Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sundays with Steve - History Meets Reality

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve”, I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in along with some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career many years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together.

History Meets Reality

We were moving almost silently downhill, through a thick grey cloud that was spitting snow. The afternoon light, such as it was, was starting to fade from its pale luminescence into near-twilight. It was cold, very cold, and visibility was no more than 40 feet. The wind was barely moving the wisps of clouds that would have been called fog if it were down on the distant valley floor. All was grey or black or white, faded white, there was no color, there was no depth, this was a nether-world of one or maybe two dimensions. The sky was the color of falling snow, and the snow beneath our feet, it was all grey.

I was moving too fast, I knew that, I couldn’t react quickly enough to anything unplanned in my path. I couldn’t anticipate what was coming, I couldn’t see more than about one second in front of my face, my leading edge. I remembered drivers’ training all those years ago, about not overdriving the conditions. I was over driving the conditions. Except I wasn’t driving. The slope was getting steeper, the slicker, and my body moving faster.

I saw movement in front of me, to the right, moving parallel to my path. I saw a silhouette, darker grey on a grey background, on a grey snow ground. It was a ghost-like, moving in parallel down the mountainside with me.

I heard a cry, a human cry, a cry of surprise, then fright. I saw something I had never seen before that, nor have I ever seen it again.

It was ghost-like, a fleeting image, it was there was for a tenth of a second, and then it was gone. The human scream lasted just a bit longer. There, there it was again, an image, frozen in the photo of my mind, a black and white still caught for a lifetime. The screamed turned to anguish.

There, again, it was just a few feet away, flying in a great fury, a roar without sound, moving down that mountainside at ever increasing speed, on that remote snow -covered mountain on the edge of the immense central Idaho wilderness area.

A ghost it wasn’t. It was a person, a man, rolling, at high speed with arms and legs fully extended hard and straight. He was doing a perfect cartwheel down the hill side. He could have been in a gymnastics meet, crossing a mat with precision. Surely he would score a perfect ten. Well, maybe not, the end was coming and it was not going to be pretty. It ended quickly, as most great crashes do, with a cloud of snow exploding into the air, an arm, a hand, raised out of the growing cloud, a single ski flying unattached to a foot, no, I was mistaken, that was half of one ski flying out that mass of snow, unattached to the other half, the other half presumably still attached to the man’s leg.

I quickly stopped my fast decent, and watched in amazement, both fearful of the coming result, and astounded by the sight.

That was my buddy Ed Koch, wearing his old wooden downhill skis, screaming, perhaps cussing. Well, I thought, at least he’s not dead, as maybe he should be. It was easy to tell that he destroyed the old skis in the crash, skis handed down from his father years before; skis that were technology good, maybe, 60 years before; skis that I had been harassing him about for some time, urging a trade in on some newer models that might be a bit safer, no, not a bit safer, hugely safer; old wooden skis that really, truthfully, look as if they had been manufactured from barrel stays.

I was sure that he was going to destroy himself as well, certainly I was anticipating broken bones, arms, legs, ankles, maybe a head. His cussing, mild cussing, coming from down the hill told me not dead. Koch was not a curser.

Koch is going to be really irritated, really ticked-off I thought: He’s going to have to buy new skis, he’s going to have to pay for a long hospital stay to fix those legs and arms he just broke, maybe even a broken head. Then there is all that home time coming up, time he can’t go to the office. Man, this guy is going to be in a lot of trouble.

It could be a lot worse, I thought, he could have cart-wheeled into the trees off to the left side of the ski run, then he would have to pay for his own funeral, instead of just new skis and a broken leg repair, or two.

Another curse, a groan, he stood up and looked a bit dazed. He was a bit dazed. “How in the world did that happen?” he asked. There was no explanation. Ghosts, goblins, a depression in the snow catching an edge, a secret desire to do cartwheels down a 7,500-foot mountain side -- one just could not say.

No broken bones, no broken head, no concussion, all appeared well. Except for his mile walk through the deep snow to the lodge where I would pick up him in an hour or so in the car for the ride back down the mountain.

* * *

Koch and I would close our office on most Wednesday afternoons during ski season. We operated several small-town weekly newspapers from our office in small-town Eagle, Idaho. The first chair-lift was just 30-minutes out the back door.

