My fingers, half clawed with the cold, struggled with the iced leather straps of my snowshoes and I took a step off the rawhide decking. And then I was swallowed. At the time, we laughed about it, my boyfriend Colin and I, and he hauled me back up and out, offering me the flat of his own snowshoes for temporary footing.
Soon enough we found out that the trail was hard to follow. The snow covered all evidence. We shared a block of frozen chocolate for lunch, and Colin’s mustache sported icicles. Sometimes the wind hit us, sometimes it did not. The sun dropped the shadows of trees like spent matches across the glare.
I was developing a thick line of frostbite across my lower back, where my jeans sagged with the weight of sweat and ice.
I fell again and found myself in a classroom among my classmates. I fell and saw a bare bulb lit and hanging from the underside of a cabin’s eave. I fell and stayed down, warm, and reached for sleep. Again and again, Colin chivvied me up and on. We found the cabin.
I survived to morning. Sprained and swollen, my knees would not unbend. My jacket, strange half sentry, stood frozen upright where I had dropped it. I had to bash it again and again against the cabin wall.
The final scene was ignominious: I was laid out prone on a table in the college infirmary, my backside on view. The doctor had called the nurses in to give them a lesson on the stages of frostbite. My ass, their map. “You know,” he said, “once you stopped shivering, your organs were beginning to fail. You had maybe half an hour left. You’re a lucky girl.”
Lucky, yes. But what I remember is not the relief of coming out, reaching the road and hitching a ride. What I remember is the beauty of being in. The trees stood witness: I was among them, not other.