Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Skipping Stones

Cherry leaves clinging
Last year’s cherry leaves still clinging to the branches

Last year’s cherry leaves still clinging to the branches

After seven days of insomnia, the last three of which I got no more than three hours of sleep, I finally put my foot down and forced myself to reset my biological clock. Two nights ago I struggled to keep my mind from spinning out of control in the darkness, but to no avail, and so the snowshoeing day trip I had planned for myself fell through. I was just too exhausted to attempt walking in the mountains… Probably not even a good idea. So yesterday I forced myself to stay awake all day, no matter how woozy I got, so that by the evening I could be exhausted enough to make it through the night.

It worked, sort of. It was a fitful slumber: I kept waking to the pellmell rotating of my miind as it slid over various sticking points like the tines of a mucis box. During the week before my mind was an amorphous mass, all the anxieties and self-doubts bristing with urgency, so that none of it made any sense, but sifted through with a kind of red alert alarm: “I have to get all this stuff done now! I have to make the big changes *now*! It can’t wait till morning. I’ve put things off for far too long!”

Of course, by morning the troubles had accumulated to the point of mild insanity. My heart and head throbbed and just trying to accomplish daily responsibilities served to nudge me into irate outbursts. I couldn’t think straight.

Waking last night, though, I waded into the pools of anxiety and just stood there, taking deep breaths. Calming the wild-eyed horse inside me. Whispering to myself as if I were a skittish wild animal. Being gentle to myself and telling myself that everything was okay. That the morning would come and I could take a first step. The poinding heartbeats slowed, the fingers of cold air that seemed to have slipped under my quilt drew back, and the odd shadows around the room relaxed into familiar forms… a jacket, a bed post, a slipper, a book…

It reminded me of what one of my oldest friends, my first girlfriend, A., from Germany, a treasured friend since I was fourteen, said to me when I last saw her just after my wedding: “I think you don’t feel safe in the world and that is why you can’t sleep at night.”

How right she was. I rarely have trouble taking naps during the day. Perhaps it is the free rein of my imagination that partners with the darkness and the wind outside the bedroom window.

And then there is the silent presence of my wife beside me in the bed, to whom I cannot turn for reassurance or conversation. Too often the solution is to roll out of bed and tiptoe into the living room where I turn on the light so as to banish the wraiths floating about. Or occasionally to huddle in the darkness there, while my pet turtle eyes me from his rock, whispering to myself all the mistakes I have made, or all the wrongs I have commited, or confirming my cowardice over taking a stance and changing my life. Sometimes I switch on the late night TV and begin weeping with the sentimental movies. A stupid, weak, inadequate, pupper of a man for not holding up to the expectations and wishes of the women in my life. Or so I sometimes keep telling myself. What is it they want? Why do I have to continually fight to remain myself around them? Why is it that my sense of identity and joy has come to revolving around some other person’s whims? What happened to that adventurous and world-delighted boy who always knew what he wanted and the way he wanted to live?

Perhaps, and more likely, it is the sheer grip I have on my own expectations of myself and no one else can live up to those standards. Not even myself. I look over my shoulder and recall all the times my wife, my family, and my friends have told me that I am a difficult man, someone whom it is hard to like. An accusation that feels like arrows every time.

But I never willed myself to be this way. I never set out to cause others to find me difficult. It is like sitting in a tree and watching my shell perform some other person’s play. From up here all I can confirm is that I feel as vulnerable as anyone, as human as all of you out there. It doesn’t matter that I am a man. Or that some of you are women. Or that the way I perceive the world or act within it is any less strange or difficult or incomprehensible than that of anyone else.

I feel sad all the time these days, 24 hours a day. Even when I am laughing with my students or with my wife it is surrounded by sadness. I just cannot shake it. I read other people’s blogs, record the onward flow of their lives, listen to the range of activities and relationships and interests, and I get more and more down. I am jealous. I feel that I am trapped and haven’t a clue how to get out. I try to think my way out of it, but the logical arguments cancel one another out. I try to adopt a “positive” attitude as so many people (who always seem to be in an upward swing of their life at the time) keep harping for me to do, forcing myself to joke around and laugh, being silly when I don’t feel silly, or switching to intellectual argument mode, so as to keep from feeling anything. From people who don’t know me, haven’t taken the time or had the inclination to know and spend time with me over the years and see the whole, instead focusing on one little incident or stray comment that sums up, to them, who I am and what I am like.

