“It’s cold out there, Greg.”
~Iditarod Red Lantern Award Winner Bill Mackey
The mercury read two below zero when I left Twisp.
Off Beaver Creek on Phantom Bull Draw where I lie
face down in twenty-four inches of air-light snow,
temperatures are a good deal colder. I certainly am.
I started my way toward Pipestone Canyon on skis
from Balky Hill Road, retracing the snowshoe
trail I laid two weeks earlier in afternoon sun.
(And no, the hill isn’t balky, like a stubborn boy
who won’t wear his mittens, or get to bed on time.
But it is pretty bulky, like a chocolaty brown
polar fleece piled high and wrinkled to a peak.)
Now, when I reached the fork of Phantom Bull Draw
I turned aside to follow the graceful arcs left
a couple days earlier by one Jenny Lynn Pony.
(Jenny is a person, since you ask, though “Jenny”
is another word for female donkey—and this Pony
is shod with skis this time of year, not iron shoes
which would be of little use in gliding over snow.)
The “locals”—Coasties relocated from the urbs—
can’t recall why this gulch is called “Phantom Bull.”
But this much is clear; one spectre haunts me still:
I migrated to the Methow seeking life and adventure
after your favorite aunt passed quite finally away.
I found those aplenty in this land of desert and forest,
of mountain and hay field, of blazing sun and icy cold.
In summer I swim and hike. In winter I coast or crunch
or gracelessly tumble headlong over the tips of my skis
into deep and unforgiving crystals in the fading light.
Yes, I should be wearing more than these light wool gloves.
Through exposure to cold and a good bit of carelessness,
my gnarled knuckles and the cuticles on both hands
have become oversensitive to even the slightest touch.
If they brush the back of a chair, I jump out of my skin.
They burn if I wash in warm water. I never knock on doors.
The flesh around my nails is puffy, reddened, and sore.
This condition is called “chillblains,” my young friend,
and they never go fully away, even in the heat of summer.
So as I lie here face down in this bank of fresh powder,
I think of the pain, and my hands, and of you and yours,
and the long life of outdoor adventure that lies ahead,
and I splutter into the murk: That boy had better not balk
when his mom decrees, “Wear your mittens out in the snow!”