Life, Death and Voices in the Snow

Quiet morning…up way too early waiting for the next snow report in the morning to confirm there’s another foot or two of fresh snow.  I am losing count but the opening week has gone something like this: Saturday 70cm, Sunday 70cm, Monday 30cm, Tuesday 40cm, Wednesday 56cm and now Thursday another 53cm, Friday don’t remember…you do the math…it’s deep!  Can’t sleep…

Heard a gentle ‘hwump’ the other morning and thought for a moment it was an avi bomb echoing down the valley but looked out to see a small dark bird twitching on its side in my son’s sled beneath the window, wings folded tight to her chest, struggling to catch her breath and then still.  My wife and I watched silent, I turned to her and shook my head with my eyes and we finished getting our little boy ready for school.  Later that morning I returned, picked up the motionless little body and took her to a hollow in the rocky bank next to our home after holding her long enough to be certain she was not coming back.

I am reverent in these early days in the snow and of our friends who are not here to laugh and smile and tell us tales of just how deep it was or about the stupid trick they pulled or line they skied.  Only a week after Remembrance day and here we are heading up the mountains with that same anticipation we had when we were kids and this year (once again) there are fewer returning after their lives were cut short so suddenly…but if we listen closely between the turns and windswept lines we will hear their voices beneath the snow.

The first 70cm day was epic (what else do you call those days?)…dropping into the same lines I had just skied the last two days that had vanished.  The next 70cm day was beyond…literally too deep to turn on any of the terrain that was open and the usual trees and rocks my size were gone beneath the surface, the cliffs on top of Rat Fink, gone in two days…enough, stop thinking…sleep.

In the dream this opening week in Whistler has become, each day repeats like it did for Bill Murray in, ‘Ground Hog Day’…I get off the gondi goggles, gloves and zips all set, click the buckles on my boots and slide unnoticed past the crowds with that silent nod that says ‘Here we go…’ (aka ‘I’m local, trust me, you don’t want to follow me’)…but more than that it says, ‘I’m home’.  I slide past Green, right, a little left of right, nearly out of sight and slip between the markers without a second thought…like slipping into my favorite pair of jeans ‘that fit like  an old lover come back for more’ (Max Blagg).  A short hike over the roll, west wind at my back pushing, driving me to that bottomless familiar escape into the white…and beneath the snow echo the ageless muses of younger days like the soundtrack of my life.

The low base of “Love me two times…” sinks in and the voice of Jim Morrison reciting the Graveyard Poems of a forgotten era before my time…and, “the voices of singing women are calling from the far shore and they are saying, forget the night and live with us in forests of azure.  Meagre food or souls forgot.”  The constant sting of the wind numbs and the blur of white that suddenly surrounds is calling me home. ‘A little more right son, you know the way.’  Alone, together, like an old friend pouring one more drink for the drive home.  Punch drunk love-sick ramblings…like it’s the first time all over again.

Higher right, roll, straight line, wind lip…pass a huge bomb hole the size of my body with a moments glance that snaps me back, awake.  No results from the blast, just a perfect round hole like a meteor evaporated on impact and left nothing to show but the crater…safe for now, game on, here we go.  There’s a small group of struggling searchers to my right too close to the tree line, too flat over there for today, and I instinctively cut left, air between the trees, drop weightless, land, and drop again when the ghostly cushion beneath the K2 Kahuna’s says, “yes, now”.  I run straight exhaling through the chest deep compression while the group stands still in time watching as the flash of red disappears into the glade at the bottom of the second pitch. Pine branches loaded with snow brush by and windows between the heavy trunks appear from my dreams and open one after another and I’m certain they close behind me as I pass…but I can’t look back.  I am ‘one’ with the forest, nearing unconsciousness, like Bruce Lee and, “the art of fighting without fighting…it is like a finger pointing to the moon.  Do not focus on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly brilliance.”  I let go, I release the inner turmoil to the wind and deny the inevitable collision of man and earth and focus beyond the trees, beyond the forest, until the voice fades and I am conscious again for a moment on top of a giant log.  I slide up and drop over the hollow gap below and find the muses waiting on the other side.

Five minutes to midnight or 3:28am, I don’t know which, and I am there throughout time with all the dead poets, friends and heroes who left before their time…James Dean, Jim Morrison, Bruce Lee, Trevor Peterson, Craig Kelly, Alex Loewe, Goran Kropp, Denis Fontaine, Heath Ledger, Shane McConkey…my cousin David at 16…no, 17, and more.  In a world of exceptional people there are precious few who truly inspire and as they fall, each one in turn reminds me of the next.  It is so sad to say, ‘in turn’, like it was meant to be, by design.  The names and voices call us from the snow, and at home, far from the empty dreams we walk the halls as years pass and find our wives asleep and little boys and girls who woke up and crawled into our beds after a bad dream.  It is an all too true reminder that we take them with us when we do these things.  Like Shane said, there was a time when I too wrote I might never see 30 or 40 and yet here I am with their voices.

I imagine I see in those stolen moments what they saw and taste ‘the search’ at the tip of my tongue.  Unless you have fallen from a plane (a perfectly good one) and touched that awakening moment that commands you alive, or better commands that you question your life in a flash of white not knowing if you will surface from a wave or be forever one with the white light of an avalanche or slide down the pavement or dirt until the friction of the impact and the bone crushing clash of gravity and normal force make you stop breathing, you can’t imagine what they felt the instant before the inevitable.  It is like they say, your life flashes past in the blink of an eye, no, faster, and I mean your whole life before and beyond the chaos of disaster…the loves, the triumphs, the failures, the regrets, loved ones laughing, the dreams of your own seemingly inevitable funeral, that first ride on the Honda 50 motorcycle that had you hooked on speed, the children you have yet to hold, the dream of growing old with the one you love…all time and place and spirit combine and before you are lost, you are whole, and you know the truth in that fleeting moment before death and then, god willing, you are alive, thanking god (or whatever other divinity  you denied you implore the moment before) that you are alive.

My heart races…and then, at the open light at the end of the glade I slide to a stop and breathe…it’s nearly morning now.  I look up at the clock, check for daylight through the blinds, see the new day has arrived, and know if I listen closely the voices will be with me.



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