I won’t, he says. I’ll be right there with you.
Because I’m not sure I can do it, I tell him.
You can do it, he says.
And you always say you’ll stay, and then you leave.
I won’t leave, he promises.
I’ll be so mad if you do, I say. Because you do it all the time.
I promise I’ll be right there, he says.
This conversation is taking place at the top of a mountain. Snow spreads around us like wedding cake frosting. It is so deep that my legs are not visible below the knees.
We are contemplating a woods where my dear husband (DH, we call him around the house) has been skiing out of bounds all day. I have been sticking to the established runs, practicing my powder technique, which is so different from regular skiing as to be a totally different sport.
I am ready to be ready for some tree skiing. I want to hang with the DH, who is quite the man on skis and a snowboard. I can hear him, sometimes, whooping deep in the woods as he surfs snow at what sometimes seems like the speed of light. I glimpse his yellow and black ski jacket flashing amongst the trees like the world’s biggest, fastest bee.
And of course I see him at the end of each run, when our respective trails converge. He always looks the same – covered with a film of powder and a smile so wide and happy and un-self-conscious, you can’t help but want one too.
It was seeing that smile that gave me the idea.
I want to ski in the trees with you, I say.
OK! he says. That’s my girl!
But I am nervous. This is not only tree lined, but a ‘black’ slope – in other words, steep.
I mean it, I tell him. Don’t leave me.
I won’t, he promises. I’ll wait right up there.
Where?! I say – shout – after him, but he is gone, and it is just me standing on the vast snowy plain.
I look up at the lowering gray sky and let the snowflakes drift onto my face. In the distance, the Sierras rise in cold majesty all around the forbidding gray surface of Lake Tahoe. What would it be like to swim in that, I wonder? I’m thousands of feet up, and my exposed face is so cold that the skin will later dry into little flaky fissures.
I am reminded of a movie that was shot on location here; Tilda Swinton stars, she of the dead white complexion and lashless eyes that bespeak generations of ancestors who lived in the cold climes. In the movie, her son is involved in the accidental death of a lover, a man. Lashless Tilda panics and rows the body out into a secluded part of the lake and dumps it…..then later realizes the guy’s fancy red Porsche is parked in front of the house for all to see.
So she rows back out, strips down and dives into the frigid water, down down down to the body where she rifles through his – the corpse’s – pants pockets until she finds the car keys, her reddish hair swirling around her like some macabre mermaid. The woman is *fierce*, I tell you.
I realize I am delaying, that the DH has skied out of sight already. I laboriously shove myself forward, and ski into the trees. I am going fast. The sensation of powder beneath my skies is like floating, not unlike water skiing. I am just skimming the surface, like those skater bugs we used to see on the surface of the lake every Fourth of July. I laugh.
I am really whizzing along now, going faster and faster. The trees move closer together and suddenly I am claustrophobic, unable to remember how to turn in the deep powder. The trees crowd in on me, whipping past in a tall gnarly brown blur. I panic and fall with a soft whumping sound.
A spray of powder geysers up and settles on me so that I look like Tony Montana in Scarface, in that scene at the end where he face plants in a mountain of cocaine, his plan to achieve the American Dream by selling the drugs to get the money to get the power to get the woman backfired, left with just the powder and no woman anywhere and the police on their way.
I struggle to sit up – no dice. I am buried in powder to my face. I try to move my legs – again, no dice. The powder, so deceptively light and fluffy on the surface, has a cumulative weight that I cannot budge. I try to get my poles underneath me but the powder is bottomless, I might as well be pole vaulting in quicksand.
I call piteously for the DH while the trees stand impassively by.
I struggle fruitlessly for a few minutes, grunting and sweating with the effort. I realize that I am tired, and embarrassment slowly alchemizes to panic. I yell for the DH, then listen.
Nothing, not even the distant voices of other skiers. There is only the quiet hush of a snowy woods, the sky brooding overhead.
