Duke Forest, Winter.
It’s cold and I can see my breath. I miss those cold winter mornings when I was a child, standing on the porch watching my exhales while my mother defrosted the Volkswagon in the driveway. Here, it is not so often that one sees their own breath.
Achy legs to start, hard ground, pine needles still golden beneath a silver frost. The path is wide. The sun shoulders through the canopy of branches, the treetops shine.
I watch my thoughts: the avocados that killed the lemurs; the friend who is gone forever; the deli where we used to eat that closed down and reopened on another corner, but without the Rueben on its menu; the homeless man who touched my shoulder just yesterday and told me c’mon, it’s not so bad, and how his hands smelled like Irish Spring soap.
Another jogger, red cap, broad chest, large, gloved hands. Last week there was a discussion on the neighborhood listserv about a woman who'd been attacked on the running trail and one man wrote that she'd walked away with just a scrape on her face, like she'd been in a fender bender. I make eye contact with the jogger because it’s what you're supposed to do, something about shutting down the predatory instinct, and he smiles and raises two fingers and I think, not a rapist. But who knows. Headphones off, I listen now to the sound of the forest, the thud of each foot hitting the ground, the heave of a heavy wind through the pines.
Looping back around, almost to where I started, legs limber, heart warm, sweat creeping out from beneath my headband. On the bridge, I stop to stretch. The frozen Eno beneath a splintered mirror of light. On the railing someone has arranged a moss-laden piece of bark, a sweet gum ball, a pinecone. Like characters in children’s books, bad luck, and primary colors, good omens, too, sometimes come in threes.
Back at the car, the frost has melted from the side windows and the trunk. Another car pulls onto the hard dirt shoulder and I watch from the driver's seat as a young woman climbs out, locks her door, turns towards the forest, and starts to run.