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On The Mountain

by Quiet Seagull


They began shelling the mountain at four in the morning.  Beyond Lincoln Peak the mass of Mammoth rose in the icy moonlight.  A howitzer and a recoilless rifle boomed for quarter of an hour, and the faint bursts of the shells could be seen below the summit.  The wind blew streams of snow from the avalanches let loose by the explosions.  In a pleasant irony, weapons of death were unleashed to protect those would ski the mountain at dawn. 

The moon still bathed the icescape in silver-white, and my breath fogged the window pane.  I started a fire and returned to the bed where she slept, breathing quietly and easily.  The fire threw dancing highlights across her features.  Her expression was her usual, a combination of confidence and merriment. 

I slipped in beside her and curled her into me, cupping one breast.  She stirred slightly and covered my hand with hers.

The rose sky, at dawn, lit the room.  I kissed the nape of her neck, but she slept on.  I arose, stirred the fire, and went  to shave.  The forest around us was still cold and quiet.  Through the frosted window in the tiny bathroom , I watched two deer drift past the cabin and off into the trees.  I examined the face in the mirror.  Not handsome.  Maybe a little rugged and now time lined.  But I had never wanted to be handsome.

I wiped the shaving cream away with a hot cloth and went to sit beside her.  She opened blue eyes at my touch, but closed them immediately.

"Not just yet.  I'm in the middle of a dream."

I kissed her forehead.

Later we locked our skis to the roof of the car and dumped our boots in the back seat.  She said, "I'll drive."  She'd had a lot more experience driving in the snow than I.

"Did they shell the mountain thoroughly?"

"Yes.  Why did you think I'd know?"

She only smiled.

At the restaurant, only a few skiers sat about.  It was an hour too early for most.  I sipped at the coffee and finished my eggs and bacon.  She had finished hers earlier and had taken her coffee to the window to examine the mountain. 

"The Cornice looks good."

"Don't you worry about avalanches?

"They shelled it.  Shouldn't be dangerous."

"Shouldn't be.  I guess."
"Let's go."
I poured another cup of coffee into a styrofoam cup.

The lift ran just above the tops of the fir trees and stretched a mile to the shoulder of the mountain.  The fir forest blanketed the mountain and stretched  for miles to the jagged teeth of the Minarets to the west.  The White Mountains stood, shining, above the Owens Valley to the East.  Only the soft, shush of the cable broke the forest's silence.  The skiers ahead and behind sat motionless, hunched together as did we for warmth.

We held mittened hands.  I put my arm around her shoulder, and her warmth  warmed me through my tight ski pants.  She looked up at me impishly sporting snowflakes on her nose and eyelashes.  I pulled her cheek to my shoulder and held her.

"I think the lift ride is better than the run," she said.

"Then let's ride back down again."

She grinned.  "The run is pretty good too."

I nodded.

We sat silent for a long while.

She took my cheek in her mitten and turned my face to her.


I placed my mitten over hers.

"You know, I think."

She took her hand away and stared at it in her lap.  Then she looked off to the west toward the Minarets.

"Sometimes, I think I understand."

She flicked snow from a ski with her poles.

"But, most of the time I can't face it, even to try to understand."

At the top, as I knew she would, she skied away from the groomed slope and started to traverse the powder.

 We skied for half an hour keeping as high as possible.  Then we skied to the upper gondola to get to the top.  We placed our skis on the side of the car and joined two teenage boys.

"You guys been up yet?" I asked.

They both grinned. 

"Twice," said Freckle Face.

Tow Head said, "We were here when the lift started."

Proud grins.

I laughed and mockingly shot them both with my fingers.

"How old are you?" she asked.


"Me too."

"Race you down."  She had her special merriment in her eyes, a little smile full of mischief.

The boys looked at each other.


"Are you gonna race too?"  Tow Head looked at me.

"I'll be the starter."

At the summit, we skied along the overhanging cornice and looked down, almost vertically, to the slope, which fell away beneath us.  Up ahead a narrow trail had been cut into the overhang, but she disdained it and simply skied over the side.  She hit the slope hard and threw sheets of snow down the mountain, then dropped to her right to swing around and stop, skis biting into the snow.  The boys followed the trail down and carved quick turns to join her.

I shouted down to them "I'll go off the back after I start you."

They looked up at me, just a glance from the boys, but she smiled and said,

"Meet you at the saddle."

I counted three and watched them fall forward into racing tucks as their skis dropped into the fall line.  Their skis left single tracks in soft graceful curves.  I turned and let my skis glide easily down the back side of the mountain.

At the lodge, I asked, "Who won?"

"I did, of course!"  She grinned broadly and sipped her cocoa.

"Why, of course?" I asked.

"Experience.  But the little brats were good.  Especially, Freckles.  How was your run?

"Great," I said.  "But more scenic than yours."

She studied the toe of her boot.

 "When you are here, you're irresistible."  

I gave her puzzled smile.

She said, "Your mood.  You smile, often to yourself.  And, you write.  I love it when you write."

I fiddled with my cup.

She looked at me, "You're leaving, aren't you."

I stared at the cocoa.

"I felt it this morning."  She looked away for the comfort of the Minarets.  I don't know if she found it.

"I knew it could never work," she said.

"I think we both knew that."

"Denial has been good."  She rose. "Let's go."

Dinner was candlelight, a thoughtful, unobtrusive waiter, soft hand holding over the table.  She smiled a lot through the candlelight between us.  She turned away only once and touched her handkerchief to her eyes.

"I'm sorry."  I squeezed her hand.

We said very little.

Later, she lay facing me, head on my arm, and once in while she kissed my neck.  I lightly massaged her back.  Eventually, she turned away, but held my hand as she fell asleep.

They began shelling the mountain at four in the morning.   I didn't wake her when I left.


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