You Can’t Be Here Right Now

“You can’t be here right now” the snowcat driver hollered at me over the purr of the engines.  Ain’t that the truth I thought to myself as I struggled the last quarter mile to the cabin in the dark with a fading headlamp.

Why in God’s name did I let my 5pm before dark quick dinner escalate into a 4 course meal with a total stranger?  A lovely total stranger who I had met at the chef’s table at Skadi, a local Scandinavian restaurant tucked into a strange business park on a residential street in town.   We poured through stories and courses and before I knew it deep dark had settled into the snow covered streets.

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As I was huffing along the snowy path, my freezing breath exploding out of me as I tried to race my headlamp’s battery reserve to the cabin, all I could think about was the story I had heard recently from a friend that Mammoth’s hills were covered in mountain lions and that they were more to be feared than the healthy local bear population.

I was pretty sure I had been stalked a couple winters ago on a very similar night.  That night I sung “hey bear” loudly for the entire half mile walk to the cabin, being careful not to run or appear panicked.  The next day when I saw fresh tracks littered around the back side of the campground I knew I wasn’t just scared of the dark.

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I was relieved to see that snowcat and it’s glaring headlights cutting through the pitch black of the campground.  It felt so alien seeing such a large vehicle in the middle of the backcountry trek to the cabin and I had a momentary flash to The Shining and Dick Hallorann barelling his way to the Overlook Hotel.

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I crossed the track well in front of the cat to make sure the driver saw me and wouldn’t inadvertently knock me into a snow bank.

I can only imagine what was running through his mind as he opened his door to reprimand me.  As I explained to him that I was just trying to make my way to my cabin he grinned and exclaimed “That’s your cabin back there with the lights on?”.   As I explained yes, I am the idiot trying to make my way in the pitch black after a 4 course dinner to an isolated cabin alone, he responded “Well, yes you are allowed to be here!”.

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I explained to him I was rarely out on the path after dark and that it was good to know what time they normally groomed now, since in three years I had never even heard the snowcat on the snow muted cross country ski trail.  As I wandered forward into the night I was grateful to have had that brief contact with someone.  To know I wasn’t “Alone, in the night, in the dark” to quote a line from one of my favorite scary movies.

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The isolation of the cabin in winter is one of it’s greatest advantages but at the same time is also it’s greatest disadvantage when alone.  Every time I take that walk back in the frigid dark alone and terrified I ask myself over and over “What were you thinking?”, and every time I awake to a pristine, silent, snow covered lake and take my first step outside to the hush of the winter forest I remember it is all worth it.

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