The ride to the new cabin took forever. All car rides are impossibly long when you are a child. It was extra impossible because she was so excited to get to where she was going. She was tired of sitting still, she was tired of behaving.
And again, “How much longer? Are we almost there?”
Her dad replied, “10 more Popeye Cartoons.” Big Sigh. Too long.
The moment they finally arrived, the rest of the family headed up the hill to see the ski park. She was left at the cabin with her mother. She begged her mother to let her go out on her own too, just for a little while.
“Oh Mom, PLEASE! I’m not too little. I can do this!”
Agreement was hard-won. Freedom came with a lot of rules and more layers of clothing.
She wanted to walk down the path just to see what she could see. The cold, clean air made her move a little faster. The quiet of the forest enfolded her like a secret. She felt older, more grown-up now that she out on her own. Her mom watched her until she was out of sight. The gray hood of her jacket bobbing up and down with each skip and gallop.
When you are six you are still allowed to skip and gallop.
The snow was taller than she was in many spots and she knew she was practically four feet tall. Sometimes she got a glimpse of what was beyond icy white berms; but mostly it was like being in a winter tunnel. The path she was on was well packed; and she loved the crunching sounds her little snow boots made.
She’d overheard the grownups talking about walking to the ranger station. Just down the road on the left, it was easy to find. That was where she planned to go. She was sure she could do this on her own. She asked permission and her mother had agreed to let her explore.
As she made her way down the path, she popped her bubble-gum and hummed under her breath Her older sister had worked patiently with her on the ride up in the car, she was now an excellent bubble-gum popper. Practicing while you were alone was good for honing your skills; but she couldn’t help but feel a bit of loneliness seeping into her.
Alone in the quiet. Snow. Trees. Stumps. Fallen bits of pine cones discarded by squirrels and blue jays. Empty cabins. Shuttered windows. No kids. No cars in driveways. No smoke plumes from chimneys.
The sounds from the highway in the distance were barely audible. The sounds of the forest, an echo of quiet mixed with birdsong and wind rushing through the tops of the Sugar Pines. The tree branches sometimes made a startling crack; and the snow sliding from them made a whoosh and finally a plop as it hit the ground. Icicles shattered and dropped like wet glass. A branch splintered with a small snap beneath her boot heel on the path. She begins to blend into the near quiet. Crunch of footsteps, gentle humming, bubble-gum pop.
It was further to the ranger station than she had imagined. Her sister had taught her to tell time on a big clock or on her own wrist-watch. If she had remembered to wear her watch, she would know she’d been walking, skipping and galloping for nearly 20 minutes. 10 minutes longer than it should take to get to where she was going. Even for a little girl in new boots.
She spied something just ahead in her path, a perfect pine cone. She bent down, picked it up in her fuzzy mittens, and chucked it up and behind her as hard as she could. She spun around to see how far it had gone but couldn’t see where it landed. What she did see was snow piled high on all sides and taller than she was. She looked down and saw her tracks in the snow. They seemed to come and go in all directions and where was the path? Now she recognized another sound. It was the same sound she heard when she woke up from nightmares. It was the sound of her heart pounding in her chest.
Heart beating hard, feet crunching, cars on the highway in the distance, a screeching jay. Where was the ranger station? Which way back to the cabin?
Faster beats now. Panic, fear, helplessness. Trails of tears have frozen on her cheeks. Some of them have run down her chin; and made their way onto her neck and under all the layers of clothing. The time for skipping and galloping has passed. She sits in the snow and tries to think. Hugging her knees and squeezing her eyes shut TIGHT. She tries to comfort herself by rocking gently. She tries to think like a grownup and not as a child. But she cannot.
She whispers aloud, “What should you do if you are in trouble? What do you do when you are lost? You should tell a grownup. Tell mommy.”
The moment the words are out of her mouth, she realizes there is no one for her to tell. No one. It is just her. She is alone. And now the bawling really begins with great hiccupping sobs and wailing. Just like a baby.
She sat in the middle of the path until the snow had soaked through her pants. She only got up when she felt how wet and cold she was. And now, she was thirsty too. She scooped up some clean snow and crunched the coldness in her mouth but it didn’t quench her thirst.
Thirsty, heart beating, wet butt, panic, tears and snot sticking to her face.
Tears threatened again. She didn’t know how long she’d been gone; but she sensed it was too long. She didn’t know her mother was panicking. She didn’t know the sheriff had been called. She didn’t know her mother was crying too.
“Save yourself,” the words whispered in her head. She started to move again and changed direction. She hiked up a steep bank of snow to see if she could find a cabin and people. She asked the universe for help. She called upon Jesus just like her grandmother told her to. And nothing happened. She hiked up and up and up passing cabin after cabin. She knocked on doors and peered in windows. No one answered, no one was home. She changed direction again and started downhill. This time, much further from where she began her ascent.
In the distance she saw two deer staring in her direction. They were so beautiful. She tried to get closer to them, just to be near them. She prayed they would help her. She stumbled and fell; and the deer ran away. She wasn’t hurt but the fall scared her. Now the snow had made its way into the tops of her boots and down the back of her jacket. Now she remembered again that she was cold. The tips of her mittens were freezing hard. It was so hard to get up from her fall. She thought it would be nice to curl up and go to sleep; but she knew she had to move. She was crying again. She kept moving.
1 Hour 20 Minutes
She continued carefully downhill; and the sounds of the highway became more noticeable. Heart beating faster. She moved, the tears flowed, she did not fall. She recognized something familiar sticking out of the snow – a rope? She looked around and realized she was no longer traveling downhill. She had made it back to the flats. She was no longer on a path or a trail; but had found her way to the fire road. The rope wasn’t a rope. The rope was thick, a steel cable like a phone line. She didn’t touch it because she knew it might be dangerous. She remembered seeing wires like this one very close to the cabin.
1 Hour 30 Minutes
She followed the cable. She walked, she cried, she was determined. And then she saw her mother.
Her mother was standing at the bottom of the driveway, arms raised and waving frantically, crying out and calling to her daughter. The little girl ran as fast as she could and jumped into her mother’s embrace.
“Oh Amy! Where were you?”
They hugged and they sobbed. The little girl’s story and all of her fears came pouring out.
Then she asked if she could have some hot chocolate with marshmallows.
AmyLee 3 14 2016