I’ve never been big on holidays, especially Christmas. Too much drama, too much expectation, too much disappointment. But once in my life, many years ago, I had the perfect Christmas, without doing Christmas at all.
“What are you doing for Christmas?” my friend Iron Man asked me earlier in the week.
“Nothing.” I answered. “No one’s around this year.” I didn’t have to tell him that I was perfectly OK with that, because he knows me. He knows I’m fine doing nothing, much more than getting stuck doing something I don’t want to do.
“Let’s do Jewish Christmas,” he suggested. “We’ll go for a run, then get Chinese food, totally low key.” Neither of us had family around that year that we wanted to spend time with, neither of us were dating anyone so there were no obligations there, and it was his ex’s turn to have their kids for the holiday. Completely on our own, with no one to worry about besides ourselves, and no expectations for some Hallmark family Christmas, we could do whatever we wanted. A totally chill day with one of my best friends? It sounded great.
When Christmas arrived it was a grey overcast morning, like most winter mornings in Portland, nothing special. We headed out to the Columbia Gorge, about 45 minutes outside of town. As we drove east the sun came out and by the time we arrived at the empty parking lot by Multnomah Falls it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. Winter sun in Portland is a rare gift, and we relished it.
We headed up the trail towards Angel’s rest, and within about a quarter of a mile we hit snow. As we climbed higher the snow got deeper and deeper. The snow was fresh and well-packed and other than the occasional animal footprint, we were the first ones to enjoy its beauty. The sun reflected off the brilliant white snow and kept us warm as we walked the uphills, and ran the flats and downhills.
Iron Man could run about twice as fast as me, but we kept my pace, not pushing, running only for the joy of running. We were talking and laughing, telling stories, and some times just running along quietly, enjoying the silence. All the best friendships include the ability to just be with each other in silence.
Our trail shoes gripped the snow, making crunching noises, while birds sang over our heads and animals chattered in the bush. As we climbed higher the snow was so deep it was hard to tell where the trail was, and we hugged the side of the trail so we wouldn’t accidentally plunge over a cliff. Periodically one of us would slip and land on our butt, or break through and sink deep into the snow, laughing as we extricated ourselves and resumed our run.
We stopped periodically to take a drink from our packs and enjoy the view around us — the craggy incline of the hills, the Columbia River snaking far beneath us, the rare blue sky, the magical quality of the shimmering snow covering all the trees and bushes in a blanket of white.
We hadn’t seen evidence of a single other person — it was like we were the only two people in the world. For a few hours, running along in the sun, tramping through the snow, separate from the rest of the world, we were completely care-free. Our souls were at peace.
Suddenly we heard a crashing noise and two deer darted out on the trail ahead of us, gracefully running almost vertically as they hopped down the steep hill on the other side. I had never been so close to a deer before, and never have been since then, and I was awed by their size and their presence. I held my breath as they flew down to the lower woods, like us, completely at one with the trail.
Eventually our legs grew tired and we headed back down the trail towards the car and drove into town, starving. We relived our run over Chinese food and beer, then saw a movie, completely at ease. We parted ways late that night, exhausted and happy.
There was something healing about the woods, and the beauty of snow, and on that day nature gave us a gift we would never get at a holiday party. It’s a gift I cherish to this day. We did nothing Chistmasy that day, and yet it was a perfect Christmas.
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