Short Stories from the Road #1: The Silent Valley

This is story #1 in my Short Stories from the Road series. Introduction found here

The air still had a bite to it. As the early morning turned to late, I’d hoped the weather would begin to warm, but it didn’t seem to be the case. The clouds wouldn’t relent for more than a few minutes at a time obscuring the Grand Teton rising high above us at some moments, and shading us the next, keeping the chill of the air with us. Six or so miles into our nineteen mile round trip, we were settled into our quick but not quite rushed pace, moving deeper into the valley, gradually gaining elevation and removing ourselves further and further from the outside world.

As we followed the icy stream up the classic U-shaped glacial valley, our trail took us through more thickly wooded areas obstructing views, before breaking into clearings covered in shorter shrubs and settled fallen boulders originating from high above. We hadn’t seen another soul since leaving our rental car at the trailhead, but a handful of birds and a group of three distrusting moose reminded us that we were not alone. Most noteworthy though, was the lack of sound or motion. The sheltered valley had the occasional breeze that rustled a few leaves faintly breaking the silence, but the damp cold ground with increasing numbers of snowy patches seemed to be absorbing all noise and energy. Quiet and still, the valley sat as if frozen.

Before leaving on the trip, I had scanned a few posted warnings on grizzly bears. Being from California where we’d killed off the majestic creature, I had little knowledge of them, but it was recommended to be loud on the trail in order to not suddenly surprise them and wind up as their dinner. The quiet and lack of activity kept a subtle fear in the back of my mind for the imminent. I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before a grizzly would arrive to eat my companion. Preemptively, I decided to commence the trail version of karaoke in order to ward off the creatures, but that proved short lived as the still and quiet valley seemed to disapprove of the vocal disturbance. We slowly fell back into silence as we trekked along stepping over the occasionally root, brushing up against some overhanging foliage and feeling the cold air on our exposed faces.

Sudden movement on the trail twenty feet before me and headed my way fast. I give out a shrill noise known universally as “Oh fuck” as I jump clear into the air. The adrenaline courses through my veins and my eyes instantly gain focus. A fox. A red fox with a lovely bushy tail trotting along towards us. My muscles relax but I hold still. Spotting us, he hardly misses a beat and leaves the trail to circle by us from a safe distance as our heads and eyes follow him. Before returning to the path behind us, he stops momentarily and looks back. For an instant our eyes connect. Mine, showing infinite fascination at this beautiful and wild creature. His, betraying the mildest form of curiosity, or perhaps amusement. But he quickly remembers his immediate plans, turns and continues his journey down the trail, leaving us staring behind him as he slips out of view. Silence and stillness return.