“You have to take the superstition out of it,” said Bill.
We were standing on top of Days Fork, and I was coming unglued. Brad and I had dug a couple snow pits, talked about snow conditions and made reasonable decisions based on our findings, but I still felt like the whole mountain could just collapse in a heartbeat. I felt incredible trepidation; like I was just waiting for it to happen.
“It’s not a mystery,” Bill continued, referring to snow science. “You can figure it out. You just have to get in there and look.”
But the thing is, I can study the snow pack all day – that doesn’t mean I trust it.
I didn’t tell Bill that my fears were bigger than that moment on top of Days Fork, bigger than that particular snow pack. That it wasn’t that day; it was every day. It wasn’t backcountry skiing; it was everything.
It was hearing people I love take a cavalier attitude toward safety. It was hearing people declare, “that slope will never slide,” or “that will never happen,” while looking me straight in the eye.
It’s then that I get all kinds of self-righteous. It’s then that I want to stand on top of a milk crate and scream, “you don’t know!”
Because in my experience, things that “don’t happen” did. Things that “can’t happen” have. And to develop a false sense of safety based on those blind assumptions, well, that scares me.
On the other hand, I seem to be the only one missing out. As I consider the people I see in the backcountry, I’m the only one who seems to stop short of fun because of what might happen. I’m the only one not racking up huge vert because the slope could slide. Do other people even think about these things? Everyone else just seems to be listening to tunes, zoning out and dropping in, concerned with nothing more than the untracked snow in front of them.
There’s a balance, I suppose, and I’ve never been good at balance. Maybe that's why I reference this poem nearly every day:
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!