All of the kids whooped with delight when they pulled up to the cabin about eleven thirty, after seeing the sled track on the side of the cabin which wound down the hill. The boys next door had created the run. As Liz began unpacking the food in the kitchen, even Brian grinned with open enthusiasm when he brought the ice chest with the pans of frozen homemade lasagna and a bagful of freshly baked bread from Johansen’s into the kitchen: “Did you see that sled track that’s already been carved into the snow,” he asked? He had taken the hard plastic sleds from the shed and gave them to the kids, who were already on their first runs. Liam took Sean with him on his runs, and Anna and Kevin each their own sleds.
Liz slipped a waterproof blue doggie jacket on Keller, and handed him to Brian to take out into the snow. She watched them from the window. Keller just stood still in the snow, then started walking around in it—not sure what to make of it. Within a few minutes, he was scampering around in the fresh powder from the night before. Anna took Keller on a few sled runs before handing him off to Kevin.
Seeing the hand-off, Liz shouted through the open door, “Be sure to hold onto him tight, Kevin!”
Kevin rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, Mom,”
Kevin was the first to return with Keller. Anna, Liam, and Sean followed a few minutes later. Liam was very excited about going snowboarding and anxious to rent the equipment. Liz had agreed to rent equipment and pay for a lesson for him. The other children had asked why they couldn’t get snowboard equipment and lessons too. Then came the familiar words, “It isn’t fair.”
“The rentals and lessons are expensive. Liam has been talking about going snowboarding for months,” Liz answered evenly. “When we come up in next time, if you still want to learn, Anna can take a lesson, and then the next time it will be Kevin’s turn.
Liam could hardly contain himself. He and Brian made a quick run to the snowboard shop to rent the equipment before they closed.
The cabin was warm and cozy in the cabin when their friends, Gerda and Erik Maier, and their teenage daughter, Katarina, arrived just after 9 pm. Katarina and Anna immediately headed downstairs to the girls’ bedroom, and Liz got Gerda and Erik settled in their bedroom, offered them a glass of wine, then went to take a hot bath before pulling on her flannel nightgown and warm crocheted booties and snuggling under the white down comforter.
The roads were still clear and dry the next day. Brian took Liam to his snowboard lesson at 9:30, and skied with the other kids and the Maiers.
Liz spent a rare lazy day reading and dozing in front of the fire. She popped the pan of defrosted lasagna into the oven, and had cheese and crackers and drinks for everyone when they came back.
After dinner, Gerda and Liz talked in the large downstairs foyer a comfortable leather sofa in front of the river stone fireplace—one of two fireplaces in the cabin. They talked about everything from sewing to Gerda’s youth in Germany.
Erik and Brian had been talking in the living room, but Keller kept interrupting their conversation. He kept jumping up on Brian and pawing him. Brian took him out again after dinner, but that didn’t satisfy Keller. When he brought him back in, he started jumping on him and pawing him again. It was exasperating trying to figure out what he needed. Brian had been suffering for a few days from his migraine headaches, anyway, so he decided to head off to bed.
They awoke on Saturday to blue skies and new snow–but as they began to make plans for the day at breakfast, the clouds moved in, and by noon, there was a full- scale blizzard. Liz was endlessly amazed at how quixotic the weather in the Sierras can be. They decided to go to a popular sledding hill on the mountain for the afternoon, since it was too windy to ski.
Brian wondered aloud about the advisability of sledding in such conditions. He was not completely recovered from the migraines he’d been having, and didn’t want to leave the cozy fire. But Liz didn’t want to drive the Suburban in the blizzard, even with four-wheel drive and chains.
“I really want you to come,” she appealed.
“You need to get out and get some exercise,” Erik reasoned. Brian finally agreed to come, and they all got ready. They left Keller in the kitchen with a baby gate in place to keep him in the kitchen area to prevent him from wreaking havoc while they were gone.
They were prepared for the worst weather with waterproof ski apparel, gloves, boots, goggles, hats, neck warmers and face warmers.
Brian parked in a near empty lot and everyone trooped out. Erik, Gerda, and the children started out across the field of snow toward the bottom of the hill. The wind was fierce. Liz was delayed in the Suburban with Brian for a few minutes getting what they would need for the afternoon. When she looked up she couldn’t see Sean.
