The ride to the cabin took forever. A child thinks the length of all car rides impossibly long. She thought it was extra impossible because she was so excited to get where she was going; and she’d just asked for the twentieth time when they’d arrive. There was a lot of construction work happening and this made the ride up the mountain even slower – a sign of progress and prosperity for Pinecrest in the early 1970’s. She didn’t care about progress.
The moment they arrived, the rest of the family ditched her and her mother to get a glimpse of Dodge Ridge Ski Area. She begged her mother to let her go out on her own too, just for a little while. PLEASE. Agreement was hard-won and came with so many rules and so many layers of clothing.
She wanted to walk down the path just to see what she could see. The cold, clean air felt like freedom; and the quiet felt like a secret. She felt older, more grownup 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 almost four feet tall. Sometimes she got a glimpse of what was beyond the snow; but mostly it was like being in a winter tunnel. The path she was on was well packed. Her little snow boots made crunching sounds that were pleasing to her ear.
She’d overheard the grownups talking about walking to the ranger station. Just down the road, easy to find and that was her plan. She was sure she could do this on her own. She asked permission and her mother agreed.
The six-year-old was popping bubblegum and humming under her breath as she made her way towards the ranger station. Her sister had worked patiently with her on the ride up in the car; and she was now an excellent bubblegum popper. Practicing while you were by yourself was good for honing your skill. Practicing when no one was around was kind of lonely.
Alone in the quiet. Snow. Trees. Stumps. Fallen bits of pine cones discarded by squirrels and blue jays. Empty cabin. Shuttered windows. No kids. No cars in driveways. No smoke from chimneys.
The sounds from the highway in the distance were barely audible. The sound of the forest, an echo of quiet mixed with birdsong and wind rushing through the tops of the Sugar Pines. Tree branches so heavy with snow and sometimes they make a startling, cracking kind of sound. Other sounds come from icicles shattering and dropping like wet glass and a branch splintering beneath her boot heel on the path. So, not completely silent; but nearly silent. She becomes part of the quiet. Crunch of footsteps, little humming, bubblegum snap.
It was further to the ranger station than she had imagined. Her big sister had taught her to tell time on a big clock or on her own little wrist watch. If she had remembered to wear her Mickey Mouse watch, she would know she’d been walking, skipping and galloping for nearly 20 minutes. And that was 10 minutes more than it took 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 with all of her might. 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. Now she recognized another sound. It was the same sound she heard when she woke up from bad dreams. It was the sound of her beating heart. It was the sound of the beginning of panic.
Heart Beating, feet crunching, cars on the highway in the distance, a screeching jay. Where was the ranger station? Which way back to the cabin?
Heart Beating faster now. Panic, fear, helplessness. Trails of tears have frozen on her cheeks. They run down her chin; and make their way on her neck and under all the layers of clothing. The time for skipping and snapping gum 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. She tries to think like a grownup and not as a child. But she cannot. What should you do if you are in trouble? What do you do when you are lost? You should tell a grownup. Tell mommy. But grownups don’t tell you what to do when you are all alone. She realizes there is no one for her to ask. No one. It is just her; and she is alone. And now the bawling really begins with great hiccupping sobs and wailing. Just like a little kid.
She sat in the middle of the path until the snow had soaked through her snow 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 were threatening 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 now starting to panic too. She didn’t know the sheriff had been called. She didn’t know her mother was crying too.
– save yourself –
She started to move again. Changing 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 like her grandmother told her to. 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 there. 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; but she was 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 flat. 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 very close to the cabin.
1 Hour 30 Minutes
She followed the cable, keeping it on her left side just like when she saw it earlier that day. She kept walking, crying and determined. And then she saw her mother.
Her mother was standing in the driveway, arms raised and waving, crying out and calling to her daughter. The little girl ran as fast as she could and jumped into her mother’s embrace.
“Where were you?”
They hugged and they sobbed and the little girl’s story came tumbling out.
Then she asked if she could have some hot chocolate with marshmallows.
AmyLee 3 14 2016