Missing

Renée stood on the warm side of the sliding glass doors, holding her favorite mug. Scents of cinnamon and clove mingled with orange warmed her from within even though the tea was still too hot to drink. Scanning the fenced backyard, her gaze came to rest on the open gate.

Stepping into snow boots, she quietly muttered, “Where’s Willy now?” She set down the tea and instantly forgot about it as she lifted her down parka from the coat rack and slid it over her bathrobe.

She knew he couldn’t have gone far, not in these freezing temperatures. She was grateful that they didn’t still live in Amarillo, where by this time the crust on the lingering snow would have prevented any tracks. Instead, delicate layers of flakes had captured each of his tiny footprints. Renée followed them across the yard, through the open gate, and towards the woods.

Fortunately for Renee, these were not the deep, dark, woods that one reads about in horror stories. However, like all undeveloped areas, there were some local legends of extraterrestrial activity explaining the oddly precise triangular clearings found deep within, far from any roads. It was an interesting hypothesis, but not one that Renee put much stock in.

These tall pines, with their sparsely grown, high branches, allowed plenty of soft morning light to filter through onto the path. While they had captured some of the snow, a light dusting remained. Just enough for Renee to spot an occasional footprint to follow.

“Willy? Willy!”

The woods responded with complete silence. In other circumstances Renee would have found it peaceful, relaxing even. After all, this is what she moved out here for. It had seemed like such a safe, quiet place for her and Willy.

Renee’s mind began to work through scenarios, all of them horrible, as she followed Willy’s trail. She wasn’t very familiar with this area yet, she hadn’t even really finished unpacking, much less explored the woods in any depth. She had been here with Willy just once. They had followed the path down to a creek and splashed in the water for a bit. This was right after they moved in, just before the weather turned.

She rushed along that path again now, hoping to find Willy safe and sound at the edge of the creek. Gruesome images swirled through her head, though. Were there wild animals out here? There had to be. Little Willy would be no match for a hungry tiger or bear. Could he drown in the creek? It was almost certainly frozen over, but would the ice be thick enough to hold him? She just didn’t know.

Underneath the chaos of catastrophic thoughts, Renee was burdened with the knowledge that if she hadn’t stepped away from the window to selfishly make herself a cup of tea, Willy would still be in the yard enjoying the snow. If she was honest with herself, she would acknowledge that she should have been out there playing with him instead of cozy inside.

With growing apprehension, Renee began to wonder if this was even the same path. It seemed twice as long and half as wide as she remembered it. Plus, it felt much more sinister than last time she was here. Other than her frequent, calls, the woods remained silent.

Her unanswered calls to Willy were cut short as she caught her toe on a root and sprawled face first onto the snow dusted dirt. A rush of air escaped her upon landing and the impact shook her out of her thoughts. Closing her eyes for a moment to collect herself and take stock of the damage, Renee felt dread rushing back.

She hadn’t realized she was crying until she felt Willy’s sandy tongue licking her grimy tears.

“Willy!” Relief flooded in as Renee pulled herself to her knees, scooping up the shivering Chihuahua and hugging him to her chest. “Thank God you’re alright!”

Renee planted a big kiss on his snout before tucking him inside her jacket and heading back to the house. There would be no more unsupervised playtime until she had a chance to check out that latch on the gate.

Back at home, Renee was delighted to find her tea still warm. She sipped it, snuggled in her favorite chair, with Willy curled on her lap. As she daydreamed of the future, so did Willy.

He had thought this was a pretty dull place until this morning. He was playing in the snow when a person-like thing with no smell floated out from the woods and opened the gate for him. They had played in the woods for a bit until his human had interrupted them. That’s okay for now, though. Willy knew he would be seeing a lot more of his cool new friend.

Frostbite

In the early morning darkness, the rest of the city dwellers were snuggled under their warm duvets, dreaming of large, expensive, espresso drinks. The deadbolt slid into place and we dashed through the 32 degree air and packed ourselves into the idling car. Our many layers of clothing protected us from the shocking chill. Snow was expected at our destination, with a high of just 20 degrees. As the city slept, hubs and I were off on an exciting new adventure.

Although hubs was the one who signed us up for the 90 minute guided snowshoe trek at Snoqualmie summit, I was the inspiration for the idea. Snowshoeing had been on my list of things to try for the last three or four years. I had tried other snow sports. I once rode a pair of skis down the bunny slope at Crystal mountain, past the ski lift, and as dozens of pairs of eyes followed, finally came to a stop by crashing into the closed back doors of the lodge. Two years ago I spent an entire morning diligently and methodically leaving deep tailbone impressions every few feet in the freshly fallen snow at Mount Baker, my feet securely strapped to a rented snowboard. I was amazed to find I could still walk after that particular adventure. I was, however, unable to sit. It was my fondest hope that snowshoeing would be different.

