Mystic Writer

Peeking out to see if there is a real world out there...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Crystal reflections


The strap on the crampon won't close, and I try to peer through the ice on my eyelashes to see what's wrong. It's too blurry in the light of my headlamp, and I reach up to try to claw some of the ice free. My fingers are frozen, clumsy chunks of numbness, and I'm only partially successful in clearing my vision. I focus hard on the strap, watch my fingers and move them without feeling, finally hearing the snap of the buckle. I hurriedly pull my glove back on. I can feel the cold of the fabric on the back of my hand and wrist, but nothing lower down.

I swat at the ice around my mouth and nose, break a larger passage to breathe, then clumsily work my gloves through the straps of my poles and resume my hike. The extreme cold has turned the snow to something as hard as glass, and the crampons squeal and crunch with each step.

The rhythmic sounds pull me into a reverie, and I have a sense of July warmth, a weepy humid night. I had called the night a steaming black hell in my first conversation with Lynnea as we yelled over the band in a bar. Despite the heat, our conversation had turned to cold as she told me of her desire to explore Antarctica and I had told her of my love of travel and my nightly winter walks in the extremes of Minnesota winters. It was an incredible conversation, passionate, funny, and in seemingly no time we were being told the bar was closing. More dates followed, and more conversations, ranging all over - math and magic to travel and politics. The days grew too short for all that we had to share, and each morning I would look forward to her first e-mail, and our first phone conversation, and our first kiss in the evening...

A sharp pain over my left cheekbone pulls me back, and I realize I've walked a couple more miles and the trail has turned to the east. The wind that was on my back is now on my left, and the skin on my face that isn't covered by ice is beginning to freeze. I pull my glove off and realize my hand is alive again, touch my cheek and realize it's waxy and very cold. I pull off my backpack and root around, finding a fleece face mask. I undo my hood, pull off my headband, and roll the mask down, wincing as the ice on my eyebrows and cheeks pull at my skin. I hoist my backpack and set off - I hope my left cheek hasn't been frostbitten again.

The first time I'd frostbitten my cheek was on a far below freezing late November day. Lynnea and I had set out on a long hike in northern Minnesota. We were following a trail along a wild river flowing along the base of a series of sandstone cliffs. Snow had yet to fall, and the frigid weather had frozen the water flowing through and over the rock into flows and spears of crystal ice, each structure holding a tiny image of the sun. We walked and climbed along the rocks, bumping and touching, chattering and sometimes quiet, each of us sharing the beauty that we found. In the months we had been dating, I had been trying to keep our relationship from getting too deep - I had only recently been separated from my wife, and I still had a lot of emotion tied up in my feelings about TB. That resolve crumbled that day.

I can still remember the moment exactly - I had lain down on my side to take a photograph of some icicles glowing in the sun, and then I had turned on to my back to snap a photo of Lynnea - she was standing looking up the river towards the low November sun. Sunlight was falling on her face, and light reflecting from the cliffs and river and ice made her glow - her eyes were focussed far off, and I could see by her posture she was holding her breath. Her face was rapturous, and when suddenly her lips parted to let the breath out, I could feel something inside me let go, something warm and tender, and tears flooded my eyes. I don't know what happened next - I know I didn't tell her I was suddenly deeply in love with her. For some reason I no longer remember, I felt I needed to wait.

We kept walking long, finally ending up at a waterfall where we lay side by side, gloved hands clasped and our heavy winter gear lightly touching from head to toe. It was another beautiful moment in a wonderful day, and the feelings I was having swelled to fill my world...

Suddenly I'm having trouble breathing, and I realize the trail has turned again, this time full into the wind. The ice on my face has turned to water and the mask I put on is sodden and it's hard to pull air through. I push my glove up between my face and the mask and look full into the wind. I breathe into the palm of my glove, force the warm air down, and in the brisk wind the wet mask freezes rapidly, and when I pull my glove away, the mask remains tented away from my nose and mouth. I start walking again, feeling despondent and chilled. I try to convince myself that it's just the exertion of pushing through the snow, but a more honest part of myself knows it's the next part of my reverie that is making me tired. With trepidation, I start walking again and resignedly resume my memories.

The drive back from our hike was long, and as we neared the city we pulled into a restaurant for a very late dinner. Our waiter was personable in the near empty restaurant, and he fit himself into the shared glow of our day easily. I remember feeling incredibly happy - my arm around Lynnea, her hand on my leg under the table, laughing and telling stories, my mind full of a future with her, and just as we were leaving the restaurant, I said something like "I think my approach to life is something like a tourist". I don't remember why I said that, but I have no doubt it was on topic and should have been innocuous. It apparently wasn't to Lynnea, as she suddenly became serious, and with a mused "That makes a lot of sense to me", she settled into looking out the window of the car. At first my feelings were hurt at the abrupt change in mood, then, as the drive lengthened and all my statements were met with monosyllabic replies I grew frustrated and then worried. When I dropped her off, she was pleasant but distant, and I went back to my apartment frustrated and tense...

