We follow moose tracks into the forest. They're deep, deeper than any human can make -- a thousand pounds isolated on hooves the size of your hand and pushing down past snowpack and hoarfrost.
We see fox trails and ermine. There's vole tunnels and coyotes.
Snowhares. Squirrels. Ranch dogs. Wild cats.
In a clearing, with a guide, we light a fire and sit on snow benches. We eat s'mores and warm our hands by the fire.
"This is the best," she says.
Back at the cabin, fingers warming, she quickly changes out of her snow clothes. She dons a cowboy hat. She throws on her boots.
"I'll be at the main lodge," she says.
She runs through new powder heaps. Her toes make triangle tracks in the snow. She disappears into a pine grove.
She doesn't come down for dinner. She's got new friends. They play with a ranch dog and pour root beer on packed snow and bury their faces in goopy slush.
Later, when it's time to head back to the cabin, she'll grab her mother's hand under a sky riddled with too-bright stars and they'll laugh and I'll stop and watch for a quiet moment behind them and smile.
My uncle hitch hiked to New York City. My mom dropped him at the main highway and there he went. A trucker. A couple. A few days later he handed his resume to a secretary at a big television network. She had just told him there were no jobs but he handed it over just the same and turned.
New York City. What now?
"Just a minute," the secretary called.
"You went to Eastern? So did I."
I just heard this story. I knew he hitched to New York. I knew he met my aunt there. She had family out on California. Eventually, they'd both leave New York to be closer to her family. Many years later, my own family would head out to California to be closer to them.
How much turns on coincidence?
She went to Eastern.
He got the job. He was sent to cover the Olympics. He met my aunt there. She had family from California. They'd move there. Years later, my own family would ....
A friend I met at a community college said he could get me a good job. Pretty decent pay for college kids. Long, hard days, but actually pretty good money.
I started taking these big games around to corporate events.
Velcro walls. Human bowling. Human slingshot. Climbing walls. Rubber slides. Sumo suits that smelled like sweat and booze.
I was a high-end, well-paid carny, basically.
I'd go into a big red barn in Napa at the start of the shift and find a clipboard with my name on it. It was the busiest season -- Grad Night time, when we'd take these big, stinky games to sober graduation parties after the last day of high school festivities.
Ten or so clipboards.
Mine said Carmel.
That night, I'd load up the truck with a human gyroscope on a trailer and an inflatable boxing ring with over-sized, super soft boxing gloves in the bed and then meet a workmate at the school.
A long freeway. Artichoke fields. Coastal spray. Sand dunes.
I started setting up and saw her, the workmate I was to meet for the shift.
Turns out we grew up in the same town. We went to the same school, in fact. She was a senior when I was a freshman. I swam and played water polo with most of her friends. Her mom had briefly taught Spanish and had one of my brothers in class. They saw each other all the time at a grocery store where he worked as a bagger. She lived almost directly under a rocky cliff at a regional park where I liked to hike in with a book and a beer and read for hours.
I never met her until that night, when I saw her approach a fence, look around for a gate or a door, and then start to climb. It'll be 20 years next year, 10 of them married.
A friend said he had a good-paying job. A random clipboard assignment. Could have been ten other workers and who knows if we'd have just kept missing each other, our tracks crossing just out of orbit.
I see triangles in the snow.
A pointed toe. A deep heel in the new powder. Big spacing in the steps.
Of course she's running.
I follow the tracks to the lodge, to the horse arena. It's a fun vacation we're on. A dude ranch in the northern mountain country of Colorado. We backcountry ski. Snow shoe. Dog sled. Trail ride.
She likes the activities, the movie nights. I like the freedom and independence she feels here, opening the door to the semi-wild and venturing out alone.
The tracks. They're everywhere. The horse meadow. The corrals. The arena. It's like trying to follow those Family Circus kids, after they discovered Red Bull.
Each time, it seems, they venture more. I know someday they'll find the gate. The big road. The open country.
And just keep going.
I can't help but wonder where, which wild orbits they'll follow, and how, despite planning or study, schools or goals, they might yet turn on the randomest of coincidence or dumb luck; I can't help but hope that her own story will fall into place in a way that will make her stop dead under too-bright stars some night and be grateful for all the tiny little moments in so many different lives that made it possible to feel such joy.