And it seems it has been this way a long time now. Few people have watched me struggle with these past few years, at least not intimately. Almost no one has spent physical time with me, sat with me, shared times of quiet or laughter or eating together or just walking together. Not even my wife. And so I’ve been breaking down, slowly but surely. Loneliness and silence can softly rip you apart.

My inentions are good, but I never mention the leaks in the hull. I haven’t opened up about my breakdown on this blog so as to protect others and keep them from worrying. I kept repeating over and over that keeping quiet was a good thing, a strong and mature thing. That there was nothing to be done about it any way.

But I am not doing well. Talking about my anxiety over the demise of the natural world, while just as true, is partly a cover up. The truth is that I have tramped into the age of 44 and I look around and find myself almost completely alone. I am not happy with the work I do for a livelihood. My marriage has stalled and I can’t even find professional help, here in Japan, to see how to save something of it. I spend most days speaking not a word to anyone, until I head off to teach English to students and colleagues who see me as no more than a resource, something so ironic that I have to laugh. Those people who I know are my close friends and with whom these years apart have no effect on the bond of our friendship, seem shores away, almost like dreams from another time.

So the forced resetting of my biological clock was a necessary first step. Taking first things first. It is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on those things that I *can* affect. Like caring for my diabetes. Like paring away all those cobwebs of ambitions and distilling a few skills and potentials that would culminate in work that I would find fulfilling. Like thinking about my own needs for now and getting them right. Like being honest and forthwith about what is really important and discarding anything that wastes time or feels unworthy. Like slowly rekindling the old friendships, looking for those whom I have lost, and finding new ones. Like stopping just talking and actually doing. Like starting life again at 40.

I’m not sure why I needed to write this post at this particular moment. Just needed to get the load off my chest, I guess. For anyone reading it, please take the self-recrimination with a grain of salt. It is a casting of one stone to skip across the lake’s surface. I have many more to follow, some of which might skip a little better, others worse. But just wanted to let you know that upon writing it I feel a lot better. The steam is letting off the coffee and I can heave a big sigh. And the sun outside already looks just a tad bit brighter. this dark cloud will also pass.

Climate Change Global Systems Failure Journal Musings Nature Society Stewardship

A Moth Wing of Devastation

I think I am slowly losing my mind. It has been building that way ever since the awful events of the New York tragedy. Something snipped on that day and as time has given me perspective I realize more and more that the waywardness of my heart and soul centers around an invisible despair, rather than on anger or righteousness. As the inevitable drums roll and boots keep marching past something lurking behind it all tethers itself to my voice and prevents the proper words from forming. For three and a half years now it is as if I have been screaming in silence. And no matter how many tears well up or doors I strike or cries of agony escape my lips as I watch the unwrapping of terrible things on the TV or printed pages or on the computer screen, the silence absorbs it all in utter indifference. My heart is breaking. I can’t take much more of this awful truth. Part of me needs to believe that we are still decent, but every day it seems to get worse. And the helplessness and impotent fury are stealing away the center. On the one side it is this utter madness speaking words through cruelty and violence, on the other it is the breaking of our beloved Earth.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but something deeply disturbing has unraveled the string that has always connected me to making sense of my life and to living every day. If I look inside I can sense the wildness of emotions and the animal panic. Something isn’t right with the world or with myself. The vertigo of teetering on an icy edge never goes away.

Beth, over at Cassandra Pages refers to the interview of Seymour Hersh. What he speaks about is nothing new, but the affirmation of an insidious doom that he creates by bringing all the jigsaw pieces together left the hair standing on my back because of how true it all rang. Then I glance left and right at the increasingly alarming reports recently about the coming global systems failure, the chaos of humankind facing mass extinction, and the mind just lets go. It is so huge. Beyond my ability to comprehend or emotionally envelope.

What am I to do? Recently I’ve been trying the only thing I can do… start small. Go out into my garden or onto the street, wade through the oceans of pain, and press my fingertip against the surface of tree bark or taste a snowflake on my tongue. I know it doesn’t make an iota of difference in the fate of this world we’ve so badly mismanaged, and most likely the tiny administrations will be swept away in the flood of destruction, but if I must go then I want it to be on my terms, holding dear those things which do still make sense.

As I jogged along the river bank near my house a few days ago I little girl riding her bicycle ahead of her mother, called back, “Mama. If only I could take a trip to another country! If only I could travel to those faraway places right now!”

