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Skiing Down the Mountain And Up the Creek

He stood at the top of the mountain, his skis resting on four feet of packed snow. The sunshine was brilliant. The air was frigid, and so clear and sharp he could count the pines on the adjacent peaks. It was 1937, the year he would graduate from high school.

My father had spent most of the morning hiking up Graves Mountain near his family's farm in Washington State, he said years later when he told me this story. Even in snowshoes, it was a major undertaking with his heavy wooden skis over his shoulder. But the work was over. He strapped his snowshoes on his back. Now, only the fun remained.

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The open slopes below were flanked by short pines. No houses or outbuildings interrupted the landscape's expansive peace. He took deep breaths, enjoying the cold feeling in his lungs after the long climb.

He savored being at the top, his solitude, and the beauty and hugeness of his surroundings. But if he stood too long, the cold would seep through his clothing and he would have to hurry home to the fire. So he took a last long breath and a look around, lifted his ski poles, and pushed off.

He started slowly, but quickly accelerated as the slope steepened. Soon he was flying over the snow in the dancing sun. The wind chilled his ears, and he pulled his cap down further. He went faster and faster; he bent his knees and leaned forward to coax more speed. Now he was tearing down the mountainside.

He raced down the steepest slopes until they leveled a bit. Then, with the fastest part over, he slowed and leisurely angled back and forth across the open snow between clumps of trees.

He made his way down the mountain in the most roundabout way he could, extending his ride to three quarters of an hour. As soon as he arrived home, someone would likely put him to work. On the other hand, his mother was baking bread that day. He turned toward home, angling across the last few low hilltops above the farm.

Near the barn he could see his father's bull and a few of the cows waiting for their next feeding of hay. The snow was too deep for foraging.

He skied easily, anticipating the last steep slope, where he could get a final burst of speed before reaching the bottom. As the slope sharpened, he crouched forward and tucked his poles under his arms, accelerating rapidly. He grinned at the sensation of speed, sad that it was ending for the day. He sped straight down the hill, exultant.

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Not until he hit the ice where the cattle had trampled the snow did he realize what was about to happen. He saw the huge hairy side of the bull speeding toward him as his skis clattered over the ice, not responding to his efforts to turn. His unsuspecting target loomed larger and larger; he could see the bull's whorled winter coat, the long hair dangling from its belly.

Then - Whump! His outstretched hands hit first, followed immediately by his body. With a shocked grunt, the bull became airborne momentarily. His hooves went out from under him, and he crashed to the icy ground with a thud.

They lay still a moment, young man and confounded bull. Then the bull scrambled to his feet and trotted off a few paces, shaking his horns and switching his tail. The skier lay still a moment longer, gasping for breath. When he caught it, he started to laugh, and lost it again.

He laughed and laughed, lying on the ice with his hat, skis, and poles splayed around him.

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