Bend, Don’t Break

Emma the dog stalking something in the snow.

I am three weeks into a head cold that just won’t quit. I am well enough to go to work but, as I told my co-worker, I feel like half of my energy is going towards snot production. If I was bleeding as much as I am snotting I would be in the hospital for blood loss.

I have two aching shoulders that keep me awake in the night, four months after a mountain bike crash. Only one was injured, but the other one seems to be feeling sympathy pains lately. I’ve tried PT, massage, resting, strengthening, and positive thinking but I still can’t pull a t-shirt over my head in anything resembling a normal fashion.

We are in the middle of a winter that wants to be spring. After a small storm of heavy snow a week or so ago, it has dripped and sputtered rain for two days, making the trails both boggy mud and perfectly smooth ice.

Maybe these are the things weighing me down, as I feel blighted by a lack of enthusiasm, a mental malaise. I am even tired of looking for the bright side, though of course there is a bright side: the smog has finally cleared out of the valley and I can give the air purifier a rest.

The dogs, though, must be walked, so we seek out the steepest south-facing ridge lines that drain water and sort of resemble dirt. Without winter snow or spring sunrise Emma disappears completely into the landscape, the exact value of shrubs and mud in the cloudy twilight. I periodically hear the jingle of her collar over the sound of raindrops on the hood of my jacket and my phlegmy labored breathing as we work our way to the ridge. Mack is a dark shadow moving ahead on the trail, the flash of white on his tail a dim flag. I carry a headlamp but have preferred the anonymity that darkness allows.

Yesterday we passed only one jogger on the trail, two lights strapped to his body, as he very slowly navigated the icy corners. Today we saw no one, though maybe there were others out there who also prefer to remain in the dark. Or maybe dark and drippiness has softened the hardcores into staying inside. The dogs are happy enough to be outside but seem equally content curled up on their memory foam beds.

I miss the snow, the way it transforms the landscape into a place that is crisp and bright. The way it shows the tracks of animals who have moved over and across the mountains. The texture and fluff, the squeak of packed snow under my shoes, the silence that descends on gullies. The absolute, pure joy that it brings to the dogs. Mud and ice are much more in sync with the raucous energy of spring, when the birds chatter and the daylight returns, the first glacier lilies poke through the earth. Mud season in January just means more ice and mud to come.

The Strawberry River covered with ice
The rivers are also ice, if you go way up high.

None of this is a big deal compared to mudslides, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and political chaos. It is just one moment in one winter that is not behaving. Some people are flying to Japan to ski or heading to the desert to ride bikes. Others are doggedly driving to the resorts to make the best of it on manmade snow and limited terrain. The snow forecaster is trying his best to give us hope with possible unsettled weather patterns 10 days out. We all do our best to be flexible.

Ultimately, I am so, so lucky to have trails and dogs and nice raincoats, and the choice to hunker in or creep around in the dark. I’m crossing my fingers the shoulder doc will fix me right up. And the snot has to end sometime.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA