birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


I wasn’t planning to hike. I just set out walking, and when the street ran out, I was in Chataqua Park, climbing the hill toward the Flatirons. I was surprised to hit crusted snow in the shade, even drifts, but crunched on, thinking. Feeling my cheeks cold, but glad to be moving, just moving. I was fairly far up the hill when I noticed the sun was setting. I hadn’t been following a trail, just looking for openings and taking them, and now that seemed a little unwise. The sun falls below the mountains as though someone’s pulled the cord of a window shade. Sunset, two blinks, twilight. 

Now I remembered how I’ve always hated the downhill. My mother had one horrifying story of climbing a trail in Japan and running down only to tumble and crash onto her knees. The round scars around her kneecaps were smooth and strange, and I rubbed them, absorbed her fear of going down. The snow glowed a little as I picked my way in fits and starts, which must mean the moon rose, and I stepped into a flat patch of it that turned out to be a drift that filled my boot. Brush all around. I had no idea where I was, but downhill was home, that was certain.

But now there was a rise. Maybe I was turned around. I stopped and stood. It was getting colder, but I couldn’t make myself move. Then there was noise around me. I want to say thunder or crashing, but I have no clear memory. What I remember was the deep quiet as a herd of deer stood around me panting out in clouds of breath, as though that’s what they had come from, a sudden apparition. All of us stood still, breathing.

Deer are larger than I thought. I didn’t turn my head to count them, just felt them close and wondered if I should be afraid. Above me on the hill, below me with antlers, warm. The freezing breath was warm. Then one ran, and they all did, a pounding that woke me and had me running too. Running fast.

Letter to Elizabeth

A bear!