Morning still lay in frost. Amid the bluish spruce and fir, the figure, of medium stature with short hair and a runner’s build, followed a trail at an even run. Running had become a habit developed over the years, and on this particular route, this morning would probably be his last run.
One engine hissed on the far side of the small business jet, parked on the morning tarmac. The runner was on time for his meeting on a warmer morning, to warmer colors of dawn on the airport surface. Dawn sunlight gleamed behind the edges of the plane. He stood in the jet’s long shadow, wearing a light jacket in the chill and looking at the plane’s shadow side, while the stair door lowered to the ground.
A tall man, dressed casually in a polo and slacks appeared at the door in the airplane’s silhouette and exchanged a laugh with someone in the darkened cockpit. After a moment, he turned to the runner and came down at a shuffle. They shook hands.
“You look well,” the man said to him. “You feeling good?”
“Sure,” the runner shrugged.
“Always. And you? How goes it? Busy, busy, I guess.”
The runner gestured to the plane.
“Busy, busy. Yeah,” said the man. “I wanted to stop by and say hello.”
“Update you a little bit. How’s the house?”
“Good. A little dark, maybe. It’s in the woods. But it’s good.”
“But nothing wrong with it?”
“You like the town?”
The runner shrugged again. “Mountain living. What’s not to like?” he said. “I like it. It’s good.”
“I almost wish I could join you. Good. Well, listen. We got you squared away with Geo. You want to go inside?”
They turned and started walking toward the low, single story private FBO building.
“You should treat it like a holiday. I would,” the man said.
They kept walking. In the meantime, the plane had drawn up its stairs and was moving down the taxiway under the power of a single engine to line up in front of the neighboring hangar.
The morning light remained a low orange and yellow of daybreak across small scattered clouds in a blue and lavender springtime sky.
At the low terminal building, the man pulled open the dark glass door and swept the runner in.
Winter now lay in still woods around the cabin. The runner sat at a kitchen table, looking out wide picture windows at a thick layer of damp and evaporating mid-winter snow and brush and bare branches leading down to a frozen stream. In the kitchen, only one lamp burned warmly over the stove, but the rest of the kitchen was covered by natural light from outside, leaving the interior a bit dim.
He sat with a new cup of hot coffee at the reflective window table, regarding the late winter scene. It would still be a couple of months before the spruce returned from dark winter gray to the misty blue of early spring.
In the meantime, he spent the afternoon regarding an overcast day.
His friend’s voice suddenly sounded from the next room.
“How much are they paying you?” his friend asked.
“They aren’t yet,” the runner said. He paused for a moment and added, “It’s enough, though.”
Silence remained in the kitchen, while his friend batted shadows in the next room. It seemed that each time the runner came here to visit, he had more leg room than before.
After a while, the runner added, “It would be good.”
His friend stayed silent, and the runner took another sip of coffee.
Outside the windows, the creek remained frozen, the snow quiet and damp. Nothing much moved. No birds nor rabbits.
The runner stepped on new snow, about 4 inches of it from overnight, already wet. He started at a trot, making half-slushy prints in the open spaces and gradually picking up pace along his habitual route under another gray day.
Frozen clumps dropped regularly from the bare sticks and conifer limbs between tree breaks and open fields.
He passed the only structure on the entire route, a huddled collection of gray timber under new snow. He couldn’t tell if it had been a farm shack or a small hut, but it sat in open snow at the edge of a bare-branched forest telling no tales. The runner looked at it across the cool dampness of evaporating snow. He watched it go by at a gradual pace as he tromped along the edge of the trees.
The path was open and evident the entire distance of the run, even under snow.
At the edge of a fairly deep gully, he skidded down between bare trees, keeping his balance on steep and smeary snow. The bottom showed only spare signs of snow-covered banks or erosion, but the runner knew to leap here or he would smash into icy waters of a hidden frozen stream. Once across, he plodded up more steep slush.
Everything remained persistently natural, quiet, as if the surroundings made no claims or drew no conclusions. No matter when he went out, he heard no echoes. The outside world seemed to carry on on its own. There were no other humans. There never was.
He carried on running to the steady crunch and squelch of his footfalls.
The wheels of his truck crunched to a halt on dry gravel. The runner, sitting alone in the driver’s seat, had his mobile phone to his ear.
“It’s good for business,” the tall man’s voice said in his ear. “It’ll all play out one day. You’ll see.”
The runner rang off and put the phone down. He sat looking out the window at the outskirts of town. The world outside had the brown color of a fallow field. The snow was gone and everything sat in the gray and dun-color dormant period between frozen winter and summer’s new effusion.
A number of houses were distributed across the foothills, between brown fields and gray tree lines. Some of the fields were home to cattle or horses.
The truck was chilly on another gray day, and the runner waited, watching the slow scenery outside and letting the truck get colder before starting up the engine again and crunching more gravel on the way down the country road.
Mist and blues and greens were back. The runner hiked it at a good pace down the trail in gullies and between clumps of leafy branches. Early spring made the air brisk and moist, and the runner kicked out ground-catching strides along cold, packed earth, his footfalls thudding down drops and digging up slopes.
He made a swinging pace out into a newly green field, following the path at the edge of the forest and coming to the old shack, its damp wood even darker without snow and less readable in the mist.
He had the sense that he moved the entire field itself along with each stride, like sliding a plate across a table. His running ability seemed not to present the effort necessary to move him bodily. Rather, he seemed to remain in one place, while the world moved along to the compass of his footfalls.
He quickly reached the steep bank at the next edge of forest and dropped between the trunks almost at a falling rate, like a stray meteorite or a tattered parachute through the trees.