When I was a kid, summers in Illinois were hot enough to raise big black bubbles on the freshly tarred streets. When we were bored we’d sometimes capture bugs – lightning bugs, June bugs, grasshoppers – and stick them in these mini La Brea tar pits and watch them struggle. When we were satisfied that they couldn’t escape and would die without our intervention, we’d pluck them free and benevolently release them into the grass where they probably made good pickings for the birds, stuck there with their tarry legs all exhausted from their struggles.
Karma’s a bitch, a little Grasshoppa voice whispers as I flounder in the snow.
It takes me nearly 20 minutes to get free and get my skis back on. With legs shaking from exhaustion I start off again, but now everything is sublty different. The trees seem to lean in toward me. The snow slyly pushes me faster than I am comfortable going.
I see the snowboard track of the DH, how it winds around a gruff looking Noble fir then heads straight and true down the slope, and note that it is already filling in with snow.
The wind hoots past my ears and chews at my chin. There is a chant in my head donthitthetreedonthitthetreedonthitthetree, and it speeds up – like me – until it is a high-pitched chipmunk voice that chases me right into a creek bed, where I fetch up against a ten foot snow bank with a soft fwwwwwooooomph.
I lay there and catch my breath. I call out for the DH and listen to the hush of the woods all around me.
I notice it is later – like, noticeably later. The air is graying with the onset of a winter sundown. How long have I been out here alone, struggling womanfully with the elements? And just where is the DH?
An owl hoots, which for some reason ignites my anger.
DAMMIT WEHERE ARE YOU? YOU SAID YOU’D WAIT!
The vibrations from my voice cause globs of snow to drop from nearby branches. I struggle against the snow, panting, filling the woods in on my progress and my opinion about the DH and his so-called promises.
SHIT. I’LL NEVER GET OUT OF HERE. SHIT! I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN! I KNEW IT! YOU NEVER WAIT! YOU BASTARD! YOU STUPID HEAD!
If you knew this would happen then why did you do it, my Calm Sandra voice asks me. She often makes sense, Calm Sandra does. But I am having none of it.
YOU SHUT UP YOU STUPID BITCH. HE PROMISED HE’D STAY AND THEN HE WOOSHED OFF!
Calm Sandra is unperturbed at being called a bitch (she’s been called worse), but merely continues with her infuriatingly calm pronouncements.
Of course he wooshed off. It’s hard to go slow. That’s why *you* fell, right? You couldn’t slow down.
SHUT UP! SHUT UP! WHERE AREYOU DAMMIT, YOU SAID YOU’D WAIT, I HATE YOU!
Exhausted, I lay back and look up at the trees, remembering how Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” convinced me that freezing to death would be one of the more pleasant forms of demise. You don’t even feel the cold after awhile, just drift off to sleep.
Oh shut up and get up, the Calm Sandra voice said. Melodrama doesn’t suit you. Plus,there’s no one here but you. You have no choice, you have to do it alone.
Grumpily, I swim using tiny, undetectable-to-the-human-eye movements until I free myself from the grip of the powder. I am almost too tired to put my skis back on, and have to pause repeatedly when my muscles cramp up.
You shouldn’t have tried this at the end of the day when you were tired, Calm Sandra asserts. I am relieved to hit a groomer and leave her smirky voice in my wake.
I emerge from the trail 45 minutes after the DH expected me. He is waiting at the chair lift.
What happened? he asks, all concerned.
I consider running him through with my pole, but I am too tired.
If you waited, you’d know, I tell him, standing with my arms out while he brushes the powder from my jacket and pants.
Aw, I’m sorry, he says. I waited, but you must have already fallen. Did you hear me calling you?
No, I say, as he turns me around to get the powder from my backside.
I was worried, he tells me, pulling handfuls of powder out of my hood.
That’s OK, I tell him. You couldn’t have helped anyway.
He gives me an approving smack on the back, and a puff of powder envelops us.
Did you curse me? he asks with a sideways grin.
Only a little, I say.
But you did it, you skied the trees! he says.
He is smiling, that big total face smile he gets when he is completely happy and in his element, the smile he for sure is wearing as he blasts through the trees on a slope so steep it makes the heart pause.
And I get an idea.
I can do better next time, I say.
That’s my girl, he says, and kisses my chapped nose.