The evening is warm for winter - 35’ Fahrenheit. Fish Creek is to my right, and its burble is soothing in the dusk. The packed trail is easy to follow, and the soft snow to either side holds the tell-tale tracks of today’s frolicking dogs.
The steady but not too-long climb to the ridge is welcome, it feels good to move briskly. I can tell it’s been a few weeks by the way my lungs are working. Partway up, a thick, low-hanging bough reaches across the trail as if to bar the way. Stepping to the side I post-hole and that seems a good time to turn on my headlamp, though I keep it at the dimmest setting.
Cresting the ridge would be obvious even with my eyes closed - the trail levels out and the breeze picks up to a light wind. The wind fills my ears and does a quick sweep, effectively clearing out my head. It also brings a scent, a tinge of pine but more an earthy smell of my surroundings, which is strange because the landscape is covered in snow. It feels both comforting and exhilarating.
The stars show in the midnight blue overhead, reminding me of the first time I ever slept under them. One night on a fourth-grade field trip to Death Valley, a couple friends and I moved out of our tent and lay staring into the sky, a sky that became more star-filled the longer we gazed. It was my first experience of the unfathomability of our universe. More than awe, it was the beauty that stood out to me, and the way that beauty seemed to multiply as more and more stars made themselves known.
Heading back down I wonder who might be looking at me from the trees and shrubs. Mountain lion? Fox? I’ve seen evidence of elk on other trails, but they don’t seem to have much interest in this one. It is full dark and some cloud cover has moved in. The wind is intermittent, and rattles the leaf corpses, dead for months, still clinging to skeletal branches.
At the creek I take in the sound of the water once more. Such a luxury to hear flowing water under all that snow in the middle of winter. This water that flows every day, at all hours, year-round.
I am reluctant to end my time here though I’m approaching the trailhead parking. It is time to head home. I’m lucky that I can come here again. I am lucky that though I’m leaving this place, I can still smell, faintly, the earth-scented wind, and hear, just barely, the gentle flow of the creek, and see, in my mind’s eye, the blue-white stars in the sky.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT