Although the winter that was threatening to settle into the mountains would bring with it a harsher cold, he felt relieved that the fall would be over. All the dead and dull and damp would be covered in a fresh white blanket, not to be seen until spring when it would be easier to deal with. That blanket was soon to come, but the forest floor was still covered with rotting leaves, damp from the previous night’s rain. A sharp wind cut through the valley, sheering the last vestiges of summer from the trees. He regretted not bringing a coat.
It had been a long time since he’d hiked Wolf Creek and it was barely recognizable. Tourism had found its way into the valley and left a trail of bridges and dead trees in its wake. The trail used to be narrow and studded with rocks and the roots of old trees that left absent minded travelers lying flat on their faces. It had since been widened to accommodate large groups of hikers, and roots had been removed leaving the trail to wither as the soil came apart.
As he walked, he remembered hiking the trail with his grandmother as she quizzed him about the species of trees along the way. With each answer, he would look up to see her approving smile beaming down on him. All of his best memories of her were from when they would hike the narrow trail together and he still had to look skyward to see her face. Conjuring her in his memory, all he could see when he looked up was a glaring white light. He had lost her face and he felt guilty about that.
He stopped as he reached a small wooden bridge that crossed the creek in a place that was fifteen feet wide and a few feet deep. Sitting cross legged at the edge, he looked across the creek in which he used to look for rounded rocks with his grandmother over ten years ago, she in her white tennis shoes and he in his black rubber boots. She would always bring back the best one from each trip and place it on the mantel over the fireplace. It was a small collection.
He got up and left the bridge to walk along the creek, looking for a place to cross and a rock that would hold his weight. After a few minutes of walking, he found a shallow area with a few flat rocks that came just above the waterline. The wind had died down and he was able to hold his balance crouched on a small rock in the middle of the creek. The surface of the water was smooth and caught his reflection well, revealing a tired twenty year old boy. Looking past his reflection to the rounded rocks below, he rolled up his sleeve and cocked his arm back. Spotting a black and white striped stone, he shot his arm into the water and closed his hand around it. The cold was bitter and it bit him to the bone.