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This must be the place: When the winter comes, keep the fires lit, and I will be right next to you

The summit of Poke-O-Moonshine. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) The summit of Poke-O-Moonshine. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

All bundled up and sitting on the frozen, snowy summit of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain in the heart of the Adirondacks of Upstate New York on Christmas Eve, I let out a sigh, my breath visible in the 12-degree weather. 

It wasn’t a sigh of frustration, more so of the heaviness of the year, which always seems to roll into you like a wave crashing to shore when New Year’s Eve appears on your radar. It was a sigh of being able to push through, and to seek the silver linings in a world seemingly gone mad.

Poke-O-Moonshine is a serene and steep climb through the silent snow and ice pack: 3.2 miles roundtrip with a 1,279-foot elevation gain. The old abandoned fire tower at the top is still holding steady, as per usual in this frozen landscape we call the North Country. 

Atop the summit on Christmas Eve, thinking about everyone in my life, wherever they may be in this universe. Love to each and every single one of you. My heart and soul were filled with gratitude to be able to climb that damn mountain, to pursue a life that fulfills my creative urges in the realm of the written word, to surround myself with friends and family second-to-none.

A day or so later, I stopped at Wickham Marsh (Port Kent, New York) for a sunset trail run. One of my go-to spots to disappear into the woods. The parking lot was empty at this state wildlife management area. Just me and my thoughts along silent, snowy backwoods trails. 

For the first half-mile or so, there are tracks evident of cross-country skiers, dog walkers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Eventually, I was far enough into the forest where the trails were untouched by humans. 

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The only tracks seen were of passerby critters. I came across rabbit tracks intersecting with fox tracks intersecting with deer tracks, only to then spot dog paws with no human footprints, which means hunting dogs during a recent black powder outing. 

I thought of all my past runs around this place and how different the trails look each time: spring, summer, fall, winter. I thought of my dad, who still jogs here a couple times a week. He will turn 80 this coming March. 

And I thought of my late Uncle Scott, who used to live nearby and head for these trails for a run, too. He's buried just down the road in the snow-covered ground, his soul somewhere out there in the ether. I hope he's at peace wherever he roams these days in the great beyond. It was then in that moment, I realized that I was wearing his old running tights and windbreaker. At the far end of one of the trails, it was thick ice over a small pond and trickling river where it was mud and mosquitoes just this past July on my last trek through there. 

Circling back to the truck, I let out another big sigh, my breath again visible in the cold December air. It wasn't a sigh of sadness, but one of sincere and genuine gratitude: for this day, this run, this place, this moment in time and space of solitude in nature.

And it was this past Sunday when I found myself on Bloomingdale Bog Trail (Bloomingdale, New York). An old railroad line now used by outdoor enthusiasts year-round, I jumped on it as the sun began to fade. Just about 29 degrees with a light snowfall. Had the whole place to myself, not a soul around. 

The trail goes for miles and miles into the depths of the Adirondack wilderness. Silence except for the crunch of my running shoes atop a thick snow and ice pack. Jogging through a tunnel of tall pine trees in the ancient forest. At one point, I heard an owl hooting in the distance. 

When I turned around and started back to the truck, I saw a black crow (my spirit animal) flying over my position. It was serendipitous and wondrous to cross paths with the black crow just when I feel like I'm at an existential crossroads in the grand scheme of things. I looked up and smiled at the majestic bird. Again, gratitude for the moment at-hand.

Yesterday, I wandered into Point Au Roche State Park (Plattsburgh, New York). I've been swimming there and enjoying the beaches since I was a toddler, running its vast trail system since middle school. It is my true physical and spiritual refuge when I'm back home in my native North Country. 

Another sunset run, trotting down snowy trails and once again alongside the 107-mile long Lake Champlain, a massive body of fresh water I grew up on and yearn for whenever I'm far away from here. In another month, it’ll be frozen-over. For now, the waves hit the shoreline and recede back, over and over again.

My restless mind, body and soul mulling over endless thoughts and visions with 2021 coming to a close. A new, fresh and unmarked calendar to be hung on the walls of my memory. The sounds of my running shoes crunching through thick snow and ice, the cold Arctic air swooping down from nearby Canada. 

I think of you (and you, too) out there, wherever you may be in the here and now. I hope you find peace and serenity in your own respective journey as, like clockwork, the ball drops in Times Square and we wind up another unknown year yet again.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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