I fall spread-eagle, skis askew, spraying snow in all directions. I am light-headed but I rise to my elbow and try to think. My head clears but I have lost my goggles from the fall. Without sun, there are no shadows; without goggles, there is no depth perception -- everything is flat. I stand, helpless and stunned and look overhead: roiling sky and furious snow. My body is old and abused and I cannot decide what to do. Stragglers hurry towards the bottom of the mountain like frightened animals searching for shelter.
How long has it been, I try to remember, since I waved to the excited tourists swinging overhead on the last chair lift of the day?
A ten year old," I called. "Look for a lost boy." My throat still throbs from the yelling. They leaned forward, straining to hear with knitted brows and good intentions, then looked ahead expectantly to the "Tips Up" sign and prepared to unload. An hour. It's been an hour.
A shelter of trees looms before me. I ski towards the trees. It is dark here and I blink to adjust my vision. I want to linger where it is safe and think of him. I want to think of Jason. I lean for a moment against a tree. It is rough against my back and I want to sink down into the snow. But I wait, wait for the breath to return.
Bird," his dad said. "Watch those boys ski, now. See how loose they are? how graceful? They're not all tight and stiff, you see." And it was true. As tykes, they swooshed down the mountain on either side of me, like new born comets blazing sky trails. "They're in control though, Birdie," he said.
And they were, of course. They were his sons, so they learned well the first time. And when Jason came to us late in life, he learned from them, his brothers.
Jason says, I'm here, Mom.
I listen. I use my poles to straighten; my back and legs throb. I plop one ski and then the other to come out of the soft powder beneath the trees. I raise my face to the wind. Dear God, I think.
A ten year old. A lost boy. An avid mountaineer; an apprentice to the wild. Still, I pray.
"The poles, Birdie, use your poles," my dead husband yelled. "Plant! That's right. Plant! Good girl. Now, lean back just a little and keep those skis straight. Fine, Bird, you're doing fine."
I head down the darkening slopes. Yes, I think. I'm doing fine. I had the baby and now you're gone.
(c) 2002 by Sue Mcghee