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Vo l . 7 N o . 1

Jean Waight

Through the Floor When a mountain rescue veered off script, it became a story of love lost, and found again. Mount Hood was too warm under clear skies before a whipsaw change arrived with us, on President’s Day, 2014. That evening, under the vaulting center tower at Timberline Lodge, we sat at a picture window and watched the blizzard. We had seen snowstorms here in other Februarys, our friends, my husband Bill, and me, though this blizzard was the worst. By Wednesday, though the storm continued, the wind was moderating, and layers of fresh cold snow rested atop an icy substrate. I had stayed in and steeped myself in the spirit of the historic lodge, an annual touchstone for me. But today while Bill and my friends tried to ski the lower forested runs, the only ones operating, I wanted to get outside, too, and stretch my legs on the little snowshoe trail near the lodge. I am just the average walker, older, with aches and pains, and though I knew the weather was far from average, I figured I could always retreat back inside if it was too bad out there. A blind assumption, as I would find. What would soon go wrong, and what would go right, would astonish me equally. My preparations didn’t take long. In our small first floor room, dim from snow that blocked the single window, I stuck toe warmers to my socks, pushed into my little ankle boots, drew my old blue rain parka over a couple of sweaters. The lanyard for my cell phone had been lost; no matter, that’s what pockets are for. I slipped the phone in on the right. Engrossed in his own ski preparations, Bill surprised me by saying, “Take my GPS.” He wasn’t usually overprotective. “Really, honey, I don’t think I’ll need that,” I said. “Take it anyway.” And so I put the bulky thing into my ample left pocket, and squashed my springy gray hair under a brightly patterned knit hat. Ski goggles, a remnant of my old gear—I gave up skiing several years ago—those I parked on my hat. Gloves and snowshoes in hand, I kissed Bill and set off. Outside, I bent to cinch my boots into my scuffed Atlases, and set my goggles carefully over my eyeglasses. I looked at my watch, pulled on my gloves and headed out. It was just after ten o’clock. I’d walked the trail before, so I thought it would seem familiar despite the poor visibility. It loops around

95 a broad rocky knoll. You pass the separate day lodge, named Wy’east for the mountain’s original name, and its parking lot below you on the right, before rounding further eastward into views, on blue sky days, of broad trackless mountain ravines and the White River Canyon wilderness beyond. A nice little trail, built to keep snowshoers away from skiers and keep everyone safe. Not far along I took a shortcut, hoping to get out of the wind, and also to cut off the first part of the trail, where noise and diesel smell infringed as the snowplows worked without cease. I hiked up over the knoll through deepening snow. My steps sinking in, I thought of the young pine marten I’d seen that morning, who had excavated a snow tunnel stopped by the glass of a second story window, the tunnel following the glass for a few feet before doubling back away. She was easy to miss, her tunnel appearing under a heavy carved table further shadowed by a drape of white linen for early early coffee service. Someone spotted her weaselly face and I bent to look. What had this creature thought of her view into the lodge, fireplace alight, humans strolling around? This knoll I was tramping, with a few stunted conifers creating pockets and shafts, would be good hunting territory for pine martens. The sense came to me that I was encroaching, perhaps squashing some unseen byways. A gust buffeted my face. The other side of the knoll would provide no shelter—the wind was easterly. It topped the knoll and met counter-winds that eddied the falling snow. I couldn’t see detail beyond a couple of yards ahead. No one else was about, easy to see why. Only ten minutes into my walk, I decided to turn back. Now the section of the trail I’d disdained would do nicely to get me back to the lodge. A few more steps down the east side of the knoll and I reached the firmer snowpack of the trail. I turned right and lengthened my stride, keeping track of thin reddish trail markers jutting up every so often through the whiteness. I wished they were closer together, but I was pretty sure I could stay on the trail. My thoughts shifted indoors—maybe I’d get out my sketch pad, fix a cup of tea. Then without warning, I felt a funny yielding. Not just different, wrong. My stomach thought faster than my mind, clenching in alarm. A second later, my left foot was standing on . . . nothing. In disbelieving horror I watched the path in front of me come apart—all slow motion and soft sounds, the surface ripping zigzag, inch by inch ahead. Like the very earth opening to swallow me. Further shocked that I could watch this instead of being

Cirque, Vol. 7 No. 1  

A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

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