Her voice still rings in my ear. A heart yearning for engagement. I wish her all the best and cling to the tiny hope that her request might come true, and that the winds of change bring scents of relenting. Of hands stayed. Of a missed beat and a resumption of real reality.

Journal Musings Tokyo Walking

Walking As Prayer

Bamboo grass in snow
Bamboo grass laden with the first snow of the winter

I spent half a sleepless night reading the long-distance walking accounts of Chris Willett. There is a lot of reading, but through so much of it I felt as if I were walking with him, on much the same kinds of walks that I enjoy doing. His account of walking the Great Divide Trail especially moved me, because the experience came across as so similar to my own solo bicycle ride from Denmark to Paris in 1988. While writing my book about the experience (I’m still looking for a publisher… Anyone interested in giving it a read?) I had to face the constant memories of how much time I spent alone, and how meeting other souls along the way made all the difference in the story line of the journey.

Last year I had planned to go to Australia to walk the Larapinta Trail, but circumstances left my wallet as dry as the Outback. Reading Chris Willett, though, the fire is stoked again and I hope that this year I can actually make it out of my front door. I’ll shoot for September for a nice long walk in the desert. And with eight months to get in training I should be in top shape for even the hardest parts of the walk.

One day soon I want to try another long journey like the six-month bicycle trip my wife and I took in 1995. For anyone who has never spent such a long single stretch of time out of doors, camping each day, moving at your own pace, and feeling your body harden in ways you never knew you could, it is hard to describe the sheer immediacy and match that the human body and mind finds when living close to its original state. We were meant to live outdoors. W were meant to spend most of our time without a roof over our head or walls to block out our peripheral vision. We were meant to live with the roll of the sun and stars, the passage of clouds, and the motion capture reality of flowers and trees growing. And you can’t know it by reading a book or walking in an artificial park. You can’t really know the full presence of the earth until you actually feel yourself crawling across its surface, your muscles growing in proportion to the pull of gravity and distance.

Ever since I can remember journeying and getting outdoors into all the mess has been like a ache of joy that I had to follow. Sitting everyday at my computer now, pacing back and forth in the generic streets of Tokyo (and earlier, Boston) it is as if I am denying myself my own predisposition. Maybe other people don’t find walking alone in the mountains in a pouring rain all that exhilarating, but for me it is life itself. I am never more in my element than when walking in the woods or on a ridge or along a seashore wrack-line. If only there was a way to make it permanent, and still have my family and friends and livelihood.

I go snowshoeing tomorrow. I hear the snow in the Nikko area north of Tokyo reaches up to your hips. And more on its way tonight. It ought to be a blast!

Japan: Living Journal Life In Technology

Cold Feet

Takao snow street
Street leading up to Takao Temple and Mount Takao after the yearend snowfall.

At the other end of the year right about now the sultry Japanese summer heat invades homes like a giant, lazy, fat cat, nudging its way through the doors and windows and prostrating itself on the straw mats (tatami ) and linoleum floors with the sole purpose of draining everyone of life. That is what, traditionally, Japanese houses are designed for, to induce as much breathing throughout the house as might entice the cat to dissipate, a passive effort to encourage Cheshire-ism.

It doesn’t always work… my first floor apartment, not at all traditional except for the tatami in the living and bed rooms, acts like an isolation tank (in more ways than one!); you open the front door and an invisible wall of lugubriousness, sort of like that watery interface you see in the jump gates of the television show “Star Gate”, greets you… but the idea is sound: leave a space under the ground floor where the sun doesn’t hit and create a katabatic air space, keep the floor over this space perforated enough for the free passage of air, and create a heat sink space in the attic of the building, to which warm air is sucked. The idea is to draw the cool air out of the space beneath the house up into the attic, where it is supposed to dissipate. And it works very well in traditional, thatched roof farm houses.

The trouble arises in mid-January, when the deep freeze sets in and that cold air space beneath the house continues to crank away nice, juicy drafts through the floor and tatami, especially when my (noisy and much-disliked… I have yet to discover exactly why it is necessary to move the furniture around at 3:00 in the morning every day) upstairs neighbor cranks up his heater (which creates a racket outside my living room window with the squeaky and misaligned fan drumming away) and does a fine job of heaving all my precious warm air up into his place, and replacing it with the cold air from under the house. I didn’t realize until last week that the cold air actually streams through the tatami like spring water welling up from a sandy creek bed; I could feel the cold air pooling around my outstretched hand.

