Reflections

The morning was cold and gray, and the air felt heavy, like electricity pulsed through it—like waiting, wondering, restless movement. It smelled like water and leaves or maybe early snow. As the sun painted blazes through the fog, I began to make out motionless black forms on the filmy expanse of water, between the oranges…

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I spent the first day of 2017 filling my lungs with crisp winter air near New Paltz, N.Y., with two fellow rock climbers. That morning, the three of us had trudged through empty woodland and ground covered by 4 inches of fresh snow to the quartz cliffs, where the freezing rock—in some places, still covered…

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Michael wears a bright red Arcteryx jacket when we hike. He’s a lot faster than me, and I’ve lost track of the number of trips where I’ve seen that red dot moving ahead. When I see it stop, I know he has reached the top of the ascent. He has waited for me in cold,…

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I tested HIV positive when I was 27 years old. It was 1992 and at the time, I thought the diagnosis was a death sentence. As a gay man trapped in the closet and struggling to come out, life was difficult. I had no job, no support network, and—I thought at the time—no future. In order to…

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During years of appointments, my doctor and I have spent as much time talking about our hiking trips as about my age and medical diagnoses. A while ago, he casually said, “People who have the hardest time facing the realities of physical decline are those who have had an active outdoor life.” He offered these…

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Months before our 25th anniversary, my wife and I vowed to do something special. But as the date drew closer, it seemed unlikely we would do much beside work. We couldn’t even go home from our jobs, since we lived above the front office of the Maine oceanfront campground where we work as sea-kayaking guides,…

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Apprehension building, I adjust my grip on the fraying ash-wood shafts of the two canoe paddles I’m balancing. The broad blades dig deeper into my 14-year-old shoulders as the weight shifts overhead. The paddles are tied to the wooden thwarts of a 17-foot canoe that is resting upside-down on my crown and spine like a…

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As a child, whenever I asked to play outside, the answer was almost always, “No.” I spent the first four years of my life in a neighborhood of Section 8 housing in South Texas. My mother was chiefly concerned with my safety, of course, and in her eyes, safety and playing outside were mutually exclusive….

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I remember my first big hike like it was yesterday: 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Front Royal to Keyes Gap, Va., over a week in 2009 with friends. Let’s just say it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I wasn’t in any kind of shape for hiking, much less for the Roller Coaster, 13…

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Cancer came roaring into our lives in the coldest part of the year—a fitting entrance for a brutish disease. My boyfriend, Garrett, was diagnosed with lymphoma in March. Where we live, in Maine, March isn’t even mud season. It’s winter, plain and simple, filled with icicles and hoarfrost and cabin fever. There’s never a good…

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