Page 63 - JanFeb2014

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wet, heavy spring snow, I fall head first into the snow. The snow just had collapsed beneath my feet, had sunk almost a foot, and the resulting loss of balance caused me to fall head first into the just-created broken, not-quite-knee-high wall of snow in front of me. The slab was sliding on top of me, my mouth full of snow sputtering and spitting, panicking while inverted in a darkish environment, and then … nothing happens but me sputtering and flaying arms. I look up. No slide coming my way, just sun shining nicely during a mostly cloudy day. I flop around like a fish to try to get my feet under me, and then spend minutes clearing out the snow from goggles, neck, sleeves, and hat. I think of my kids, now mostly grown, and miss them terribly. Damn, should have prepared the distribution of my property and money to them by will or trust so they won’t need Probate court. It would have been so easy to have prepared any kind of testacy documents myself. I apologize out loud to them.

The bowl’s bottom narrows to a small two-tiered valley, rocky with small trees on the high side, a clear sloping trail on the lower. The trees, now closer, reveal a proper mature forest. I yearn to be there as it appears safe. Blocking my way is a short cliff, maybe eight-to-twelve feet high, which I just want to ignore as this is the kind of gentle cliff in good ski conditions that easily can be jumped. The same doubts as above immobilize me. But, shallower slope means less potential energy in the slope. This thought reassures a bit. Hmmm. A straight line shot to the trees seems best. Ready, go, drop, ski, and a tense few seconds. I cross the threshold of the trees and calm down.

The road is still a couple of miles away, and the small increasing sense of security in the trees feels good and helps thinking. It’s an easy ski through sometimes tight pines with a comfortable slope; gravity does the work and lets my

muscles and mind relax. Following the contours of the obvious drainage, I soon leave the trees and emerge into a snow field I must cross below large, one-hundred-plus feet high rock walls, familiar because they are a prominent sight when seen in the distance from the highway. Huge avalanches recently, probably last night, had slid and created debris fields below the walls. Dread. Even though debris fields are stable, I just bear the chill of fear while crossing, as continuing sweat dripped into my goggles, my ski pants already heavy with leg sweat.

Once lower in the trees along summertime hiking trails, I just ski-hike, feel safe yet feel afraid to cross small streams not because they’re dangerous, it’s just now I will survive and fear taking a chance, a funny paradox from an hour or so ago. A click sound from the ski bindings starts, and it sounds like it’s gonna break any second. I ignore the sound as I cannot spend mental energy worrying about it – I’ll face that set-back if and when it happens.

The terrain flatter, the occasional sounds of the road had been audible for ten minutes. On the road, I walk a mile before a young couple, grad students, picks me up in their Alaska plates’ pick-up truck. The couple is friendly and asks about the area because they had never been before. I respond to questions of our valley, town and ski area in a casual voice, a disconnect from the still racing mind and the body’s animated, adrenaline-dosed exhaustion. When they ask how was skiing today, my voice can only manage that I had been scared to death and it was avalanching a lot up there.

© Mark A. Rudis Nov. 4, 2103

Page 63 - JanFeb2014

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