I carry him on my back uphill. A broken pelvis, healed without intervention, disabled his body long before he was mine. Cool green manzanita leaves and prickly pine needles shake off their snow like birds in a bath. Beside them, I march; enjoying each boulder, each seed-bearing cone, each sage brush adorning snow. I slouch under dull pain in my shoulders. I had thought for years to train for backpacking, but never enough to start — until this disabled body showed up wanting the adventure as much as I.
Behind gauzy clouds, the sun moves through a sky that morphs from bright to dark almost without warning. I check my watch. We’ve arrived at nowhere-in-particular and must return downhill. I relinquish my body from the backpack, careful not to tip him.
His feet, wrapped in miniature booties, make miniature crunches on the snow-turned-ice. Perfectly timed to my pattering heart, evermore delighted with each mini-crunch. His steps a staccato. My strides: the baseline. Sloshing where snow and earth made mud. In one bright streak — a comet’s trail — still water reflects the sun that warms our backs, both covered in fleece. He looks back at me, checking on me, flashing his wide, toothless smile.
When I wonder too long, his mystery past roots sadness in my heart to guess. The only certainty: a guardian angel plucked him from death row. And here we are now, his steps and mine, crunching ice in booties and boots. Living our destiny.