We took a trip to the mountains and it could have been devastating. It was the coldest day of the year and we were headed to the coldest part of the state, five of us in a VW Bug, two couples and me, a tag-along. We stalled out twice, after sundown, deep into endless stretches of state game land. We should never have reached the hunting cabin. That night we gagged on kerosene fumes.
The next day all five of us trekked up into the mountains, hoping to spot a branch-antlered stag. Everything was fine as long as the sun draped its light, cozy as a quilt, across the slope. Our leader came from an Old-Order Amish background, until his father was shunned by the community for doing the unspeakable.
To survive, they became Mennonite, exchanging hooks and eyes for buttons, so his mother would no longer have to avert her eyes every time she caught sight of her husband. Only our leader was dressed for the deep-freeze: mukluks, long johns. The rest of us wore army surplus or thin suede. His girlfriend didn’t even have a scarf, and lagging behind, collapsed into a snow bank.
The other girl and I had to rescue her. We carried her back, rubbed warmth into her stiff bones. Hours later our leader and the other guy arrived on the back of a snowmobile. Its driver had known our leader years before, back in the farming town of Intercourse—racing jalopies together, secretly through mown meadows, crossing the state line for six-packs.
He was an Elder in the community now, wife and six kids back home, priceless farmland, two black buggies. The girlfriend was recovered by then. And yet, she insisted, we could have left her right there in the snow bank. She would’ve been perfectly content. She was working her way through the early novels of Thomas Mann, the whole trip up, going on and on about the Magic Mountain.
Photo by Cindy Seigle on Flickr