Years ago on a cold morning, I woke up cursing my broken furnace while getting ready for work. Cold house, cold room, cold water, cold. I put on a set of thermals but it didn’t help. I got ready, cursing. I made sure to start my car a few minutes before leaving, but when I left, the car heater was still cold. It was an old car. Probably I should’ve known better. I started on my way, still cursing. At a stop sign I looked down and to my right. A little finch was bathing in a puddle which was still liquid but frozen around the edges. The damn thing was soaking itself like spa-time at a tropical resort. Tiny, little stupid bird. I realized that day, I was a pansy. And to my surprise, I stopped complaining.
A few years later I was atop a mountain in the back country of the Smokey Mountains. I spent the whole day hiking up waist-high stones to reach the top and ran out of daylight. I opted to spend the night in my sleeping bag against a giant rock who, graciously, was willing to cut the mountain wind for me. I knew it was going to be cold, really cold. I made a crackling fire with a few sticks I found and read some R. L. Stevenson. The stars were so dense they looked like coconut oil. I could hear the occasional sound of coyotes howling. My bones were tired and I slept well, except for waking few times from the cold. I woke a final time with the sunrise. It was red and blue. Not purple, but blue, like the pacific, and it was slowly turning gold. I laid there watching it for a moment, and when the landscape became green again I started to get up. I noticed my saliva was frozen on my bag, which I had been using as a pillow. Just as I made some zipper noise I spooked two mule deer. I watched them spring up and run off. A huge grin fell over my face. Then a finch landed on top of the windbreaking rock and danced back and forth for a second before flying off.
As I began walking down the mountain I thought about the finch on the rock and then the finch in the puddle, somehow, and I got mad at myself for not telling the bastard on the rock that he didn’t win this time.