My family takes a yearly winter vacation to someplace colder, snowier, and brighter than here in western Washington. Favorite areas are the Methow Valley, Leavenworth, and Vancouver B.C. These vacations have involved snow-shoeing, tubing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, star gazing, deep forest hiking, night swimming in a luxuriously heated outdoor pool covered by a plexiglas dome, gondola rides through a frost-covered forest canopy, and, of course, beautiful holiday light displays. Each vacation, though short, has given us treasured memories. Once, in Winthrop, after a long and very cold day of hiking and cross-country skiing, we returned to our cabin which overlooked a river. We snuggled into the warmth of fleece blankets and a roaring fire. With lights off, the room illuminated only by a full moon, we sat on the couch and watched as night spread evenly over the last of the day. Before long, deer wandered through the grounds of our cabin area and under the sparse canopy of snow-covered Ponderosa Pines. A memorable way to end a day.
There is one vacation that stands out and is my favorite. During a beautifully snowy and cold week in January, we went to Leavenworth for a post-holiday vacation. Our daughter was about 5 years old at the time and filled with the energy, enthusiasm, and joy that a week of playing in snow brings. We had rented a cabin at the very end of town for this vacation. The cabin was perched on a gentle hill overlooking an ice-covered pond fed by a small river, and was equipped with a wood-burning stove, a full kitchen, and a small balcony. During that week our days were spent outside in fresh air shopping, hiking, and playing in the snow, and our evenings were filled with star-gazing. We marveled at an expansive Milky Way that arched across a deep black sky spattered with stars. On our last evening of vacation, and after a particularly active and very cold day spent under a bright blue cloudless sky, we returned to the cabin for dinner and videos. Around 11pm, just before bed, my spouse decided we should go outside and watch for shooting stars. As we were in our pajamas, warm robes, and slippers and didn’t want to get back into day-clothes, we decided to watch from the balcony. He led the way. No sooner did we step outside then we saw stars sailing across the sky. Too numerous to count, too exciting to ignore. Our breath made frosty clouds that dissipated like fading fog. I held my daughter and she snuggled inside my robe. The night was icy. It was cold. So cold our skin tingled. So cold that icicles decorated gutters and tree limbs with translucent blue reflections from town lights. It was a distractingly beautiful night, quiet and still. No one outside but us. No voices, no car sounds. All that filled the night was the icy, ancient beauty of stars.
Before long, our daughter began to shiver. “We’re going back inside now”, I said to my spouse. I walked to the door, put my hand on the icy door knob, and found it wouldn’t turn. Hmm. I tried again to turn it and it wouldn’t budge. Stuck, I wondered? My daughter said “I’m really cold, Mom.” Me, too. I held her tighter. I turned to my spouse and said “You may have forgotten to unlock the door before closing it.” He looked at me with surprise and said, “I think I unlocked it.” He tried the door knob and sure enough, it was locked. I looked at him – I was beginning to warm up at that point – and asked him if he had his room key with him. Nope. “I’m cold! Are we locked out??” our daughter asked. No, no, not at all my spouse and I answered in unison. “I can fix this”, he said. “Dad will fix this”, I said – with The Look – for added emphasis.
After almost 20 minutes of multiple attempts and ideas to force the door open, my spouse found a way to remove a small glass panel from the bottom of the window next to the door, slide his arm through the opening, and unlock the door. All without breaking the lock, the window, his arm, or getting cut on the glass. Once inside, he was able to reset the small glass panel back into the window. Other than being covered in finger prints, the window looked unscathed. In little time we were warming up and laughing. Hot apple cider helped to diminish the chill. We slept well that night, dreaming of stars and icicles.
And, did I mention it was cold?