and a mug of tea. I will also think about following him back up in there tomorrow, if he’ll have me.
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