February 6th would have been my dear friend Blue’s birthday, and is the first time in 42 years I won’t be sending a card, talking with him over the phone, or celebrating in person. I was supposed to be out west this week, back to my beloved mountains. I had planned to go to the top of the mountain and ski the back bowl on his birthday, the run you will read about shortly. Last year, I was writing this story right around the time it turned out he had passed away, although I didn’t know it at that point. So, since COVID Captivity has prevented my return to the west and my quiet time of reflection I would like to share this excerpt from my book with you. If I shut my eyes I can easily return to the mountains, and feel my friend’s presence.
In the winter of 1981, I was being tortured. Grad school was killing me and statistics, the worst course in the world was my ADHD brain’s undoing. One night after a particularly brutal day in the trenches I drank a lot of very cheap wine and then hopped on a plane, criss-crossing my way across the U.S., until miraculously I landed in Vancouver, B.C. Blackcomb ski resort had just opened and my best friend Blue was managing one of the first restaurants.
We had met in undergrad and he’d put up with my shenanigans long past most people’s tolerance level, so when I needed to run away again it was obvious that I would gravitate to his part of the world. He was always tried and true in the unconditional love department, and had vast quantities of patience to listen to my rants, and let me find my own way back to sanity. I always knew he was there if I needed him and I hope he thought the same.
We drove out west together one summer to work to pay for our next year’s tuition. I may have mentioned I have Mennonite origins, so according to my mother’s sense of propriety, it was not acceptable for me to drive 2400 miles to the beautiful mountain community of Banff, with a man. After many hours explaining to my mom that we were just friends and it was a practical, sound, financially prudent decision – I was broke, and he had room in his car- I won the argument and we set out.
One of Blue’s fondest memories of that trip was my insistence we stop in a motel that had two twin beds to rest. At the motel I locked myself in the bathroom, while he got into his bed and then in the dark, after having changed into my terrycloth adult onesies, you know the ones complete with the feet and the trap door that were very popular at the time, I sprinted from the bathroom and jumped into my bed and pulled the covers right over my head. Years later, Blue was fond of saying that that outfit squelched any thought he may have had for romance.
Once I had recovered from my fairly significant hangover, I proceeded to make myself useful and help him in the restaurant serving customers and cleaning up raw sewage after the pipes broke, twice! We rarely had time off in the ten calamitous days it took for me to realize waitressing and being a ski bum was probably not the right career for me. It was amazing though, the one glorious ski day we had together to forget our plumbing problems, and the plumbing of the depths of my mind about whether or not to go back to grad school.
That day, Blue and I were going to the very top of the mountain and skiing in a back bowl. There was no one around. The infinite, breathtaking beauty of the mountains to this day brings me to a hard stop at the top, every time. I never get tired of looking out over the vast expanse of craggy, jagged peaks with their snow, glorious snow, and the sun’s reflection that can almost blind you with the particular light that comes with the merger of rock, snow and sun.
We made our way over to the edge of the run and when peering over the side I said to Blue: “You go first, forge the path as I’m way slower than you and I’ll catch up in a bit.” He smiled and said “Catch you on the flip side” and he was off skiing like the Olympian he could have been.
When my ski legs and courage kicked in, I pushed off the edge, feeling a lightness of being and peace that is firmly planted on my neuro pathways to this day. However, it didn’t take much time before the Zen feelings were replaced by a sensation of incredulity as, much to my amazement, I sighted a bare-naked bum going due west of my current due south skiing trajectory.
If you were a skier in the 1980s you will remember that the fashionable ski clothing was a bibbed farmer pant style. As previously mentioned, Blackcomb had just opened and it was quite isolated with few bathroom facilities. Well, when you are high up in the mountains and nature calls for more than a mindful experience, you gotta go, when you gotta go. This woman in her moment of need had found a grove of trees, to the one side of this fairly steep run. She had kept her skis on, parallel to the side of the hill and pulled down her pants, below her knees but unbeknownst to her, as she bent and did her business, she was on a declining slope. Due to her pants being locked below her knees, when she started to sail out of the grove, bare ass to the wind, there was nothing she could do, bound by her pants on her runaway skis. She was skiing directly into my path, going west, when I was going south. It was one of those situations where you just react in time to save yours and another’s bacon.
I took the fall for the hapless urinator, narrowly avoiding a head on collision. Still on a fairly steep incline, I managed to get my skis off and scrambled over to this poor woman, whose nether regions I am sure, had never been exposed to the elements like this. Between the two of us, we got her pants unlocked from her knees, and gingerly backed up together to retrieve her ski poles from the toilet grove. After a brief discussion on how men have it far easier than women in the need to go department, and that she likely will not ever feel pain from childbirth as she had now experienced this assault to her privates, we bid adieu.
That day continued to go hilariously “downhill”. Thankfully, my new snow streaker friend’s dignity was left somewhat intact as Blue had missed the whole show. When I caught up with him, quite a long while later, he asked “What took so long?” I said that an incident had occurred on the hill and I felt it was a sign from the universe, a nature-filled, wintry message that I should return to grad school. It seemed so clear in that moment that I should continue with my plan to help people who are stuck in situations that need unsticking, in order for them to find happiness and peace. I realized that the ski pant incident was a metaphor for the therapeutic process and that I should go back to school to continue learning about it. One is often stuck with belief systems that cause you to go in a direction you don’t want to go, and it will often lead to a crash, where you are humbled and brought to your knees and the realization slowly dawns that you have to change the trajectory your life is on……….You will find the rest of this chapter in my soon to be published book.
So, this year my dear friend, it is a story for your birthday, instead of a card, of just one of our marvelous adventures together. I know wherever you are it’s a Whistler-Blackcomb bluebird day, every day.