November 10, 2010

Trite lite

The air sparkles under streetlights as I walk at night, mulling over past hours and worrying over the next day, week, month, year ahead. I give in to those clichés about fresh snow. Sometimes I don't think about anything except my footprints on nature's blank canvas.

And then I snap out of it and realize most of my life fits into two categories: Too banal to share with the world, or too meaningful to throw up on a blog such as this. These walks, during which I freeze my nostril hairs taking the long way around to think or – more often – to stop thinking, invariably belong to the former.

But tonight something happened. Something in between. Something that made me smile. And not in that off-kilter way people smile when they walk down the street mentally re-living this funny thing that happened to them once, this event so hilarious that just thinking about it makes them want to bust a gut right there, but they restrain themselves because others would stare and they don't want to seem loony. And it wasn't in the snarky way people smirk at each other to mask their own insecurities after they spot one of those silly-faced crazies walking down the street. No, this was sincere.

It was like this.

I took a shortcut past the main road, over Ski-Doo trails, alongside a gaggle of fox tracks, down a hill under a utilidor onto a narrow beaten path in the brush, slick with falling snow. I passed an empty bottle of Private Stock stuck upright in the snow bank and saw a shadowy figure trudging unsteadily in the shadows ahead of me. We were heading the same way, single file down the dark slope. When he heard me crunching along behind him, the man turned and grunted unintelligibly. I recognized him by his familiar stance as a street person I'd seen around town and I wondered where he was going and whether he was going to get there, stumbling as he was.

We crested the hill, two pairs of prints following each other down into the darkness. He glanced back over his shoulder at me. Opened his mouth. Closed it again. He slowed his already leisurely pace until I was almost on his heels.

"Keep going," I silently urged.

Then he stopped. He stuffed an ungloved hand into his jacket pocket. When he pulled it out again I saw the shadows transform in the glow of a mini flashlight. In the light there was no mistaking his lined face or the self-satisfied grin that suddenly spread across it. But he turned his back to me without saying anything. He didn't have to.

Instead he held the flashlight loosely in his left hand, curving his wrist back behind his knees, lighting my way.

"Hey, thanks!"

He said nothing until we reached the end of the path and stood in the parking lot of my apartment building. Then he only nodded, switched off his flashlight and ambled across the lot, disappearing back into the bush.

And I'm still smiling.