He swore to himself he'd never leave the cabin without a day pack.  This was wild country out here, nearly eight thousand feet up in the Sequoia National Forest, and too many things could go wrong.  He pictured that day pack now, the sort of thing that might contain matches,  a compass, flashlight, granola bars, a tarp and ground cloth better yet, a cell phone.  It was dusk, temperature in the teens, and there was a mountain or maybe two mountains between him and the cabin.  Worse: it had begun to snow, a hard pilling snow that drew a screen over the visible world.  He didn't need a little voice whispering in his ear to know he was lost.

Two hours ago, he'd got up from his desk, shrugged into his parka and wandered off into the woods.  He didn't tell anyone he was going (Maggie was on the couch with a book, a very dull book, judging from the sound of her breathing and the weight of her eyelids), and it was no big deal he'd gone out and followed his feet just about every day since they rented the place.  It cleared his head.  And it brought him close, in spirit at least, to John Muir, the subject of the biography he as working on.

But he was no woodsman, no rapt visionary who would climb up into a tree in the middle of a blizzard just to feel what a tree must feel, and he liked to take nature in comfortably sectioned pieces, an hour or two at a time.  What did the snow taste like?  Like frozen air, air made concrete, and he let it coat his tongue and drift across his upturned face.  He wasn't cold.  And he wasn't panicky.  Not yet.

Then it was night, night like a succubus, steaming up out of the ground to meld with the pale sky, and still the snow kept coming, he could see nothing.  He was breathing hard, slashing through drifts that were knee-deep, going up, going down, going nowhere.  People die out here, that's what he was thinking, and he could feel it...death, as palpable as the cold--seeping in to his fingers and toes.  He thought vaguely of building a shelter, pine boughs, layers of snow, some sort of lean-to, but when he pictured it, in the abstract, it looked too much like a grave.

Later, much later, when he was so sapped he could barely lift his feet, he blundered into something in the dark, something that wasn't the wall-like trunk of a sequoia or ponderosa, but a wall in fact.  And as he felt along the wall, he came to a door, and the door opened to his touch.  A moment later, he was in front of the fire, the embers there, a handful of kindling, another log, and the light quavered and rose and he saw Maggie stretched out on the couch, in the moment of waking, the book collapsed like a big insect on her chest.  Hey, she said, you're all snow.  Been out for a walk?

Something like that, he said, and it was as if he were the one who'd been asleep and dreaming.  But listen, and he was already moving away from the fire, the familiar bottle in his hand, the two glasses, a squeeze of lime, the rejuvenant smell of the Absolut, how about a drink before dinner?  To celebrate.