“Where’s Sean? she asked Brian. He couldn’t see him either.
The next thing she saw was a huge wall of snow being propelled across the field by gale force winds.
Oh no! she thought. That wind is strong enough to pick Sean up and throw him against a tree or boulder.
It looked like an Antarctic scene from National Geographic–but the sight of it did not pique Liz’s intellectual interest. She ran from the truck in a panic–yelling to Brian to join them. She ran, falling through the deep powder in areas where the earth was several feet below the newly fallen snow.
Liz caught up with Gerda and the girls; she had to shout several times before Gerda could hear her in the blinding storm. It seemed like a sinister plot; every time she shouted, “Where is Sean?” the wind carried her words away from her before they reached Gerda and they were lost in the swirling storm.
Between noting a mother’s panic in her eyes and reading Liz’s lips, Gerda surmised what she was asking and pointed ahead.
Two football fields away, she could barely make out three figures trudging toward the base of the hill. One was clearly Sean’s small figure. She looked around, and saw Kevin and figured that the others were Erik and Liam.
A native of the Swiss Alps, Erik was very familiar with severe winter conditions, and was an excellent outdoorsman. She was fearful, however, because it may not occur to him that the wind was strong enough to pick up little Sean. It had been many years since their children were that young.
Liz shouted to Gerda that she didn’t want Sean to go up on the hill. All of the sledders had left the area. The skiers were coming off the lifts and heading toward their cars in droves.
In the almost white-out conditions, Liz lifted her feet up high and started running again through the deep snow, as best as she could, after the figures, shouting at Erik to stop. Her words were lost in the storm. She could hear Gerda shouting at Erik behind her. The wall of wind and snow between her and the threesome ahead blocked their voices from reaching them.
By a superhuman effort which can only be attributed to a mother’s adrenalin coursing through her body, Liz reached them as they started up the hill.
Erik looked surprised at her concern. The wind had started to abate, as Liz panted, hardly able to talk,
“I was worried about Sean; he’s so little. I don’t think he should be out here.”
She reached for Sean’s hand. Sean, an independent child, pulled away and started to follow Erik and Liam. Liz followed him. “No, Sean, the storm is too bad; we have to go back,” Liz shouted to no avail to the wind.
“Hold my hand,” Liz commanded. Sean heard the command. In a split second, Liz decided that she would cover his small form with her body should a stronger gust of wind threaten his safety. This blizzard would have to carry her off before it took her child from her.
There were large pine trees near the top of the hill. The trunks weren’t moving in the wind, and the large branches seemed to be weathering the storm well. Liz determined that they could crouch in the protection of one of the trees until the storm subsided.
With this plan in mind, she walked with Sean to the top of the hill with the sled, bent over from the force of the wind. Surprisingly, it seemed calmer at the top, though they could see bands of wind and snow sweeping across the hill. Erik encouraged the rest of the group to join them at the top by gesturing to them, and soon, everyone was at the top.
By that time, Liam, Sean, and Liz began to slide down the hill in the blizzard. Liam begged to take Sean on the next run with him; but Liz refused. No one would hold onto him as well or protect him from injury in case of a mishap as she could.
They had the whole hill to themselves. Even the daredevil teenage snowboarders cowered together at the bottom. The O’Connnells and Maeirs were exhilarated by their accomplishment and the fact that they were enjoying the new snow by themselves.
The moment of fear had passed; Liz had a firm grip on Sean. They made a several runs down the hill, finding that the wind moved them in unexpected, but safe directions because there were no trees or rocks in a wide swath down the hill. The path was challenging, but safe. They left as soon as the wind died down, when everyone else returned to the hill to sled, toboggan and snowboard.
After they fed the children dinner, the girls went to their room to talk, and the boys played a game of monopoly downstairs, leaving the parents free to enjoy a quiet dinner and to linger over the red wine and panforte. They were sitting around the pine table, relaxed and talking only as good friends can, without embarrassment, about faith, and other things that were important to them as the fire flickered.
It had been one of the best ski week-ends in recent memory, Liz thought. It hadn’t been marred by the sometimes too frequent whining and complaining so prevalent in children. The children are getting older, she mused.