At the bottom, he stopped.
The stream, once frozen under snow, now ran at a considerable rush across his path.
He stood at its chilly edge, looking at it run by noisily, the current making the myriad and overlapping crashes and events of so much precipitating water encountering the shapes of the forest floor.
The runner continued to stand there, watching his breath hit the cold air and steam start to rise from his clothes.
Then he extracted a pouch from the pocket of his sweat top and poured the mixture inside onto the current. The liquid from the pouch was clear and colorless and swept away with the current without distinction.
He stood for a while longer in dim blue light that filtered through the leafy canopy. After a while, he gingerly found a way to hop across the water and started a jog up the slope on the opposite side.
At the top, the trees ended again, and the runner had time to make his way on the flat, through more meadows and open spaces and ducking around forest edges.
Rounding the corner at another set of trees, he came upon a stretch of open path.
Another individual was on the path, running toward him.
As they drew near, the runner waved to the man in greeting.
“How ya doin’?” said the other man, jogging by. “Nice out,” he added with a laugh.
“Hey.” the other man turned and stopped. “You know this place?”
The runner stopped his run.
“Yeah,” he said. He looked around at the woods. “I’ve been running here.”
“Oh, yeah? Through here?” asked the other man, also looking around him. “That’s cool. Is it nice?”
“Yeah. I think it’s great,” said the runner. “It’s a good run.”
“About how far do you think?”
“It’s about nine miles… around.”
“Whoa. That’s pretty good. That’s too much for me. You must be in pretty good shape. You run a lot?”
“Yeah. I kinda… I kinda do this.”
The man looked at him.
“That’s good. Cool,” he said. “Hey, I don’t want to bug you, man. I been thinking of moving, though. I don’t live here. You live here?”
“Yeah. I do. I don’t know much about it, either, though. I’m kind of the same thing.”
“Oh, yeah?” The other man laughed. “That’s cool. Well, I won’t take up your time.”
The geniuses at Geo — very knowledgeable — creating a cascade of events through the watershed, these events difficult to define or explain as more than just natural (and well-studied) processes and one event as indefinite as another to serve as a frame of reference to qualify the next, a set of circumstances was consequently difficult to recognize or suspect as being the results of a longer line of equally ambiguous or inconsequential causes and effects and not a curious and singular — albeit naturally occurring — phenomenon, with the form of blackening of leaves, a field returning to brown, altered feeding patterns in livestock, necessary shifts in economic priorities, where even now signs were beginning to show, here and there, from corner to corner, from side road to dry meadow, a bush of twigs to a yellow pond, barren tree and barren hill. Eventually, various and disjointed topics would make news under time-altered contexts or migrating terms of status quo. There would be a lot of talk in the region, with ensuing decrees and edicts, and the cascade would roll, like a set of dominoes, across fields, meadows, trees and forests, hills, streams, lakes, rivers, grass and brush, side roads, back roads, main roads, paths — everywhere — farms, orchards, from house to house, from store to store, business to business, city hall to city hall. Everywhere. A set of waveforms from one corner of the watershed to the next — cause and effect. Cause and effect.
“It will be good for business. Future business prospectors will benefit. It will be good for business in general, and that’s always good. At any rate, I’m sure it will be.”
The tall man stood in a coral shirt.
“Right now, though, I’m off to Arizona for a while. Got some good opportunities down that way. Some good people. You can get in early on it if you want.”
“Why don’t you come down in a couple of weeks, or so? This thing blows over. You can make out good, keep your hand in. Put you up in a nice adobe, somewhere. We can use you.”
“Don’t worry about the town and all. It’ll all get fixed up. Things happen. You know that. Things happen.”
“It’ll be a little rough for a while. It will take some time to even out, some years before anything real can happen. Future business leaders will handle it. We’re setting up a good thing here. It’s good for business, and that’s good for any town.”
“So, you coming down?”
The runner took a minute before sighing a little. “Sure,” he said.
The tall man gave a little laugh. “Well, you don’t have to think too hard about it.”
He gave the runner a pat on the shoulder.
“Come on down,” he said. “Desert air, sunshine.”
They both stood a moment.
“Well, listen,” said the tall man. “I need to run. Catch some z’s, while I’m down there. I’ll see you there in a couple of weeks.”
The runner stood next to the somber silhouette of his cabin in the shaded blue-green morning mist, surrounded by the trunks of fir trees. A yellow light was on under the cabin’s covered entry way.
Birds made no noises, and everything was again quiet. The runner stood for a while and let the door light burn across the air space from under the dark hang of the eaves.
Four travel bags sat side-by-side on the doorstep.
After a while, he turned and struck out up the forest path on sturdy legs, legs built up from long hours of practice, legs that provided for and met fatigue, even as the event began.
He climbed up the path, past damp and redolent conifer roots and shrubs and layers of half-decayed leaves and needles. He dodged dark fir boughs.
At the top, he came out into the open again, following the path through high, mist-dampened grass in a wide meadow, surrounded by the tall stands of conifer trees.
The runner let his legs swing and fall on the packed path.
Though the open grass space was not extensive, the tree tops on his periphery seemed to him to repeat and reappear indefinitely, like a kaleidoscope. The way ahead looked to recede before him, reticulated with a serrated edge of dark and contrasting fir tips against the pale sky.
Eventually, his stride drew him back into the shadow of the trees.
He went along in the parts of forest he knew at every mile, letting his well-tuned system take him progressively through early-morning blue and green, his breath puffing in the cold, till he reached the part that would lead to the end.
Here, he left the path and kept running into open forest.