by: Todd Andrew Clayton
Seasons in San Diego are like emotionally neutral, conflict-free hook-ups: they rarely exist. Whenever the perpetual spring of seventy-degree sunshine becomes unbearably oppressive and gratingly optimistic, I steal away to the woods 60 miles east of the city, where verdant leaves—after a final, ruby blaze—eventually forfeit their hold and settle on the ground in copper sheets.
“Want to go hiking on Saturday?” Mike asked.
“Please.” I needed to breathe deeply again.
We got up early, grabbed breakfast at the coffee shop down the street, and started the hour-and-thirteen-minute drive. On the way, we remembered how senior year of high school felt mythic and how reckless we were at seventeen and how late we’d stay up playing video games. He remembered how mad I was that one time we argued on the edge of his parents’ truck bed in front of his house and how bad he felt afterwards. I remembered when he asked me if we could be college roommates, and how I had to run out of my Physics class because I was so excited. He remembered never thinking I might be gay and being really surprised when I told him, and how he thinks it’s made him a more observant person because “if your best friend is gay and you have no idea, anyone could be gay.” We laughed.
The lines on the road stretched in front of our car like millions of yellow pencils, and the valley floor on the left that was 5000 feet below made us both say, “damn.” The trees passed the windows like lightning. We parked the car and walked to the trailhead.
“I thought you said there wouldn’t be snow.” Mike said.
“I didn’t think there would be.” We laughed again.
“Those going to be ok?” He gestured toward my running shoes, then looked to his water-proof boots.
“Yeah, I’ll just keep them dry.”
Snow rested on branches that reached into the path, and when my shoulders brushed against them the ransomed powder would quietly plummet and scatter like sugar. My eyes remained married to the trail, concerned with finding the next patch of naked ground for my feet to safely plant. Erratically, I made my way.
Mike forged forward, head held high.
At the half-way point, when we wrapped around the edge of the frosted lake, the trail became hopelessly blanketed in snow.
“You sure you want to go this way? We can just turn around.” Mike asked.
“No, let’s just go. I’ll let my feet get cold.”
Our steps crunched like cereal between your teeth. With each one, my shoes would disappear into the ivory ice.
Almost immediately, my gaze shifted.
No longer concerned with keeping my feet warm, I looked away from the ground and instead discovered what had been there all along: an expansive snow-covered field that reminded you how big the world is; ducks. Lots of ducks; a big, hot sun that beat against my face; pine trees that climbed toward the cerulean sky; elegant, bare oaks.
“This place is beautiful.” I said.
Too often, my heart is wary of fearlessly stepping forward. Trusting him, loving her, applying there, quitting here, learning this, forgetting that.
“That would be too risky,” I say. Instead, I stare at my feet to ensure safe, uneventful travel.
When my feet get wet, though, when I’m done wondering what it will feel like, or if he’ll say no, of if I’ll be stuck here, or when she’ll come back, I find that the journey is all the more riveting. The highs soar higher, and the lows prove manageable because I don’t brave them alone. I’d rather love foolishly, and get my feet a bit cold along the way, than not love at all.
The trees are too pretty to miss.
Todd Andrew Clayton wishes he were good at soccer. He lives in San Diego & writes at coffee shops & in his living room. Someday, he hopes that he can write & get paid for it. Until then, he’s going to grad school. He likes Thai food & wants to go to Ireland before he dies.