The last hikes of 2014.

Before we left for a New Year’s/birthday get-away to Charleston, Cholula and I got out on a couple of snowy hikes- the last of the year. We’re so lucky to have trails winding right behind our home. Even during the most hectic weeks, it’s not hard to get out into the fresh mountain air when it’s this close. As usual, my crooked-eared companion trotted ahead, zig-zagging across the trail and pouncing like a snow fox onto imaginary mice in the deeper drifts.

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Not far into our jaunt, snow started to fall and some movement on the hillside caught my eye. Cholula saw it, too, and stood rigid on the trail with her silly ears erect. Down the mountain ran a stream of elk in single file, making their strange elk noises and, somewhat alarmingly, turning toward the trail just ahead of us.

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Knowing we weren’t in danger of being stampeded, I walked just a bit further up the trail for a better view. The line of elk just kept coming, a herd of 200 huge animals trotting over a ridge line, through a little valley, and over another hill. I stood in awe, just enjoying the show, with Cholula wisely hovering by my side. What a spectacular gift.

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The next day, the sun was out. The snow on the trail sparkled like Liberace’s tuxedo and hung in clumps on the scrub oak branches like oversized cotton balls. My breath came out in clouds and I watched Cholula dive into the same drifts as yesterday, coming up with a fresh snow beard each time. The sounds of the neighborhood were muffled, drowned out by the squeaky crunch of my footsteps in the snow. We came upon the area where the elk had crossed the trail, a jumble of hoof prints and paw prints and boot prints. I soaked in the view, grateful for the solitude and the crisp air in my lungs.

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Not a bad end to the year.

One year ago: Four make-ahead appetizers, perfect for NFL playoffs!

Two years ago: Intentional gratitude…even on a sick day.

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