We only have one tiny electric, infrared heater to heat the spaces. Our Dutch oil heater started smoking last year when I turned it on, and we haven’t been able to afford to replace it. Normally this little heater is enough to warm up the small room it is placed in, as long as the door is kept shut. If it gets a little colder we use the spare sleeping bag and our fleece jackets. We’ve also covered the living room floor with a closed cell foam sheet and two layers of fluffy carpets. And normally that works… for when we are awake and spending time in the same room. It saves on electricity.

But when I am working in my study, the cold works its way through the floor boards and sends me running for my big, midwinter down jacket. When I breathe out white breath billows across the computer screen. Sometimes my fingers are so cold that I can barely type on the keyboard. And since infrared filament heaters are dangerous to keep on at night, the preparations for sleeping at night resemble pitching camp: dress up in fleece layers, don my fleece cap, fluff up two layers of down pillows, prop up the closed cell foam ground mat against the three layers of curtains to stop the draft, slip under a thick fleece blanket and lie on top of three layers of fleece sheets underneath, and finally pull the huge down quilt over us. If someone would walk in on us at night while we slept they would come across a huge lump on top of the bed, with no evidence whatsoever of inhabitants. Even our breathing is absorbed by the profoundness of the layers.

Waking up provides a wonderful exercise in will power. You open your eyes and wonder if it is light or dark outside because the curtains are so thick that no light passes through. You tentatively reach your hand into the world outside your cocoon of warmth, instantly recognizing this environment is hostile, not unlike that of Mars. You pat around until you locate the bed light, switch it on, and let out an experimental breath: snowfall… ice storm … whiteout … You imagine having slept all night on a block of dry ice. And that is precisely what your foot tells you when you poke it out and set it down on the floor. The temptation is to pull it right back in, like a snail’s eye stalk, but it’s time to get ready for work and you want to beat the crush of the Tokyo rush hour trains and you’d also like to get in a mug of tea and check the e-mail… so out you jump, dancing about the tatami like an Irish dancer, rush to the toilet, let out a yelp as you bare your bottom, dance back out to the shower, turn on the gushing, smoking river of heat, dash to the kitchen to set the kettle to boil, pop two slices of bread into the microwave-oven, and scamper back to the shower for a few minutes of revitalization. You turn up the water heat high enough to turn your skin blooming red before breaking the bathroom door open just long and wide enough to snatch the towel and slipping it into the sauna of the shower stall. Dried off you can safely negotiate the sub-arctic temperatures and dismiss the imaginary penguins tottering about the hallway, to do your shaving and prepare the tea.

But it doesn’t last long. Like the shadowy ghouls in the movie “Ghost”, the cold creeps back again and uses the soles of your feet to reacquaint you with the concept of stack ventilation. So back you go to mouse dancing, slapping on layers like a pancake artiste, until all contact with the outside world is reduced to the circle around your face and the inconvenience of your fingers. You stoke your core with piping hot tea and toast spread with a thin film of butter, and then you’re off, into the purveyor of all this defensiveness: the out of doors.

But of course, it is warmer outside than inside. As you march away toward the train station you unbutton your coat and let the morning sunshine take a peek in. You don’t look back; the suction itself might be too much.

Hiking Japan: Living Journal Nature Tokyo Walking

Walking in the Snow

Takao snow tunnel
End of the trail on Mount Takao just outside Tokyo proper. First snowfall of the winter on New Year’s Eve. A delightful good bye to a heavy year

I hadn’t expected to walk in the snow, but already the first flurries batted at the nylon face of my jacket when I stepped out of the train station. I had left my house in a rush, deciding on the spur of the moment to just get out and try to clear my head. I had had an argument with someone close the night before and hadn’t slept, still clenched tight with conflicting thoughts, and still resentful for all the days of arguing having eaten away the bulk of my ten-day winter vacation. Now the last few days of the vacation left me with few alternatives but jaunts into neighboring, uninspiring molehills. I didn’t expect Takao to offer much more than an exercise routine.

