18 Below Zero

     My head hit the ice with a resounding thonk! as a bulldozer bore down on me.
     I was running through the woods after a foot of snow, 12 hours of rain, then an overnight low of 5 below zero.
     I flipped backward onto my head on glare ice 20 yards in front of a bulldozer pushing an enormous mound of slush toward me.
     It was a very musical thonk! Nothing mezzo piano about it, either. I played it forte, like it said in the score.
     I tried to sit up and take a look at that bulldozer. Then I thought perhaps I should just lie there for a while. So I did, looking up through the bare branches of the trees. Surely the dozer driver had seen my bright orange stocking cap, I thought, though the fall had knocked it off.
     The bulldozer driver backed up well before he got to me, to take another run at that slush.
I suppose he sees such things all the time.
     Something happens at zero. Air can’t hold water, so everything becomes bright and clear, in moonlight or sun. No clouds. There’s something healthful in the air. Bad things can’t live in it, so they die. That’s good for plants and animals.
     The plants already are asleep. The animals hide. The world becomes still.
     This morning it was 18 below zero. Tonight we’re supposed to get a foot of snow. But this afternoon it warmed up to 19, so I took another run through the woods. This time I wore Yak-Trax – little steel loops you stretch under your shoes on a rubber frame. They bite into snow and ice and keep people like me upright.
     The air was dry as can be, so as I expected my nose bled for a mile or two. Blood pretty much covered one quarter of my face. I wiped it off until I gave up. Fingers of my gloves stuck together with frozen blood.
     I liked it, running all alone through the woods. In some places snow was piled shoulder high on both sides of the narrow winding road. No dogs out, no cars, no people, no sound.
     The sun slid behind the mountains, setting in the south. It lit the tops of the trees, the black branches of the old oaks and maples, the green needles of the tall pines. The clarity of it all – the icy rutted road, the stalagmites of ice growing up from river boulders, dilapidated barbed-wire fence all but covered in snow, beyond the fence a 200-year-old barn falling in on itself, the craggy black trunks of the old trees.
     I stopped at a high spot to look at the distant mountains, to hear the nothing, see the absence of clouds, to feel the sensation of cold.
     A week ago I thought spring was coming. Temperature warmed up to 42. I ran this same path with the sleeves of my red sweatshirt rolled up, feeling loosey-goosey for the first time in months. Oh boy, I thought; it won’t be long now. Then came snow, and rain, and ice.
     Now I run like a creaky old man, held upright by a gimmick. But I’m running; I’m out here.
     Back in the forest, I look up to the top of the hill where the fading sun strikes the tips of the tallest white pines. A black bird flies from out of the shadows. It flashes through the sunlight, so quickly it was practically never there at all, then vanishes in the dark woods.

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