SLIDING DOWN SADDLE MOUNTAIN
The sound of automobile tires on a snow covered road is unmistakable. When I was twelve or so, I awakened to that wonderful muffled sound. It was my father in our forty nine ford heading out to work. Our house was constructed ofunpainted ship-lap and was entirely without insulation. Sounds of the outdoors coursed through our home as freely as birds through air. I could plainly hear, this was no light dusting, but an accumulation of several inches! It seldom snowed in Islandview, and when it did, it rarely stayed on the ground for more than a day. One had to be quick to enjoy it.
There were biscuits and bacon grease gravy on the table from my fathers’ breakfast. I wolfed down what was left and made off for my friends’ house, which was similarin construction to ours. In fact, the whole community was made up of dwellings of the same architectural bent, tents, wood shacks and tarpaper-shacks, with a combination tent-house thrown in here and there to break the monotony. There was not enough insulation in the whole lot to make your neck itch. Sometimes, in the coldest of winter, walking down the graveled roadsyou could feel the heat leaking out of the houses. The heating fuel companies loved us. In our own house, the spaces in the warped ship-lap were chinked from my mothers rag box. I always got a little sentimental when I glimpsed a fragment of a long lost favorite shirt stuffed in a knot hole or peaking out of a crack.
Grey’s house was a block or so from mine, he was up and finishing breakfast when I got there. “ Come on , there must be over six inches out there!” I urged. Grey slid on his coat and army surplus aviators cap and we were out the door.
A snow fall of this magnitude was an important event and not to be taken lightly. We spent a considerable amount of time surveying our options; what use we could we make of all this snow. We narrowed it down to a snow fort or building a wood sled and taking a wild ride down Saddle Mountain; Sledding down Saddle mountain won out.
The design was strait forward and simple: two 2x4 runners nailed on a piece of plywood, and since the snow was soft, we widened the runners withsix inchstrips of plywood. It was a cross between a sled and a toboggan, so we christened it “the sloboggan”!
The sloboggan was not the first building project for Grey and I. Earlier that year, in the summer, we spent considerable time in the construction of a Heliograph. A heliograph is a communication device to aim the reflection of the sun at a precise location. In addition to an adjustable mirror, the device was fitted with a shutter so that Morse code could be sent to the target area. The need for two heliographs did not occur to us. We had a book with the Morse code alphabet and we could send messages over surprising distances. Unfortunately we had to hike back toward each other within shouting distance to verify whathad been sent! Other interests prevented us from making a second heliograph.
We drilled holes in the sled runners, attached a loop of rope, and set out for saddle mountain. Island View lies in south eastern Washington, an area of arid desertconsisting of little more than sagebrush and sand for thousands of square miles. Saddle mountainwas one of a group of sagebrush covered hills running east and west, five miles to the west ofour little community.
Grey and I walked side by side pulling the sled between us. Winding our way among the sage brush we talked of how fast we would go down the steep slope of the mountain . We were both aware that the sled had considerable resistance to smooth sliding. In fact, it seemed that it’s coefficient of friction was increasing with our every step in the snow! We had come to the conclusion, long before we got close to the mountain , that it was going to take some steep slope to get this sled up to speed.
In time, our talk drifted to girls, a topic that had come to occupy more and more of our conversations lately. We explored the mystery of Anita Kirkwild’s breasts. Were they real, or was John, a childhood contemporary, correct in the accusation that she was merely stuffing her training brassiere with cotton. Finally, we agreed, it was unlikely she would do anything to attract attention to herself, especially since she didn’t seem to enjoy the attention at all! Grey asked me if I had ever touched a girl’s breast. I told him no, but I would like to. He wanted to know if I had everkissed a girl. I told him no to that one as well, that is, other than my sister and that was on the cheek. At this time in my life, I had no experience whatsoever with girls. Walter Brian; who was only a year older than us, was always talking about “getting some” from this girl or the other. In time, we came to the decision that girls and our involvement with them would be a good thing. We were right. As the gray sky began to clear, we moved on to more familiar subjects.
The sun rose in the sky, the air warmed and we trudged on toward saddle mountain. Like a mirage, the mountain moved tantalizing ahead of us. Finally, we were at the bottom of the mountain, our pace quickened, spurned on by the thought of the majestic decent we were about to experience. The sun soaked into our clothes and the ascent up the mountain warmed us to the bone. We took off layers of clothing and put them on the sled and continued up and up.
By the time we were a quarter up the mountain we had stripped down to barely our tee shirts. It was then we noticed the snow was only a few inches deep and diminishing with our every step. We knew it had gotten warm and with the sun shinning it was just a matter of time when there would be no snow at all. We tried a trial run but it was not steep enough to sustain any real speed down the mountain. There was no choice but to hurry up to the steeper part of the mountain and make our much anticipated decent.
We continued up the mountain long after We had faced the realization, there would be no rapid return down this mountain, not in a sloboggan, not at rocket speed. With sweat dripping from our noses, we slowly came to rest, perhaps half way to the summit. The snow melted to water and seepedinto the sandy soil leaving not so much as a puddle or wet spot.
For a while, as we went back down the mountain, we pulled the sled bearing our coats and sweaters. We walked a slow walk of defeat and dejection, and as we began to chill in the afternoon air, we abandoned the sloboggan on the snowless mountain. We paused for a moment, as if paying our last respects to its unrealized promise. and descended in silence in our wet sweaty clothes.
The sun had begun to set and the line of houses and shacks came into view. Grey gazed back toward Saddle mountain, “I think I would like to touch Anita’sbreasts” he said. “So would I”. I answered, and the memory of Saddle Mountain settled in my mind as softly as melting snow on Saddle Mountain.