But now he’s gone, and I’m watching the distance between who we were and who I am lengthen and obscure like parallel ski tracks that fill back in during a heavy storm, even as you try to break through, again and again, they fill…”
by ana maria spagna
Her posture betrays her: slouching, legs outstretched, wet ski boots crossed, old-school leather, head tipped toward the yellow kerosene glow, elbow table-propped, whiskey in hand. She’s cool. Very cool. She’d tip the chair back, I’m pretty sure, that splintery chair, but for its unstable joints, creaky and ever on the edge of shatter, that straight-backed chair she’s sat in a hundred times, in that cedar-sided cabin they’ve skied to, hiked to, even in the old days before the floods, driven to a thousand times. She’ll finish that whiskey (I know) and pour another in the dirty plastic mug, whiskey they’d stashed each fall in a plastic bear-proof canister, under tampons and sardines, for this day, for these trips, like pilgrimages, on snow like ball bearings, ice like granite, slush like shit. No matter. No matter. Eight miles to the cabin. Three more to the bridge.
North Fork Bridge had to be shoveled or it might collapse. That’s what he always said, so that’s what we did, year after year, with shovels hung on a tree, easy to find above mid-winter snow, trips like battles, like badges, like smudged entries in the green government journal, wide-lined-hers go back twenty years, his go back forty-and now they are asking about the old days, who did what and when and where. What would he say? What would he do? Talk about older old days, no doubt, but now he’s gone, and I’m watching the distance between who we were and who I am lengthen and obscure like parallel ski tracks that fill back in during a heavy storm, even as you try to break through, again and again, they fill.
Even as she slouches and refills (she’s cool, so very cool) I’m watching her, heels wedged against a dry pine quarter log, vigilant about the tippy chair, watching her sip water by her hip, thinking about the miles yet to go, the dangers yet to be faced (avalanche and side hills, inexperience and ice) thinking about Roland Barthes and Modern Family (anything, anything but the old days) knowing we won’t make it. Not this year and never again. But in the old days that’s what we did: we shoveled the bridge, three of us or five, suspended over rushing water, loosing snow with d-handled shovels released from sisal rope tethered to a small cleat bolted to a tall fir, and once, just once, sawing with a rusty crosscut through an ice layer until, all at once, the overhang severed and dropped, falling long in the winter sun, and crashed, leaving the bridge quivering, and all of us stone still.
(illustration: john richen)
Ana Maria Spagna lives and writes happily in remote Stehekin, Washington, where there are no phones, no stoplights, no taverns and no churches, but a very pretty river and many many trees. Her book, “Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey” won the 2009 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. More from Ana Maria Spagna can be found on her website as well as in the Vault of Smoke.