It was going to be one of those days, he could already tell. Despite cold bluebird skies, a dark cloud already hung over him, and if the past was any indication, it would almost certainly persist for the rest of the day. He didn’t have many of them, these days, but lately, they were occurring more frequently than he liked. If asked, he would admit his funk, denial wasn't his thing, but he would be at a loss to explain it. Shit, he couldn't explain his state of mind if he had wanted to; not even if someone had a 9mm rested upon his temple, hammer cocked. Emotional intelligence was overrated anyway, he muttered to himself, as he stepped out of bed already frustrated. His wife would say that was his favourite word. Frustrated, which when amplified could quickly shift into anger. Admittedly, he possessed very little else in the way of emotional awareness, and his long-suffering family would confirm this if asked.
The day, despite the impending gloom, followed an almost daily ritual. He filled the reservoir of the faithful Dutch made Moccamaster (over eleven years old now, and evident by its cloudy state) with three-quarters of a litre of filtered water. He still smiled when doing this. It had been a touch of genius, installing the pot filler into the renovated kitchen and hooking it up to a commercial water filter, perfect for brewing amazing coffee at home. Taking his scale from the cupboard, he measured forty-five grams of Santa Rosa Petite and dumped the lightly roasted tiny seeds into the Baratza Sete grinder. There wasn’t a hint of oil on any of the roasted coffee seeds, a testament to both the roast and the coffee’s freshness. He had made coffee like this so many times, he could have done it blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back. He slid a No. four filter out of its box and placed it in the black ribbed basket, rinsed the filter with hot water, and proceeded to dose the now freshly ground coffee into it. The hot water quickly sputtered out from the brew arm, wetting the grinds, and he stirred the slurry with a little-pointed silver teaspoon which had been his wife’s baby spoon. For whatever reason, it just felt right in his hand, a perfect stirring spoon, he thought; which he kept with the rest of his coffee paraphernalia, so he didn’t have to go hunting for it.
He turned his attention to the small fifty-year-old copper bottom pot, filled it with hot water, and set it on the burner, to boil. He used this pot for cooking eggs. Opening the fridge, he took out a large single white egg, placed it in a black plastic egg holding tool which he used to lower the orb into boiling water, so it didn’t crack. Reaching for an ebony handled cerated Cutco knife, he pulled it off of the wood covered knife magnet, sliced a half inch thick piece of potato bread, and placed it in the toaster oven. The water now boiling, he tapped the preset timer on his Apple watch for seven minutes, knowing at this elevation, that cooking time would yield a perfect soft boiled egg. It bothered him, when he set his mind to it, how ritualistic he had become with breakfast. He used to think that he was a free spirit, not given to rigid habits, and yet, this daily routine now spoke volumes; up until three years ago, he never even ate breakfast. Gathering the repast, he placed it all on the large wood top island, slumped onto the black pneumatic chair in front of his Mac and began scanning his emails. He did this most days, cherishing the time alone to ease into the day; reading, and responding as required, but mostly deleting emails. His inbox was mostly filled with junk, but lately, the ones from Medium or the Athletic feed had something worth a glance. Today, the gloom coloured the ritual, hung heavy, pressed against him, gnawed at the fact that he wasn’t writing.
Looking up, he wondered how it could already be 11:15? He opened the chrome handled drawer beside him and pushed the auto start button on a tiny remote; the truck needed to run for a bit, despite being parked in the garage. It was minus twenty-nine outside. He could see the headlights flash through the frosted pane of glass in the garage, and heard the engine roar to life…
There had been a short respite from his brooding, during lunch club. While it often seemed like an imposition, an interruption in his routine, the weekly gathering and conversations amongst colleagues almost always left him energized.
Then there was the visit to the wine store on the way home. Not that he needed more wine, his cellar was very well stocked, most would have said it required a good party, or three, to thin it out. Yet wandering the aisles, scanning labels for something new, had proven to be an adequate form of therapy. This store was a relatively new haunt for him. He had only been a regular for less than a year, give or take. Here too, the conversations energized him. Here too, he felt like he was part of a community, part of something beyond himself. It was strange, but places like these always made him feel like he belonged. Wine had been one of his dominant passions since law school. Frank Jones, his tax law professor, had inspired him, one night, after feeding his entire class. Just driving up to the century-old brownstone in Old Glenora had made a significant impression on him. After dinner, led by Prof Jones, he joined some others, and they made their way downstairs into what had initially been a boiler room, which Frank had made into a makeshift wine cellar. So many bottles, most covered in a fine layer of dust, stacked, row upon row, hundreds of them, captured his imagination.
