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.
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
slipped in beside her and curled her into me, cupping one breast.
She stirred slightly and covered my hand with hers.
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.
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.
just yet. I'm in the
middle of a dream."
kissed her forehead.
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.
they shell the mountain thoroughly?"
Why did you think I'd know?"
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.
Cornice looks good."
you worry about avalanches?
shelled it. Shouldn't be
be. I guess."
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.
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.
think the lift ride is better than the run," she said.
let's ride back down again."
grinned. "The run is
pretty good too."
sat silent for a long while.
took my cheek in her mitten and turned my face to her.
placed my mitten over hers.
know, I think."
took her hand away and stared at it in her lap.
Then she looked off to the west toward the Minarets.
I think I understand."
flicked snow from a ski with her poles.
most of the time I can't face it, even to try to understand."
the top, as I knew she would, she skied away from the groomed slope
and started to traverse the powder.
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
guys been up yet?" I asked.
said Freckle Face.
Head said, "We were here when the lift started."
laughed and mockingly shot them both with my fingers.
old are you?" she asked.
you down." She had
her special merriment in her eyes, a little smile full of mischief.
boys looked at each other.
you gonna race too?" Tow Head looked at me.
be the starter."
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.
shouted down to them "I'll go off the back after I start
looked up at me, just a glance from the boys, but she smiled and said,
you at the saddle."
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
the lodge, I asked, "Who won?"
did, of course!" She
grinned broadly and sipped her cocoa.
of course?" I asked.
But the little brats were good.
Especially, Freckles. How
was your run?
I said. "But more
scenic than yours."
studied the toe of her boot.
you are here, you're irresistible."
gave her puzzled smile.
said, "Your mood. You
smile, often to yourself. And,
you write. I love it when
fiddled with my cup.
looked at me, "You're leaving, aren't you."
stared at the cocoa.
felt it this morning." She looked away for the comfort of the Minarets.
I don't know if she found it.
knew it could never work," she said.
think we both knew that."
has been good." She
rose. "Let's go."
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
sorry." I squeezed
said very little.
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.
began shelling the mountain at four in the morning.
I didn't wake her when I left.