The exhaustion of reliving that memory combines with the real physical exertion of miles of stomping crampons into rock hard snow, and I am shaky and weak, The trail is humping along a series of hills, and the night feels black and impenetrable. I still have a couple miles to go and I feel a hint of the greyness that has filled my life since that evening three years ago.

Lynnea and I continued to date, but her odd attitude remained, and slowly my feelings started to fade to something far more confused and frustrated. In February I tried to say goodbye, and she convinced me not to, but we couldn't seem to find any place happy, and not long after that we decided to try to be friends, and for two and a half years we exchanged e-mails and phone calls and went on outings, and finally, almost exactly a year ago, I said goodbye, because it was simply becoming too painful to be always wanting more than I could have with her...

The hills on the trail have turned to a long curving rise, and I know that when I reach the top it won't be long till I'm back at my car. My long reverie past, I suddenly notice that the snow is glittering, tiny points of light showing everywhere, and then I notice my shadow, inky against the blue white of the snow, and I turn and see the edge of the moon above the far off horizon. Suddenly filled with beauty, I hasten to the top of the hill and see the shadows in the valley seep to the edges and disappear. The branches of the trees below have crests of snow, and everything is edged in twinkling brightness.

Suddenly I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the beauty in my life, and for the future I am turning towards. I pull off my mask and hold my arms out wide, spread to touch the moon, then speak a prayer for health and beauty and good to enter my life. Without thought, and with a mounting sense of excitement, I whisper an invitation to the wind, destined for she who can share my life, strength adding to my strength and joy to my joy, and with that whisper still twirling in the wild night breeze, I find a smile and set off again, following my path with strong and happy steps.

18 Comments:

  • At 9:53 AM, Blogger craziequeen said…

    '[I] hold my arms out wide, spread to touch the moon, then speak a prayer for health and beauty and good to enter my life.'

    I love this sentence - and I think I'll do this :-)

    Here from NetChick again.
    Hope you had a magical Christmas and are ready for a celebrationary New Year!

    cq

     
  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger David said…

    quite timely for me
    i am at a similar point in the trail
    I think i may have a hiking partner soon, thanks be to God.

     
  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger David said…

    i saw your comment on Michele's last post. welcome back

     
  • At 12:18 PM, Blogger Mr. Althouse said…

    I was there with you. I felt it. Man, I sure miss the mountains...

    Here from NetChick.

     
  • At 12:57 PM, OpenID janicelaing said…

    Hello!

    Crystal reflections - great read!

    Janice

     
  • At 5:59 PM, Blogger Shannon H. said…

    Hello NetChick Sent Me!

    That is a beautiful photo.

     
  • At 10:00 PM, Blogger Monica Hamburg said…

    Here from Netchick, too, MW (and really appreciated your visits to and comments on my blog). This is a lovely post.

     
  • At 7:01 AM, Blogger Nikki-ann said…

    That's quite a description... I thought I was cold yesterday when I went on my walk!

    All the best for 2009!

    NetChick sent me :)

     
  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger rashbre said…

    Well written and an edge moment.

    Glad I was sent here to say 'Hello' by Netchick!

    rashbre

     
  • At 4:59 PM, Blogger michelle said…

    also here from netchick. :)

    i agree with craziequeen above, that is a wonderful sentiment and something that i can relate to ... we all need a little beauty and good to enter our lives, and the surprising moments are the best by far.

     
  • At 12:18 AM, Blogger flleenie said…

    Hello, Netchick sent me...

    I loved this piece, but quite frankly I am not surprised at Lynnea's reaction to you stating, "I think my approach to life is something like a tourist". No woman really wants to hear that they are only good enough to be a vacation fling

     
  • At 6:07 AM, Blogger mw said…

    Oh Fleenie, it wasn't about her, but of course you couldn't know that. ... and of course, in retrospect, Lynnea must not have known it either. The comment was about never having felt like I've had a home...

     
  • At 11:41 AM, Blogger Bob-kat said…

    Wonderful post. I could really empathise with how you cna lose yourself in memories when walking adn how those memories can sometimes sustain one on the path (especially under those artic like conditions) but also how sometimes the path can become quite painful. You never quite know where the path will take you.

    Netchick sent me over to say hi.

     
  • At 2:16 PM, Blogger Tawcan said…

    Great post. The mountains are a wonderful place to be. It offers so many things to do.

    Here via Tanya (aka NetChick).

     
  • At 10:47 PM, OpenID nursemyra said…

    I like your story

    Here from NetChick also

     
  • At 1:00 AM, Anonymous shnewt said…

    Great story.

    Netchick sent me.

     
  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Pearl said…

    wow, phenomenal journey in both senses. thanks for sharing it in all that detail.

     
  • At 6:59 PM, Blogger Carmi said…

    You have a wonderful way of painting vivid images of your life's journey, and I found myself hanging on every word.

    Dropped back in from Tanya's to wish you a happy, fulfilling weekend.

     

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