That walk I wished I could take? I didn’t get to make it a reality, but a scroll through my camera photos let me send my mind to the right place. Here’s a quick dip into the woods with October at her finest. It was the briefest of walks, a quick invigorating plunge between rehearsals of Poulenc and Pinkham at last month’s choir retreat.

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I let the details snare me: the crisp air suffused with the heady sugar of maples, the glow of their sunstruck leaves, a natty row of little mushrooms standing at attention on a fallen log, the tracery of weathered remnants as the trees return to the soil.

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Only in the woods, I think—oh, and at the beach—does decay seem so refreshing. There is no separating what is currently alive from what used to be, and I find something comforting and whole in that tangle.


The memories tided me over until the sun could come out again. And I have been seeking ways to puncture the shell of daily routine, to let some air in. Last night: a friend invited me to join her at Ann Patchett’s talk for the Literary Arts series. As invigorating as Ms. Patchett’s lively storytelling and passion for books was our decision to ride our bikes downtown. The temperature was nosing toward freezing, but why not? The pavement was dry, the night was clear, I had warm gear* and my friend had an extra headlight. It was the right decision. I may have raised some eyebrows hastily stripping off my layers of windproof waterproof fashionproof cycling kit in the swanky lobby of the Schnitzer (or perhaps not… this is Portland), but it was worth it. Oh, the exhilaration of zooming through the dark, muscles working, lungs burning, all senses heightened to the dangers of cars and potholes lurking in the shadows! Night cycling reminds me of night skiing, of weekends with the high school ski team when we’d tumble onto the bus on Friday evenings and drive up to the mountain to set gates under the lights for practice before the next morning’s meet. How the world seems to constrict as you race alone down the slope, how the scrape of your edges and the thwack of your mittened wrist on the gate are the only sounds anyone has ever made, how the ground falls away and you hang in the night air like one of the stars for a breathless span before the mountain catches you again on its cold white tongue.

A college friend and I once challenged each other to weekly skinny dipping in a Maine pond. I don’t know why we did it—the friendship was entirely sexless, so it wasn’t for the thrill of joint nudity, and we were never so close that we felt the urge to brand the fact of us on the universe forever by some unforgettable experience. It was a whim, a dare, a lark. We made it to November. But a good bracing plunge of some kind is powerful medicine. I’m kindling myself into a mood for adventure. What’s out there?


*Except for the gloves. I thought I’d be fine with lightly insulated biking gloves, and I was so wrong. My friend reported her hands were almost too warm in her twined colorwork lobster-claw mitts. Wool wins again.