Toward the Summit

The snow yielded softly underfoot as we walked up the steady incline of the pass. Ahead the dog ran free, following her nose first up a south facing slope largely clear of snow before crossing down into a grove of trees where she was forced to bound through drifts chest-deep, all the while a smile on her face as bright as the day.

“I’m hot,” she said, not words usually associated with my wife in the month of January. “Even my feet.”
“It is a gorgeous day,” I agreed. “I don’t even have a thermal top on, and I’m sweating some.”

The road turned to the north and for the next quarter mile we walked in shadow, the snow deeper and softer, the air noticeably cooler and the light taking on a bluish hue. Somewhere in the distance a flock of jays squawked from a hillside bathed in sunlight, otherwise our footfalls and intermittent conversation were the only sounds to break the silence.

Having each been born at the beginning of a new decade, years ending in zero hold extra significance. While age is but a number, and clocks and calendars a fleeting attempt to impose our structure and control on something called time, still commencing a new decade of life brings pause for extra reflection.

“A friend told me, for her, turning fifty seemed a bigger deal than sixty,” she said. “How did you feel at fifty?”
I tried to remember back that far. My sister, nephew and a friend had traveled from New Zealand to stay a few days and help celebrate. I recalled the joy of their company more than any feelings of regret or foreboding regarding the milestone.

“I read somewhere that your forties are the old age of youth, and your fifties the youth of your middle age,” I replied. “I still feel pretty young at sixty, but next decade I’ll be turning seventy. That seems old.”

“I do feel wear and tear on my body,” she said, “living with certain aches and pains.”

I agreed. Despite regular stretching, a certain amount of lower back ache is my constant companion. As the saying goes, if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.

Once again, my mind turned to that me, thirty years ago, arriving in the Arkansas Valley for the first, and I’d assumed only time, a pack on my back, and no clue the path would lead to us walking side by side up this mountain pass, talking about the vagaries, fears and challenges being parents and of growing old, together.

My heart filled with gratitude, for her, for life, for contemplating the future, for remembering the past, but most importantly, for the here and now, of the warm winter’s day, and the soft yielding of the snow beneath out boots.

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