"You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters."-St. Bernard

The coffee has grown cold in his hand, sloshing against the tin cup, but he doesn't notice. His eyes focus on the horizon, lips slightly parted, the near-silent inhales and exhales of breath his only movement. He watches as the sun lifts, breaking through the sky like a chick escaping from it's shell, a golden bit at a time, leaving behind the darkness and tumbling out into an uncertain morning.

Pale streaks of color smudge the sky, brush strokes of an unseen hand, quietly bathing the new sun before slipping away, fading into the yellow beams. The sunlight breaks through the trees, sending beams across the ground as small creatures crawl out of their homes, darting through the golden patches and off to their breakfasts.

He hears the sounds around him, the gentle swish of the wind like a lady's satin skirts, rustling in the leaves and grass as it turns the day before into this one, setting things into order and motion. There's a call from a bird on the wing somewhere above him, the chattering of a pair of squirrels that chase each other around the trunk of a nearby tree, tiny feet scampering across the roots, and the whispered step of a rabbit.

His gaze seeks out and finds all the things he's never noticed before, like a child counting all the pieces that make up a patchwork quilt, seeing all with new eyes. It's breathtakingly beautiful, clear and vivid, so full of life his heart feels as if it will burst, gratitude welling up until he aches with the joy of it.

He's never truly looked at it all before, but in those days spent in darkness beneath the bandages he'd tried to remember, to picture the sights he'd taken for granted. He'd blocked them out at first, when he hadn't thought he would live, when he hadn't wanted to live, the days when he'd fought against and for life and never known which he wanted, but they'd crowded in, forcing their way into his memories, a lingering remnant of hope he couldn't erase.

Behind him he hears the people stirring, and he turns, drinking in the faces, the clatter of voices, the laughter of a group of children playing, the banging of pots and spoons scraping pans as the women busy themselves at breakfast, and the whinnying of the horses as the men feed and water them. In an hour they'll be hitched and the supplies loaded, the people driving or walking beside the wagons as they roll forward, deeper into the west and closer to their dreams.

He'll be up ahead of them, scouting as usual, searching for water and smoother ground. But nothing about it will be the same. He's alive, after all, against all odds and because of a girl he left behind in a town with the broken shell of a man she loved, because of that love and hate and far more. He has his eyes, the sight to see the tracks of those who went before them and the flow of the water as it meets a stream where they'll camp tonight, and it leaves him quiet and humble, and forever changed.

He's not the same man he used to be, he thinks, because how could anyone be given two miracles and remain unchanged? But when he's riding and a bird takes to the air in front of him, he pulls up his horse and takes the time to watch it soar, flying away from him and across the hills on the wind, free and alive.