It has been a long time since we ventured to the park. The snow has been deep and heavy and I have been lazy and slow-moving. But the morning was bright and clear and quiet, as I prefer, and Duncan, standing at my feet in the kitchen, watching me prepare his breakfast of salmon and blueberries, pumpkin and carrots, gave me that look, one eyebrow raised with just a hint of a tail wag and a bum wiggle, seemed to be asking for a good game of fetch out on the wide, empty fields. So I donned my jacket and gloves and boots and took him across the street where we can run and throw our arms out wide and laugh without care.
The snow has compacted and hardened and is no longer deep and difficult to navigate. It is hard, with a nice solid crust, a fine dusting resting on top, and we barely made tracks as we traveled across it. Duncan danced at my side, occasionally throwing himself into it for a good roll that left him nearly as dry at the end as he'd been at the beginning. We threw the ball a good long while, back and forth across the covered soccer field, squinting and smiling into the sun, enjoying the cool on our faces and the slim, naked spot between the end of my gloves and the start of my sleeve. The snow was covered with goose tracks and when fetch grew boring and we just wanted to move and listen to the rhythmic crunch of the snow underfoot, we walked and walked, following the erratic paths of the birds who had come and then gone, leaving nothing behind––not even the green slime of their Tootsie Roll droppings––except a record of their soft weight imprinted on the snow.
Their paths are funny things to follow as they have no direction but a simple line forward, a strange twist here and there that sometimes doubles back on itself, and then another odd plod forward. With Duncan at my side I picked a trail and we set off after it, moving forward a long distance, sometimes meeting up with and dancing around the prints of other geese, then moving away on its own, off toward a big elm, perhaps to search for seeds abandoned by the squirrels or the crows or the thick, tight fists of early buds pulled free by the wind. It made a lazy arc around the fenced edge of the baseball diamond then came back out into the wide open space under the sky where it joined up briefly with another. They walked awhile together, side by side but not too close, and perhaps together they were able to look up and see the pink and gold smear of the sunrise, or perhaps the sunset, and enjoy it as surely geese must, being as acquainted with it as they are. Eventually they moved on, my goose off on its own, the other, the stranger, back toward the large matted spot where the rest of the flock had gathered, their feet softening the snow while the warmth of their bodies melted it, exposing the yellow and brown tangled mash of frozen grass beneath.
In a wide clearing, free of tracks, the tracks became deeper and further apart and then stopped entirely. Except for a few scattered clumps of snow a few feet beyond, it ceased to exist and all I could do was turn my face up into the morning blue and wonder which direction it had gone. Was it now in the golf course across the street behind my apartment, or had it circled around and headed toward the lake to join up with the hundreds of others who gather there, mingling among the reeds with the ducks and the occasional pelican?
But it did not matter. Destination rarely does, really. Flight was what mattered and soon I was envisioning myself in its place, tethered to the ground by the weight of my body and the spinning of the earth beneath my booted feet and then suddenly not. With a scoff at gravity I leapt into the air, felt the rush of it against my face, the sucking rise of my belly, the warm pull of the sun and the freedom to spread myself out and go any direction I chose. Freedom like I have not experienced in a very long time.
There are many paths in this world. It's important for me to remember that not all of them are defined by dirt and grass and flowers blooming in the trees along the shore of the lakes. Some paths are carved among the clouds. Some paths follow the wind. Some cut high across the plains, so high they cast no shadows. Some are not as treacherous as they seem from this low vantage.