Last week I told my son I would take him
Into the woods
And camp
In the winter
To feel the old man's breath.
But a blizzard came
And by Friday night
The wind had shoveled the blowing snow
Into deepening drifts
To keep us close to home.
Years before,
I had ventured into winter wilderness on a quest
With eleven other men to find fear
And found strength and my measure as well
And one night, in that time,
With eight feet of snow beneath me
And minus 300 F around me
I slept with a friend
In a snow cave.
So I piled snow high in our yard
And carved out of that snow a cave
A shelter just large enough
For a boy and a man.
After dinner we went into the yard
Crawled on our hands and knees into the cave
Took off our boots, wriggled into the sleeping bags
And laid our heads on our coat pillows.
I looked up at the crystalline ceiling
About twelve inches from our faces
It reflected the glow of a candle lantern
Burning in a hollowed-out pocket in the cave's wall
Outside it was single digits with the wind blowing
Inside our cave was washed with light
And we were side my side with little room to spare.
I never realized how many questions this boy could ask
What did you want to be when you were eight?
Who was your best friend?
And then we talked about ourselves and our fathers.
I told him some about the pain between me and my dad
About broken math lessons
My crying, frustration, and anger
The walking out, the doors slamming
His disappointment in me and my fury at him.
No one ever talked about these fights
They were phantom experiences
And time did its best to be the healer
In my parents' home.
Quietly, he told me about me
How I had humiliated him
How it made him cry
We talked side by side
In the cave
The candle lantern glowing brightly.
During that time our bushy long-haired cat,
Laurel, strolled into the cave
He had come outdoors and now looked for night-time shelter
We had started in surprise at his silent entrance
and he had darted out
In a few moments he cautiously reentered
And walked upon my chest to to receive welcoming strokes from us
His puyrr in that cave was like a lion's roar
Then he settled down next to my son and went to sleep
On the snowy floor.
After answering and asking more questions
Ted asked me to help him move himself up
So that his head would be next to mine
That we could sleep even closer to each other
I reached over and carefully tugged him and his bag north
We kissed each other good night and closed our eyes.
In a few minutes I could hear the smooth sound of his gentle breathing
The candle still burned and I looked at him in the white of the cave
My eyes closed next and I was glad to be alive in that place and time.
In the morning, I looked up through the vent hole above my head
The sky was bright blue and clear
Ted slept soundly
And I looked at him.
After a while, he stirred and looked at me.
"Let's go in," I said.
"What do you think?"
We crawled out.
Our boots were dry but frozen and hard to get on.
Oops, well below zero.
We shivered and stomped our feet into them
And then walked through the snow drifts into our house
With Laurel bounding from foot print to foot print
To make it inside before the door closed.
Years before,
I had ventured
With eleven men to find fear
This time with but one other I slept in a snow cave
To find love.