November 9 on the outside
They stood on the side of the ski run, watching the flames devour the wood and melt the snow that surrounded the pit like frozen sentinels. Six people stood in pairs staring into the flames, mesmerized by the dancing shadows of energy and light. He stood watching them from the distance, curious about why this group would be there. He was sure they were his friends that lived on the mountain. With cautious optimism, he approached the fire pit.
They greeted him with a warm welcome in a frigid time and he was happy to step into the heat of a communal fire. The cold temperatures were a drastic contrast from the scorching heat of his most recent posting.
Mick has spent many years in conflict zones around the globe keeping the UN in the air making sure the planes were serviced and safe. His alternate reality was spent in the winter of Big White keeping the parking lots clear and people safe. He didn’t really think in those terms, it was just another job with a paycheque at the end. He remained unphased by the danger he faced in the air and on the ground. After months of permanent isolation, a fire at the side of the run was a good excuse for a cold beer and a warm welcome.
Time has passed everyone by with a sense of chaotic rapidness. JD and his wife Mary were celebrating the end of one chapter in life and the beginning of a new one. Vic and his wife Leigh were grateful for the opportunity to join the local retired pair and connect by a fire. All four greeted Mick with a laugh and a smile. Mia and Peter were the other couple that bounced in their boots by the flames. It was quiet and everyone was aware of their space, happy and safe, they stood around the roaring blaze.
A rushing wind blew down the slope of grass, snow, and rocks. Mick laughed at the intrepid group connecting around the whipping flames. Sparks showered the ground and bounced across the road. Cold temperatures and the world around frozen in the snow made the chance of the fire spreading about as good as snow sticking around in the deserts of Yemen where he had been a month before.
When he worked in the coronaverse this year he was in full isolation. Straight from the airport to the hotel room, he was not allowed to contact any of the locals. His only company was his own thoughts. Crazy the lengths he would go for a paycheque; at least it was a good paycheque. He shivered in the wind and pulled his toque lower onto his ears. It was going to be a tough winter. It sure was going to be a strange one.
Mick turned to JD and smiled,” I hear you guys are leaving the hill?”
“Yes Mary and I have had enough isolation, it’s time to rejoin civilization, we are moving into the city.” JD glanced back at Mick with a look that said he only half-believed the words.
“I understand the isolation, but sometimes I don’t mind it. I get kinda used to being on my own.” Mick stepped back a bit from the fire as if using those words made him want to create distance. He wondered if that was a result of Covid social distancing or if it was from the years traveling the world. It was probably a bit of both he decided.
“We are having this fire to celebrate the last chance to stand on the run and burn some wood.” JD’s voice broke into Mick’s musing. “We only have a week until the new owners take possession of our place. We will miss this place, but I look forward to the chance to be in the city again.”
Mick looked back at him and gave him a big smile, ”I understand, enjoy, and congratulations.”
Vic stepped in a little closer, almost too close in the days of the coronaverse. With his back to the fire, he turned his gaze to JD and Mick. ”The isolation thing must be tough. I think it is tough for us all having to keep our distance from each other. Mick, it must have been really hard sitting alone in a hotel room every night.”
Mick grinned back, “oh buddy time passed pretty slow.”
Vic turned his gaze to JD, “We will miss catching first tracks with you in the morning. I look forward to catching up with you in town.”
“It will be a different season up here, no singles line will make things pretty busy at the bottom. After walking out my front door these past few years it will be too hard to drive the hour up from town.”
“ I understand why you are leaving the village in the clouds. Sometimes you just have to change the way you live.” Vic looked toward Mick. “Glad you’re back and we need to do a run or two this year.”
Mick chuckled softly in reply. Mick wondered how long the world would continue to exist in self-isolation. He knew how lucky he would be to ski this year. He felt really fortunate that the hill would open and life would return to normal; eventually. In the meantime, all he could do was keep plowing away.
Darkness crept up on the group of fire-worshippers. The wind increased in intensity and the temperature began to drop.
Mary shivered as the wind began to howl and the temperature dropped some more. “Goodnight everyone.” Mary gathered herself up and headed inside.
“Winter is on its way, and we will be too.” Mia grabbed Peter’s hand and turned to leave.
“I’ll come with you.” Leigh walked off and waved to the three men left guarding the fire.
As the last burning embers were extinguished the three men stood absorbing the remaining warmth. Connecting and enjoying the silent bond they shared on the edge of a ski-run in November, they said goodbye, goodnight, and good luck.
*All names have been changed to protect the innocent.