Steep

Not long ago I watched a movie about extreme skiers and snowboarders.   I know many good skiers. I know backcountry skiers,  skiers who think double black diamonds are a warm up, people who ski the bumps as if their legs were giant Slinkies.  But I don’t personally know anyone like the people in this documentary – mostly men but one memorable woman –  who dangle by a rope from a helicopter, lowering inch by inch through the blade-smacked air until their skis touch the peak of an unnamed mountain,  and who sew themselves like a ribbon all the way down to the bottom.

The skiers swept gracefully down the sides of unthinkable slopes, the snow like a river before them.  I  wondered what the parents of these young daredevils thought as they watched the lights of their lives  dance their mortal dance with the mountain.

“When you’re up there, no one takes care of you but you.   It’s you and the mountain, and that’s all there is, all that matters,” said one of the skiers, and yeah, I could see the appeal. But I kept thinking of his mom somewhere, watching her son mouth these words,  how she would be noticing the way this cheeks glowed from a recent shave, and the cut just visible on the right side of his chin.

I could picture her looking directly into her eyes that looked directly into the camera, eyes that were maybe the same shade of hard-to-read blue as hers.  I wondered if, when the boy paused after “all there is”, did his mother feel the cold breath of the mountain on her cheek, and did it feel like a warning, or a caress.

I watched the clips of him skiing and knew it would be his yellow hat she noticed, tracking it like a falling star as it printed its helix path.

I could picture her in her green recliner, her husband asleep in the matching chair next to her. I could imagine the smell of the pork chops they had for dinner still warming the air.  I could imagine the movie ending, her husband long since gone to bed with a grunt that expressed reluctant pride and disapproval that his jobless son wasn’t an engineer.

I could imagine her going to the roll top desk where she paid bills, thinking to get a notebook and a pen, thinking to write him, the extreme skier, her son.   I can imagine that, looking at the  notebook page, she might suddenly feel an urge to write a poem, remembering she had once swept form word to word as easily as her son swept across the featureless face of the mountain.

I pictured her sitting there wanting to write her son a poem that her son could appreciate, that would show him that she understood what drew him to the vast untracked snowy canvass blanketing that imposing pile of rock and dirt and stone so frightening in its pristine possibilities..  She would struggle because the words no longer came easily, and when they did come, were immediately swallowed by the blank white of the paper, so like the implacable snow that held her son in its cold embrace.

© Copyright Sandra Stephens (nee Sandra Miller)

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