His journey into wine had started innocently enough, and it had only taken one good bottle. He had told the story so many times, his friend Brian visiting him, 1977 Château Lafite Rothschild in tow. He had driven with it up from Calgary and wanted to share it with his old friend from university. That vintage in the Bordeau wasn't the best ever, but Brian said he had paid over six hundred dollars for the bottle. He could remember rolling his eyes in feigned disbelief at Brian’s all too common act of extravagance, while secretly, eagerly wanting to drink what was easily the most expensive bottle of wine he had ever seen. He could remember sitting down at the tiny kitchen table, white speckled arborite top, ringed with bevelled Chrome around the edges; a fitting, if not ironic setting to consume such a prodigious flask. Despite the quality which spilt out of the bottle into cheap wine glasses that chilly November evening over twenty years ago, the evening did not go as he anticipated. Rather than being amazed at the nuanced flavours and experience of such an expensive bottle, he felt ripped off. How could six hundred dollars taste so average? He was so perplexed, why couldn’t he taste the difference? For all he knew, he could have been drinking Yellow Tail. A bottle of that value must have an inherent quality, and he remembered making a decision to never drink another bottle like it until he could discern what made it so. The journey into the world of wine had begun.
Twenty-one years later, a WSET III Advanced certificate hanging on his office wall, he was now well practiced in the art of drinking wine. Far too well practiced his wife had said on many occasions. These days, his attention had been directed towards drinking natural wines. Many of his friends still mocked him for what they said was a passing fad, although he didn’t think so. He walked out of the wine store, a lightness to his step, two bottles packed into a brown paper bag under his arm, and climbed behind the wheel of the dirty but still white Toyota Tundra.
Pulling into the garage, he couldn't help but notice that his cloud of funk had followed him home. As he often did, he lingered there, parked inside of the garage, engine running. His truck had become a place of solace for him, although he was at a loss to understand why like so much else in his life. Sitting there, he could feel the tightness in his chest, feel his pulse vibrate outward. His former therapist had told him to pay attention to his body, learn to listen she had said. Ok, he was listening but still didn't have a fucking clue as to what his body was trying to say. Was it despair? Perhaps hopelessness? Hell, it might just be the lasagna he had eaten at lunch club.
As he opened the back door, he was enthusiastically greeted by the family dog. She was rescued, from the Onion Lake reserve, part mutt mixed with stray. She was a medium sized dog, weighing in at sixty-five pounds, mostly black with a brown teddy bear face, and a thick scruffy double winter coat, in need of grooming. Charlie would wag her tail so violently that it was more of a wagging of her whole body - maybe that is where the saying the tail wagging the dog had come from, he thought? Although the house was quiet, he knew he wasn't alone; but no one besides the optimistic dog noticed his presence. He was tempted to reacquaint himself with the chair at the island, but he spent too much time there, even on good days when he wasn't filled with brooding angst. No, on second thought, a walk would be better both for the dog and for him; maybe he could shake loose the cloud that was dogging him.
Getting ready to go for a walk had become a bit of a cat and mouse game with the dog. Charlie didn't rouse herself for much, food of course, but otherwise nothing much sparked her attention. Nothing that is, but the sound of him putting on a pair of boots. He could be as quiet as a church mouse, and still, Charlie would come bounding down the stairs from two stories above. It baffled him how she could hear and recognize the sound of him putting on boots from two floors up.
In spite of the frigid temperature outside (he secretly mocked most of the inhabitants of his city for their predisposition towards whining about the weather) he was going for a walk. Yes, a polar vortex had settled right on top of the city, yes it was minus thirty-five with the wind chill, but you could always put on more clothes. He had often quipped that if it was too hot, you could only take off so many clothes, and then there were none left to take off. People living in Arizona complained about the weather all the time to, running from air-conditioned houses to air-conditioned cars, to the air-conditioned mall. He much preferred the cold. Laying on a chair in his cold office was the base layer of teal coloured Ice Breaker calf length merino wool long Johns, which he now put on. Along with a non-descript grey merino wool shirt. Above this, he stepped into a pair of tan coloured Spyder bib ski pants, the ones with black knee patches. He had searched long and hard a few seasons back to find a pair, finally finding some that fit at Monods in Banff, and to his surprise, they had been on sale. Then came his boots.
The move last June to their new house (first move in twenty years) had brought the river valley to their doorstep. Since then, he had developed the beneficial ritual of going for a walk, almost daily, although it hadn't been so frequent this past couple of months. His new ritual of walking every day, afforded him the need for a good pair of hiking boots. With him, little was needed to justify an expenditure, he was happy in almost any circumstance to employ retail therapy, despite having the cognizant wear-with-all to understand its short-lived efficacy.