Few other people headed up the road toward the base of the mountain, where Takao Temple and the cable car awaited thousands of weekend daytrippers from the city. It being December 31st the whole country was in hometown migration mode, everyone getting ready for the solemn New Year’s celebration with family and friends. An old man in black tights and cross-country running shoes jogged past, just down from the mountain. Several other hikers in traditional heavy leather boots, spats, and Gore-tex rain jackets came lumbering past, looking beat. I strode past lightly in my own black tights, approach shoes, and daypack, still groggy, though, and a bit woozy in the head from lack of sleep. My digital camera was out, ready for shots, but images didn’t form in my eyes as I scanned the trail ahead. Voices continued to whisper at the verges of awareness, like birds flicking out of sight in the bushes.

And birds there were, mostly just heard, but occasionally giving themselves away when they tossed forest duff aside in their search for insects. They were hardy little fists of gray and russet feathers called Gray Buntings that forayed in hunting parties through the underbrush and dashed through old leaves like adzes. Here and there their fluting calls echoed through the ravine and the fluting mingled with the chuckle and gurgling of the creek running through the growing blanket of snow. Besides the water and bird calls the only sounds I could hear were the creaking of my shoe soles on the dry snow and the brush of snow falling against my jacket.

My eyes only held fleeting moments of potential contemplation before the thoughts slipped away again and the acuity of vision blurred into dark thoughts inside. Part of it was the hurried breakfast this morning, with too much sugar railroading through my arteries up into my eyes, the diabetic poison dulling perception of the world around me. It was like pushing through cotton and no amount of waving my hands could clear the cobwebs that stretched across my face with each step I took. Trapped in ambiguity I struggled for breath, to feel in focus with the trees and biting air and blue scent of snow. The anger nearly ripped out of me again when I tripped over a a root.

I put my hand out to stop my fall and felt dry bark. I looked up and saw the tree, a huge, heavy-footed, giant of a cedar, descending from the white sky down to the black earth in one, leathery, ponderous boot of trunk, like a pole of heaven. Without a sound it boomed down at me, a lord to a paean, admonishing without spelling out a single word of disapproval. It just simply stood there, not even swaying up there in the air. And for some reason I woke, right then and there. All the anxiety of the past few days washed away, my heartbeat slipped into the background, and it was just me and my breath, spilling unclothed into the air.

I took a deep breath and started walking again. Photographs rearranged themselves in my head and soon I couldn’t get enough out of each step, picture after picture crowding the rooms until soon I was barely crawling up the mountainside, camera in hand, and light and shadows reforming into ever more enticing compositions.

I was deep into trying to find the right angle and exposure for one picture of snow balanced on some branches when a soft, male voice greeted me from behind.

“Good afternoon! It really feels good, doesn’t it?”

I turned and faced a suntanned man about my age, smiling as if he had just conversed with the face of the sublime. I smiled back. His voice was just the timbre for this silent place and moment.

“Yes, it certainly does. It’s so quiet,” I responded.

He laughed. “Ah, yes, a rare moment on Takao. I’m so happy I came today.”

“Are you going to the top?”

“Yes.” He paused to contemplate the scene of which I was taking the photograph. “Please enjoy your walk. And please take care in the snow.”

“You, too.”

And he was off, crunching up the trail, snow enveloping him in its veils.

Though I was out of shape the walking felt more like a distant decision between two lovers, an effortless sliding between covers. I took the stairs that I usually hated climbing so much as a simple spell of slides in a visual display. The white of the snow obscured all the familiar landmarks and muffled the usual hard edges between remnants of wilderness and human superabundance. For these few hours the edge of Tokyo was untamed and remote, a familiar world made lost and irrelevant.

As mountains go, Takao is but a pimple among rashes, and so reaching the top as I have so many times would normally elicit no fanfare, but today it was different. The trail left off on an asphalt road which came to a stop in the open stillness of the summit. The snow had discourage the crowds and now the open top lay white and pristine. A natural history museum, several restaurants, and some temporary booths set up for tomorrow’s New Year sunrise celebration all sat in silence today, waiting. I kicked through the shin deep snow cover to one of the covered sitting areas, donned one more jacket to keep in the warmth as I sat down, and prepared to eat lunch. Three other people huddled on the other benches, a Chinese couple heating up instant ramen over a cartridge stove and a lone man eating his lunch out of a thermos. I ripped open the curry rice package and, with bared fingers, shoveled the near-frozen food into my mouth. I took sips of hot milk tea from my thermos, but it was hard to hold the stainless steel cup in the frigid air. Most of the meal consisted of a series of stops and goes as I took bites of the curry then slipped my hands into my gloves to warm them up again.

