December 27, 2005

Thaw

I was fifteen years old. A pretty young and innocent high school kid. The shy quiet smart girl.

And it wasn't supposed to be a winter camping trip, anyway. We had to get permission from the school board, and they kept putting off their meetings. By the time we finally got the backpacking trip approved, November had arrived, with the threat of winter weather.

Outdoor Girl and I did not have the right boots or clothing or equipment for winter camping. And we were the only two girls signed up for the trip. But we went anyhow. We wore men's leather workboots, bought at the store that sold supplies to the men who worked on the railroad, and cotton long underwear layered under jeans and flannel shirts. All that cotton just absorbed the sweat, chilling my whole body through. The most sane thing I wore for this camping trip was a pair of wool socks.

To hike up the mountain, we followed a stream, hiking right through the gurgling water and rocks. So my feet were wet right away and my clothes soon soaked with sweat, but as long as we kept moving, the warmth of the exertion and the glorious view of snow-covered pines made my whole body glow. Older Mountain Climber Guy – he must have been seventeen – kept talking about how the temperature was dropping. As we climbed higher, the stream disappeared under ice. One of the younger guys kept passing around bottles of Southern Comfort and Peppermint Schnapps. I loved the burning sensation as the Southern Comfort slid down my throat.

It was snowing hard by the time we reached the place where we were to camp. And getting dark. I guess we'd gotten a late start. The summer tent that Outdoor Girl and I had brought was completely inadequate, as we had suspected it might be. We abandoned it quickly to crowd into a tent with a bunch of the guys.

As soon as I stopped moving, I was cold. Really cold. The guys kept feeding me handfuls of M&M's. Older Mountain Climber Guy looked with horror at the gear most of us had brought. None of us were from families who had money. A few had borrowed good stuff from friends or from the gym teacher who had organized the trip. With night came intense cold. And wind.

Older Guy made me take off some of my wet stuff and then he told me to get into a sleeping bag with Dark Curls, who at fourteen was the youngest boy on the trip. At home, getting into a sleeping bag with a boy I didn't even know – or one that I did know, for that matter – would have seemed awfully strange. Or somehow indecent. In this dark, cold tent, my whole body so chilled that all energy was draining from me, the idea made complete sense.

Climbing into a sleeping bag -- even that simple effort -- took more energy than I had. But even as I struggled to slide my body in, I could feel the warmth, oh god this incredible warmth. Dark Curls, clad in dry long underwear, was absolutely radiating heat. I could hear in his voice the nervous awkwardness that boys always got in their voice when a girl got near. Dimly, I could hear him talking to Older Guy – or perhaps me. "Uh, where should I put my arms?"

His arms moved hesitantly until they were wrapped around me, his warm breath trickling into my hair, tickling my neck. I could feel the tenseness of his body dissolve as he gave up trying not to touch me and his whole body, all of it, relaxed against me. My waist-length hair seemed to be everywhere – all mixed in with us. Mostly, I remember the warmth, all that wonderful warmth soaking into my body.

Once Older Guy was satisfied that no one was going to freeze to death, he led our tent into an insult battle with the other tent, about ten feet away. Every time Dark Curls spoke, I could feel his words against my neck. When I laughed, I could feel the vibrations from my throat echo against him. When we discovered that Skinny Awkward Guy in the other tent had a great singing voice, we kept giving him requests.

That's what I remember most from my first winter camping trip. Not the spectacular view from the summit or the way the pine trees looked covered in snow. I remember how it felt to be colder than I had ever been before, so cold that I almost stopped feeling cold. I remember hands reaching through the dark to put M&M's into my mouth. The beautiful voice of a teenage boy serenading us through the night. And the way it felt to be touching another person from head to chest to legs to feet, lying so close that I could absorb his warmth, his voice, his energy.

15 comments:

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

You've mentioned Outdoor Girl and the railroad supply store before, in a post about breaking in blue jeans, right? I'm just trying to keep track of people.

Where was the gym teacher who had organized this? Were there any responsible adults around?

jo(e) said...

Rob: Yep, that's right. Outdoor Girl is the friend who helped me break in blue jeans from that same store. (I just got a Christmas card from her. She and her husband raise cattle and train horses in rural North Carolina now.)

The gym teacher signed his name on the papers and lent guys equipment, but he camped somewhere else -- he and a couple of the older guys had hiked to a different mountain. We parted company in the parking lot. He left the seventeen-year-old Older Guy in charge of us -- and I do have to say that Older Guy did seem to know what he was doing.

The school board's policy was that a female chaperone had to go if female students went. So she drove up to the mountains with us and then stayed in a hotel in town. I think she was the girlfriend of the gym teacher.

It was the seventies.

RussianViolets said...

Oh, Jo(e), how beautiful!!! I remember the first time I spent the evening with my boyfriend. That warmth of snuggling so close to another human being is something that I never experienced before, and it is one of my happiest memories since. I still talk to the Former Boyfriend, and we have this important "first" to share. Thank you for helping me to think about something that I haven't thought about in quite a while. :-)

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

This story made me smile as if I'd been there.

Mieke said...

Jesus can you write!

feminine expressions said...

what a wonderful sweet story. i love, love, love the incredible warmth you describe. your first experience is now ours also, and is especially sweet...

Yankee T said...

Beautifully written and so sweet. I love coming over here.

Bewildered Academic said...

Beautiful and spiritually refreshing. It makes me want to crawl back into the warmth of my bed rather instead of staying up and working! :-) Thanks for sharing this with us.

liz said...

What Mieke said!

ccw said...

Beautiful post!

Teri said...

I'm with Mieke and Liz!

halloweenlover said...

Ahhh, I love this memory. I feel like I was there.

Artichoke Heart said...

Gorgeous . . . absolutely riveting.

Lisa C. said...

You are a truly gifted writer Jo(e). Thank you for sharing this with us.

Lorna said...

contented sigh :)