He slipped his right foot (he always started with his right) into the sleek two-toned grey Salomon Quest 4D II boot. He had spent time researching online which boot had the best rating and was delighted when he discovered that MEC had them in stock. He laced it tightly with the speed eyelets, pulling the bow of nylon rope laces tight, so he didn't have to tie a double knot. He hated tying double knots, always had. He mostly hated the effort it took to untie a double knot. Next, the left foot, as it underwent the same ritual, and then he was shod and ready for the short trip. Clicking his way up the wooden flight of stairs from the basement, his rubber and steel spiked ice grips announcing his arrival to the already panting dog at the top of the stairs. Clicking across the heated tile hallway floor, he made his way to the back door where his laid out gear awaited him. He slipped his 45 North face-mask on, tucking the ends under his collar. Next came the baby blue North Face Ventrix coat with a hood, which despite its light weight packed a serious punch in terms of warmth and wind protection. Only two items remained. He placed his Bose over the ear headphones over his already covered ears and dawned his 45 North heavy winter cycling gloves. Cursing now, at himself silently, he took them back off, realizing that he had neglected to put on the dog’s harness and hook the red leash to his waste. Finally, he looked down at his Apple Watch and tapped the Outdoor Walk button. Why he even bothered to track these damn walks was a mystery, even to himself, but something, some need to document his progress, albeit minuscule had been at play for months now.
Stepping outside into the cold, he was annoyed that just thirty-five minutes remained in his audio book, The Brothers K. This book had accompanied him now for over twenty-seven hours of walking. He had grown fond of the characters in the book and was partly dreading its conclusion, even though he expected it to end well, unlike his encounter with Washington Black. Walking south down the back alley, the ice picks on his boots gripping the compacted snow, he turned east towards the river valley, Charlie pretended to know how to heel. Lately, though, the dog had taken to walking behind him on the path down into the valley. It was narrow, hard packed, and apparently, she didn’t like walking in the deeper fresher snow out to the sides. He found this behaviour of hers rather amusing. It wasn’t until the two of them made a turn off the path towards the frozen creek bed that he stopped, and unclipped her leash.
Walking now on the frozen creek bed, Charlie running ahead, the cloud of funk began to dissipate slowly. He had half expected this. These past six months had demonstrated how effective walking had been in providing a more healthy outlook, both mentally and physically. He had walked for hundreds of hours now, listened to the same number of hours of audio books. Yet in many ways, the journey he had begun in the fall, seemed to have stalled. He wasn’t even sure some days what real impact all of his walking and thinking and writing had accomplished, was accomplishing. He had spent over two months with Brene Brown’s Texan drawl in his head and while that time had felt like progress, it now too, seemed distant. Maybe he needed to retake those walks with Brene? The snow crunched under his feet, making that odd squeaky noise, like someone playing with a styrofoam cup. Usually, that sound would have annoyed him, but out in the cold on the creek bed, it had a curiously calming effect. Pulling off a glove, the kind with freedom for two fingers, and a mitten for the rest, he pulled from his face fogged glasses (he was so sick of wearing glasses) and put them into the front pocket of his bibbed ski pants. He walked and listened, icicles began to form from the end of his eyelashes, like slowly growing bars in a prison cell in front of his eyes. As expected, but too soon, thirty minutes into his walk, the book ended, much as he had anticipated. Mixed emotions now flowed within his veins, but still, he was at a loss to interpret them, perhaps he was frustrated.
He slipped the silver noise cancelling headphones off of his ears and wore them around his neck for the rest of the way. As he crunched along, he thought, I am probably making quite the racket for the beavers underneath my feet, and that made him smile. Charlie had gotten quite far ahead but was sitting at the precise spot they usually climbed out of the creek bed together, waiting for him. As he ascended, feet slipping on the steep snowy bank, he could feel the wet of sweaty clothes against his skin. The walk up the path was somewhat laboured, he hadn’t been walking enough, and even with spikes on his boots, the poor traction required more effort. He let the dog pull him along, despite knowing it was a bad habit, for him and the dog. Twilight was setting, an eery light reflecting off of the snow. He stopped after reaching the top of the path, marking the faded pastel colours on the horizon, and then pulled his iPhone out of his pocket, took a selfie, so he could see what those icicles looked like growing on his face. The walk home now was short, Charlie impatient, almost certainly her paws were uncomfortably cold, she had stopped numerous times on the walk to chew ice balls out from between her nails. Stepping through the gate his boots clicked on the bare cold concrete. His steps felt lighter, and he noticed that the cloud hadn’t followed him home. He stepped into the warm house, unannounced. It was time to make dinner.