I didn’t learn to ski until I was in my mid-30s, and at the insistence of my younger brother David. He lived in neighboring Boise and needed a ski partner for this sport he swore I would love. Growing up in Lewiston, Idaho, the nearest ski areas were three and four hours away. We never even tried the sport.

A sweet little old lady named Grace took me to the bunny hill one cold winter morning and taught me to ski. After some embarrassment, including falling off the tow rope numerous times, I learned how to ski. I picked it up quickly. Within a few weeks I was on the intermediate runs, then soon I was on the hard black diamonds. They were all right, I loved the sport.

Koch and I would go most every midweek, and I would ski on the weekends with family, with brother David and his family, and often with others. There were various trips to ski areas around the West – Sun Valley, Whistler, Schweitzer, Vail, Bachelor, others.

Mrs. Steve told me of her skiing experiences in Pennsylvania: crowded small hills covered in ice. I’m sorry for this arrogance, but Eastern USA skiing -- other than that in the far northeast -- just isn’t comparable. Western skiing is deep dry snow, sharp steep vertical falls, light crowds, the mountains are large, the runs are expansive, this is where you run all day at full throttle, often on the verge of seemingly calamitous death, and where the adrenalin-rush rarely stops. Maybe that is why I loved it, knowing that death or injury was always near, but maintaining the control to beat it back.

My skiing career came to an end for many reasons: bad knees, bad finances (skiing can be expensive), blah, blah, blah, all the excuses everyone uses: Life got in the way. I haven’t skied in some time now, since moving to Arizona and then moving on to Mexico City for a number of years, and my skis and equipment are long disposed. But I’m thinking, as you know with “retirement” (whatever the hell that might mean) coming into my not-too-distant future, that skiing and me are not too long separated again. Like the golf I wrote about last week, I have this urge to find this sport again. Why I’m not sure, other than recalling the joy of skiing is compelling. I’m not sure my old fat body is up to it, but...

Mrs. Steve (Mrs. Jenny to some of you) says I can ski all I want, she’ll stay in the condo with a good book, a good fire, good room service, and her laptop computer, thank you.

OK, I think I’m about ready!

PS. From me, Jenny. We've been saddened over the past several days by the death of an outstanding young man in our community, Branson Holm, in a tragic snow boarding accident. As manager of our local Dutch Brothers Coffee, we saw Branson often. He was such a positive young man, full of life, joy and passion for his school, his sports, and his responsibilities. His wonderful smile and witty comments will be missed by us both and by so many others in our East Mesa community.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
This publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protected
under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.


Unknown said...

I loved reading the ski memories. I think Jenny has the right idea about staying warm with a good book or laptop.

Kat said...

You captured this brilliantly. I could see your friend catapulting down that mountain as if I were there. Which is why I would be in the condo with Miss Jenny! Kat

Jeanie said...

You should for sure take up skiing again when you have the time. I don't ski much anymore but try to go once or twice a year just to say I can still do it. I have an
80 year old friend who still skis. I never liked the blacks much and definitely don't do those anymore.

Pat Tillett said...

Another great story! Thanks so much! I screwed up my knees pretty early on, so I've never really been able to ski much. Now that I'm retired, maybe I can...

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

I gave up skiing a few years back because of knee and back issues and I miss it quite a bit..

Thanks for helping me remember some good times!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your skiing Steve...I think I would rather do what Jenny plans to do while you ski. :)

Sorry about the loss of your friend. All will be in my prayers.

Tracy said...

Nice writing Steve...goodness, what a tumble! I use to be a skier but with old needs it's just not for me anymore. Hah, besides, I like my feet to remain on the ground; planted firmly!

Deb said...

I have yo agree with Jenny. enjoyed your post

Deb said...

that would be to I have fat fingers today

Judie said...

Such sadness lately. I had hoped the new year would be better. What a tragic accident!

Mrs. Taylor said...

Hi Jenny,

I found your blog when I googled Branson Holm. I go to the same Dutch Bros. coffee you do. He will be greatly missed. I wrote a blog about him as well. Please visit it here:


Mrs. Taylor said...
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