A Window of Clarity

Fitz Cahall
Heart of Winter 2007

On clear mornings, we awake to alpenglow and Mount Tallac. Its long shoulders stretch down to the South Shore’s beaches. From the summit, a long, narrow gash of snow divides black rock bands. Cliffs close in until the large bowl pinches down to a 30-foot-wide corridor walled with 100-foot-tall granite teeth. To locals it’s known simply as the Cross. For us, it’s a brilliant slash of simplicity in an otherwise cluttered existence.

Climbing skins hang over the refrigerator like hides drying. I keep tripping over a wayward ski pole that seems to wander as it pleases over the tiny apartment’s 300 square feet. Becca threatens to start wearing her avalanche beacon in case she ever disappears inside the growing pile of long underwear, duct tape patched ski pants, inside-out mittens, goggles and helmets. Our work schedules mirror our cramped living quarters.

At night, I return home exhausted from another 12-hour day. Snow is gathering in the driveway. I open a beer and turn out the overhead light. I stand there in the dark, staring into the snow hitting the window. I know Tallac is out there gathering snow. I imagine the Cross is filling in. I pace across the floor, stub my toe on the bed, and turn to face the wall. In the apartment’s silence, I swear I can hear the walls inching in on me.

Storms roll through on an almost daily basis. Life blurs into an avalanche of deadlines and business trips. Decisions overwhelm us: a possible job on the East Coast, money, tyrannical bosses. We tumble through the fledgling year. January churns toward February.

After another storm cycle, the clouds recede to reveal Tallac. The sun seems higher in the sky. Morning light jumps off the lake and fills our cramped apartment with possibility. The new snow has had a day to settle. The walls seem to retreat.

By 9 a.m. we collapse breathless on Tallac’s broad summit under a sharp blue sky. We gear up and creep to the corniced edge. Three deep breaths later, I watch Becca point her skis down a line we cannot see, but know is there. I scramble further down the ridge to spot her.

I can see her mind tightening down, pushing away the clutter and focusing on the window of clarity in front of her skis. She takes five graceful turns down the untracked face, flirts with the slough cascading down the couloir, and points it for safety as the moving snow gathers into a current capable of sweeping her from her skis. I follow her lead. Each sweeping turn releases small slough slides cascading down the 45-degree face. Skis whisper through six inches of fresh snow. We blend individual turns into something whole – a narrative of interlaced tracks. Amongst the clutter of our existence, we have carved Tallac into our lives, into clean memory. Could it be that life is as simple as taking three deep breaths, pointing the skis downhill, and letting gravity take over? Maybe, just maybe, the solutions to our dilemmas aren’t so audacious or improbable.

In the winter darkness, when the walls tighten down, I turn to that memory: Tallac’s profile, the slash of white, the whisper of sliding snow. A little window of clarity opens up. I climb through it, and sunshine fills my thoughts.

About the Author

In 2006, freelance writer Fitz Cahall and his wife, Becca, embarked on the Move Mountains Project. The couple will climb and ski every Cascade volcano above 9,000 feet in order to raise money for a Corvallis, Oregon youth shelter. For more information visit themovemountainsproject.org.