The Night I Met Charlotte.
(Written February 9, 2016)
High altitudes always give me headaches.
Not the awful kind, but just the nagging kind that like to linger.
A few weeks ago on a ski trip to Colorado, that’s what woke me up at 3:30 in the morning. That’s what made me crawl out from under those warm blankets, pull my tired and aching ski body to a standing position and feel around in the dark for my slippers. It’s why I bumped my shin on the end of the bed then mumbled something grumpy or perhaps worse. It’s what made me slowly feel my way down the hall in that quiet sleeping house to go looking for the Advil.
When I sat down to finish my glass of water, right in front of me was the sprawling wide ski slope at the base of Peak 8–fully visible through the large window. The white cover of snow glowed bright even in the dark and it was breathtaking– so peaceful sitting quietly there in the very wee hours of the morning. In all my years of skiing I’d never once stayed on the mountain. It was a first for me. Never had I imagined what it looks like when everyone is asleep.
Well, not everyone.
From up the slope I saw a light moving slowly down the mountain toward the base. As it got closer, I began to hear it. It wasn’t as much a noise as it was a hum. A gentle hum. At least that’s what it sounded like with a wall between it and me. I watched the light grow larger and nearer.
Of course I’d suspected it was a Snow Cat–the machine that grooms the slopes. So that’s no surprise. What surprised me, though, was that in all my years of skiing I never once gave a single thought to when or how those beautifully groomed slopes came to be. I never gave a thought to the person that drives that big machine up and down the mountains all night long so that my family and I can take an early lift up and be among the first to leave a fresh mark in the snow.
Never once thought about it.
I wondered about the person driving the Snow Cat. Guy or gal? Gal, I decided, because I’m one and it made it easier for me to wonder about her. I also gave her a name. Charlotte I decided.
I’m an expert at wondering, so I began.
Was this a second job? Or maybe she was a student and this is the only time available for her to work. Did Charlotte have babies that she tucked in bed before she hit the slopes? Maybe she took care of them during the day and once her husband came home she came to the mountain to work. Sometimes one income won’t do the trick. Or maybe she’s a single mom. If so, I wondered who she left her kiddos with that night. I guess she probably does this job–like the rest of us do our jobs–to pay the bills. Of course there is the entirely different scenario where she is single with no kids and just enjoys the perks of skiing for free in exchange for work on the mountain. I guess that could happen.
I wondered as I watched if she was listening to music inside that big machine. Was she a James Taylor girl like me, or was she a Lady Gaga type? Listening to John Denver on the mountain would be way too cliche for Charlotte I decided. Maybe Sigur Ros or Balmorhea…always good pondering music. Or, I wondered, maybe that night Charlotte just preferred the silence–just enjoyed being alone with her thoughts like me.
I wondered if she had problems to work out. I sure hoped she would come up with a plan before daylight came.
I wondered if she believed in God and I hoped she did. I think seeing a mountain with a belief in God the Creator is quite like seeing it while wearing 3-D glasses. It comes alive, and I wanted Charlotte to see it like that. Even if she doesn’t believe, I think every night she’s on the mountain she must at least consider the possibility.
Once I was lucky enough to catch the very last lift up a mountain. Most people had called it a day already and were probably heading back to where they were staying to take a nice long soak in the hot tub. But me? I felt like I had the mountain to myself. My family–each of us wanting to absorb all we could of that last run down the mountain–decided to take our own favorite ways down. It was the most alone I’d ever felt on a mountain. The only sound at all was that of my skis cutting and gliding over the snow with only God and the trees watching. It was the most calming peace I think I’ve ever known. I remember thinking heaven can’t feel much different than this. I think that must be what draws Charlotte to the mountain night after night.
One thing I know about Charlotte is that she really likes herself. I know because otherwise she could never spend so much time alone. I have a friend who just can’t seem to please herself. And you know what? She’s never ever alone. She makes sure of it. She surrounds herself with people and lots of “going and coming” and noise because she would rather not spend time with herself.
But that’s not Charlotte. She likes who she is. And whatever her great purpose is in this life, I think she must feel closest to achieving it when she’s riding that mountain. The mountain is her great encourager and her most devoted confidante. There is so much power there and so much beauty. I’m envious that she’s seen every possible face that mountain can take on. Feet of fresh powder. Sometimes bare in spots. Sometimes high winds moving fresh powder to swirl like mini tornados. She’s seen it on the darkest of nights and she’s seen it under the fullest moon and under a sky full of stars. She’s seen it when it stands still and quiet–absent of thousands of skiers wearing colorful ski garb and riding fancy boards. Charlotte is an exceptionally lucky girl, for she has found a true friend in that mountain.
Well, that’s what I think anyway. That’s what happens when I go to wondering.
It made me think about something else too. About how many people work jobs all night long. They work to be ready to serve people like me—people who get to sleep at night. Some bake. Some drive buses and trains and planes. Some clean toilets. Some stay awake just in case someone gets sick and needs some help. Some drive the streets to take care of any trouble that might arise. Some keep the coffee fresh and hot.
And some, like Charlotte, drive the machines that climb up the mountain to make the snow pretty and smooth and safe.
I’m thankful for her. And for all the others who stay awake while I sleep.
I have an old school flashcard that I keep pinned to the board above my desk. It says, “see something”–my little reminder to always see more than what meets the eye. That’s why I can’t really be irritated with the headache that interrupted my sleep that night on the mountain. I can’t be irritated in the least.
Because it’s how I met Charlotte.