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A Warm Winter Walk At Well Below Zero

Our pickup sat on blocks, surrounded by snow, waiting for parts. The thermometer had dropped to 24 below zero during the night. I rode with brother-in-law Red to the mine where he worked, higher up the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, early morning, to apply for work.

No work. Also, no one driving to Sumpter. Nothing to do but walk down the gentle canyon or abrupt valley, depending on your perspective, briskly. Quite briskly. Brisk air. Brisk pace.

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Insulated boots. Two pairs of wool socks. Insulated coveralls over adequate clothing. Leather mittens over wool mittens. Wool scarf over silk scarf. Knit-wool cap. Praise God for silkworms and sheep.

Daylight broke beautifully on the snow-clad world, but sun, nearly frozen to immobility by the deeply cold morning, courted eternity below the ridge.

I stretch long, fast steps down the packed-snow road. Cold creeps to my toes, arms, and hands - cold, but not dangerously cold. My clothing is adequate as long as I keep moving briskly.

A mile of long, fast stepping. Two miles. Cold and I have struck a bargain. It will caress my arms, hands, toes, and face with delicious excitement, but it will not bite me.

Three miles, four.

Somewhere around six miles, an event worthy of deep praise. Sun pushes its upper curve above the eastern ridge, slowly rises, shines from the clear winter mountain sky above the ridge. Sunlight touches me with golden winter beauty and warmth, only small warmth, but I burst into grateful song and slow my pace a little.

My echo and I sing a joyous duet down the long, white road. Birds: Oregon juncos with jaunty black caps; Clark's nutcrackers, dapperly white, gray, and black; and shiny black ravens fly the winter air to see what I sing about. The stream below shows thick winter ice to the clean mountain sky.

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The road curves in and out of shadow. I quicken my pace and slow again.

At 12 miles, winter sun shines generously on the steep slope above the road. Snow has melted away under a tall ponderosa pine tree, exposing dry pine duff. I climb through snow and sit on the soft accumulation of pine needles, lying back against the steep slope. This is luxury. This warm sun, brilliantly reflected from clean snow, is beauty. This ease all through me is gratitude - for sunshine, for winter, for clean snow, for this day.

A long, lazy, warm time later, I hear a vehicle coming down the mountain. I cross the snow, thumb in the air, and catch a ride with the sheriff to Sumpter. Home again, I greet my wife and daughters: "I took a long, cold, and wonderful walk this morning. Something to eat, and I'll tell you about it."

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