Hubs and I arrived early, even after detouring through Starbucks for some caffeine and breakfast sandwiches. We had found the roads clear of both cars and cloud droppings. It was early enough in the day that the skiers hadn’t arrived in full force yet, so we were able to park fairly close to our destination. With about an hour to kill, we sat listening to the radio for awhile as the parking filled in and a wider assortment of skiers than I would have imagined emerged from the various vehicles and made their way to the slopes. The thermostat in the car said 17 degrees; I was not eager to leave the car, despite my layers (15, to be exact). Hubs was getting restless, though, so he broke the seal on our warm sanctuary by opening the driver’s door and going around back to grab his gear. I was waiting until the last possible moment to leave the car and felt the temperature plummet as he stood there with the hatch open. I wasn’t thinking happy thoughts.

“Oh. Shit.” It isn’t often that he swears, so it must be something important. Was the car leaking oil? Fuel? Did he park in front of a fire hydrant? Or on top of a bunny? “What?” I asked, growing concerned. It was his ski jacket, still casually draped over the small couch by the window in our toasty home, that was the problem. His Under Armour shirt was nice, but it couldn’t protect him for 90 plus minutes in 17 degree weather without a little assistance from another layer or two. What to do? We still had twenty minutes. Enough time to make our way across the street to the ranger station, but not nearly enough time to go home and retrieve his jacket. I suggested we reschedule for next weekend. After all, I had waited years already and the mountain was unlikely to go anywhere in the next 7 days.

Instead, we made our way quickly to the shop at the base of the ski lift and frantically shopped for a new coat. After searching the racks and undressing a mannequin unnecessarily, we headed to the counter with a new ski jacket. A quick potty break, and back to the ranger station we went. We were the last hikers to check in, arriving with just a couple of minutes to spare.

This introduction to snowshoeing hike was more popular than we had anticipated. The compact ranger station was crowded with at least 20 people. Expectant snowshoers were spilling out into the parking lot. Approximately one third were children. Our guides were already working the crowd, learning names and gauging experience so they could tailor the hike for today’s group. We all gathered around as best we could in the cramped space and listened to the guide give instructions on how to work the snowshoes and where we would be hiking. I found their choice of snowshoes quite clever. All were the same brand (MSR) and style, with no left or right to worry about. There were two size options, children’s and adults. We collected our allotted two and made our way out to the parking area.

As a group, we made our way across the road and walked along the shoulder for a quarter mile or so before climbing up snow stairs onto the top of a berm. Suddenly the snow flocked forest stretched out before us. Well hidden beneath our feet was a parking lot. Three seasons out of the year this was an access point for those hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Not today, though. Today it was a big puddle of fluffy white crystals, eight feet deep. Cross country and snowshoe tracks radiated from our little group and meandered through the trees. We donned our gear and, after a brief tutorial, we followed the most prominent path. There was no danger of becoming misplaced. Our entire group was sandwiched between two guides, both outfitted with enough gear to spend the night should the need arise.

Our guide was lively and animated. It was clear that he loved his job. We kept a leisurely pace and stopped frequently to learn about the trees and wildlife. Slightly rolling terrain and windy paths kept things interesting, but not strenuous. Along the way we identified cedar trees, Pileated Woodpecker holes, bunny tracks, and predator tracks. We also had a point to point race and practiced walking backward in the snowshoes. Both were as difficult and funny as you might imagine.

As we hiked deeper into the woods, the sounds of civilization faded and we were presented with stunning scenery. A light snow had begun to fall as we worked our way into the woods. Crossing over bridges made of snow, we admired the Seuss-like shapes of trees burdened with accumulated snow. The guides pointed out hazards such as signs of avalanche danger and “tree bombs”. These happen when a snow laden branch releases its load all at once on an unsuspecting hiker. Tree wells are another hazard. It was hard to remember that we were hiking so high up from the ground that what looked like trees were actually just the tree tops.

Our destination and turn around point was a wide meadow of fluffy, untouched snow.  Our group spread out and pictures were taken as snow angels were created and snowballs flew. We had worked, now it was time for some play. We had perhaps ten minutes to explore the meadow before gathering ourselves together for the trip back. Along the way, we saw a few other groups out snowshoeing as well as some cross country skiers. Most seemed to be having a good time and some stopped for a brief chat with the guide or, in one case, hubs. One of his co-workers had been snow camping the night before with some friends and we passed them as they were snowshoeing out.

All in all, we had a great time and it felt like it ended too soon. Towards the end of the trek, as the group spilled out onto a wide trail from a narrower one, one of the guides suggested that hubs and I take the 4 hour adventure. We had not discussed it between ourselves, but we were both interested. My fingers were frozen, though, so I need to pick out new gloves first.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was pouring down snow and the roads were covered and slick. We had arrived just two hours earlier. Traffic was moving cautiously as we worked our way to the freeway and headed back west. Just a few miles later the roads were clear and the sky was sunny and clear. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning. So great, in fact, that we spent the next Saturday morning there as well, on the four hour snowshoe adventure.

Author’s Note:

The photo above is of the group that went on the 4 hour tour the following weekend. Hubs and I are on the right.

Somewhere in the middle this converted itself from a story into a journal entry. I feel like it had a strong and interesting beginning, then became a bunch of boring chronological facts. I may revisit this later, working for a consistent voice throughout the story.