In spite of this a light had gone on inside me and I kept turning around in my seat eager to look at the new things the snow was trying to show me. A bench on the windward side of the shelter had upheld a bank of snow that almost blocked the view north. The oak trees surrounding the clearing kept dumping sprays of powder snow that drifted across the open space, like smoke. The cold seemed to hold everything in a breathless trance, as if all the plants and wood and rocks were somehow surprised by this unusual display.

Eager to be off I packed away the garbage, drank a last sip of the tea, and set off through the untouched snow going south. A rope had been suspended between the trees at the head of the south trail going back to the bottom of the mountain, in an effort to control the hordes of people preparing to come tomorrow.”Danger! Be careful of the steep slope!” the sign read. I had to laugh. For someone who had walked the Takao trail twice at night because it was so easy to follow, the warning was a joke. Most people who came to Takao for New Years had never climbed alpine mountains or gone snowshoeing among the snowdrifts so the precaution made sense, but I had followed this trail more than twenty times and it certainly posed no risk, even with the low cut shoes I wore. Another set of tracks passed through the rope barrier and I followed them down the slope.

From here it was like dancing. My camera was out at every step, it seemed. Bamboograss bending under loads of snow. Cypress needles variegated with textures of snow trim. Slivers of grass slicing through the whiteness like green knives. Small icicles dripping from the biceps of beech trees. Intricate webs of snow-crusted twigs interlacing all around the trail, diverting the light like a single-hued kaleidoscope, all the while tinkling and sprinkling with a myriad of dry snowflakes. I pranced through this like a five year old boy, singing as I went along and not caring that I almost couldn’t feel my fingers as I snapped shot after shot after shot.

Halfway down the trail, after having been showered by a whole load of snow suddenly released from above, I came across a single, bright, lime green speck amidst all the white of the branches. Almost at eye level I discovered a moth’s crysalis, in which a relative of the giant American Cecropia moth slept. It’s green was like the promise of new leaves in spring and completely out of place amidst the snow. Without eyes, it seemed more like an aberrant leaf than a silk sleeping bag, but the pupa lay within, mixing primordial ingredients. I snapped pictures of this, too, holding my breath as long as I could to keep from disturbing the fragile life within.

I danced further down the mountain. What normally would take only about two hours to walk, took me over six hours as I skipped back and forth, kneeling in the snow, peering under dried out ferns, nosing into the crooks of tree trunks. And I came to the viewing point which looked out over Tokyo which, on moonlit nights, lets you gaze out over the entire vast brooch of Tokyo, its lights glistening as far as you can see. Today there was a white curtain in place, no horizon in evidence, not even the base of the mountain visible. The snow fell here as a single, slowly descending waterfall of white noise, blocking all recognition of earlier passages. I stood a long time at the lip of the cliff, brooding. The head of a foothill across the ravine kept slipping in and out of view, like woman behind a fan. I could almost hear the Snow Queen tittering.

Darkness bled the scenery of white and blue seeped into everything. Trees turned aquamarine, then indigo, holding very still as the night undressed them. It was like wandering through a backstage dressing room, frills and petticoats and white dresses falling away to reveal the black tights beneath. I passed a tiny shine protected by two stone fox deities, behind which a blonde-haired North American woman (North American because she was wearing L.L. Bean duck boots) laughed to herself as she built a life-sized snowman with long, lithe limbs. I passed another little old woman, puffing up the final steps, probably preparing for a New Year’s Eve night hike, taking a step ahead of the coming crowds.

I reached the bottom of the mountain and found a different town from the one I had ascended from earlier in the day. It was like something out of the north, old tiled roofs laden with snow, lanterns glowing under the ancient cedars, smoke from the restaurants billowing above the streets. Not like a tourist town at all. The air seemed to taste blue with evening. And the warm gold in the windows welcomed those out in the cold to step in for a cup of tea. I lingered here until the darkness swallowed all that was visible away from the lanterns. Then it was time to snap out of the spell and blink again under the fluorescent lights of the train station.

I stomped the snow off my shoes and pants and, dripping, made my way up to the waiting train. For a moment the mountains behind the town stood above the scene, indifferent. Then the train doors hissed shut and with a jerk I was carried away from what must surely have been a reverie. I held on to the trails of bitter air and light that clung to my jacket, all the way home. And I promised myself mountains for the year ahead.