The cave stood out on that bright, clear day
when the sunlight bleached the rocky face and
a dark mouth opened wide as if calling us inside.
But we had finished our hike; we were tired, hungry,
ready to settle into the habits of tea and writing and
reading and sloshing around in creative juices.
“We’ll hike up to it tomorrow.” We’d said,
happy to have an adventure ahead.
Tomorrow brought a winter storm
with snow falling heavy with those big flakes
that look like multiple flakes hitching rides with
each other and landing firmly in heaps with
the intent of forming a snowflake ladder
back up and home, and the world turned white.
Our normal hike, a trail loosely forged
up and down the mountains, ad-libbing the rocks,
was called on account of snow.
“Let’s hike to the cave today.”
“In the snow?”
“Yeah. Why not?”
Snow, as it fell, became a third hiker,
like meeting someone on the trail who changes
the character of a hike because they have an
There were moments when it landed so silently
we felt we had gone deaf and then others when it
echoed with a soft pelting patter on the Gore-Tex
of our raincoats, asserting its distinction from rain.
We made nostalgic stabs at catching a flake
on our tongue, laughing at how that instant
melting sensation of wet and cold was almost
imperceptible. Then the wind redirected it
straight into our faces and we collected them
on our eyelashes instead.
Each footfall was an adrenalin rush, some barely
indenting the surface and others like pile drivers,
burying our legs to the knees and making steps
seem like an exercise in agility – ‘get those knees up!’
All the while that squeaky, powdery slipperiness against
the tread of our boots that made uphill harder and
gave us few unexpected slide rides on the downhills,
carving out a luge track lined with a russet streak of
upturned slushy mud and shaking off the icy sting to
our bums and the backs of our thighs when we
stood back up.
We missed the cave at first, walking past it even while
we caught ourselves looking for it, the bright tan rocks
from the day before obscured by falling snow and
an atmospheric gray.
The narrow alley of the box canyon led us under
snow-covered evergreens that sprinkled our necks with
snow as we swiped them, hunched over and crossing
underneath, and challenged our skills at navigating
large boulders made slippery with snow.
We lost sight of the cave several times, but the leafless
crown of a tree – maybe dead, maybe deciduous – led us
to its mouth.
The cave was shallower than we thought, but wide and tall
and dry, except for splotches of snow that had blown in
through small crevices and painted the wall white.
A pile of black alligator wood ended thoughts of
first-finder’s claim. Of course this cave would have
enticed others, though, and we sat in silence as we
looked out at the driving snow and thought of all the
eyes that had captured its views and of all the bodies
that had gratefully accepted its shelter.
We followed the meandering tracks of coyote and rabbit
and raccoon and imagined the areas of disturbed ground
and excavated ground as beds where they waited out
a bitter, snowy night.
A tree grows there, inside the cave, rooted
in its floor and extending up and through
a large cleft in its ceiling. Because things find a way,
don’t they? They find a way to grab little bits of
sunshine in an otherwise darkened world.
And when the snow falls, it falls through this
crevice, coating the trunk of the tree. And when
you stand there, the snow falls on you too. And it
feels different. Magical. Like an ancient dusting
imbued with the memory of a thousand years.
We giggled like kids and pondered the ephemeral
like adults in one lucky moment.
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