Edmonds, WA – Amtrak’s Empire Builder – Eastbound – January 20, 2013 5:15PM
This story is a tribute to time spent with family, any relation to real people or events is purely coincidental
From the outside the lodge looks like a big sprawling house, but certainly not what one thinks of when one thinks of a lodge in the traditional sense. Nothing ever changes at the lodge, the same fake Christmas tree is always in the corner, the same cheap leather couches surround the living room, the same cheesy motivational phrases adorn the walls on painted pieces of wood (“Proudly serving what you bring!”). The lodge is situated up a small incline from the road off which it sits. This has led to many a stuck vehicle over the years. They don’t stay stuck for long though, not when you have an unlimited number of bodies to push and shout conflicting directions.
The time at the lodge always starts the same way, a fleet of vehicles descends on the driveway, one by one they back up to the front door and an army of people (the family, around 30 or so) transfer the contents of the vehicles into the various rooms. The men outside, the women inside, the children everywhere, but mainly underfoot.
The lodge sits in the middle of the Cascade mountains, the main group of mountains in the northwest corner of the United States of America. As such, it is usually surrounded by snow in the last week of December, the standard week in which the event takes place. In good years the snow is stacked almost to the eves of the lodge, great white mountains on which the children play. Sometimes the adults will come outside and dig tunnels under the mountains for the children to play in. This will usually cause some of the other adults to worry about the tunnels collapsing on the children to which the tunnel building adults will reassure them that “you could drive a car on top of these tunnels and they wouldn’t collapse”. No one has yet tested this, but everyone seems to feel better. If it is a bad year, the temperature will be above freezing, and the snow pack will be low. This means dripping water, chunks of falling snow, and puddles everywhere. The children playing outside come in soaking wet, and drying snow clothes are scattered everywhere around the house like a laundromat.
No matter the amount of snow on the ground, sledding is the primary pastime of the days spent at the lodge. Just adjacent to the lodge is an open sloped area, somewhat steeper than a putting green. It is on this “hill” that the sledding takes place. Initially the sledding consisted of adults sitting on an inner tube with 3 or 4 children in their arms, sliding down the hill at an alarming 2.5mph. As the years passed, caution was thrown to the wind, and everyone began trying to outdo one another by getting faster sleds and building jumps over which they would hurl their bodies (and their childrens). As the old saying goes, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt”, and it was, and they did. Part of the sledding fun is documenting it via video. This is accomplished with a variety of filming devices. The resulting footage is then dumped onto someones laptop where it is spliced together into a series of glamour shots reminiscent of a mix between a Warren Miller film and Reservoir Dogs all set to a soundtrack of 80’s butt rock. Everyone loves it.
Meals are always composed of something conducive to a group of 30 people, pizza, chili, anything that can be cooked in large quantities with a minimum of effort. There isn’t any structure to the mealtime, at a certain point in the day, usually around the time of one of the traditional mealtimes someone will start making a meal. It is up to everyone individually to realize that this is occurring and procure some for them and their children. Show up late and don’t expect anything to be left over. The children gather in a squabbling mass around the large wooden table, waiting for someone to place a plate in front of them. The adults gather in the living room, the TV the main focus of the room.
The TV is just one of the many constants of the time spent at the lodge, and 9 times out of 10 it is displaying American football. The room is filled with the sound of the announcers regurgitating the standard football announcer lines “Johnson is really controlling the tempo of this game…” and “The Fighting Trojans really need to complete those passes”. Nobody listens however, they are too busy offering their own analysis such as “You just can’t take a sack on that play, you just can’t” and “I’ll never understand why teams run to the short side of the field, if I were coaching this game I would open the field up”. Nobody really listens to each other.
Soda Pop, Pop, Soda, Coke, whatever you like to call it, it plays a big part in the festivities. Each flavor and brand has been given its own nickname, and those on the outside would need help interpreting what a Red Rocket, Blue Bullet, Brown Bomber, Double RS, White Wizard or Green Goblin is. Whatever drink you choose, there will be lots of it, usually half buried in the snow outside the back door. Drink up, there is more where that came from, there might also be a few beers if you know where to look.
The lodge is equipped with a hot tub which is awkwardly situated just outside the front door. It isn’t a very nice hot tub, but you can’t tell the kids that. Every evening after dinner, the hot tub ritual resumes. First the children must get into their swimsuits. This entails lots of public nudity of the two year old kind. Once the swimsuits and swim diapers have been donned, the lid is taken off the hot tub and the madness begins. Usually one or two of the younger Uncles takes one for the team and gets in the hot tub with the kids. Then the hoard of children swarm into the rolling waters and the splashing and crying and half drowning begins. Some of the older children will be encouraged to get out of the hot tub and jump in the snow. This is followed by shrieking and more splashing/partial drowning as they pile back into the hot waters. After 15 minutes or so of this, the children (but mainly the adults) have had enough and the swarm of wet and shivering children are brought indoors to drip great pools of water on the hardwood floors and huddle by the fireplace.
The fireplace is a great stone monstrosity which dominates the living room, taking up one whole wall. The actual firebox is about 1/8 that size. That being said, it is kept full with wood and paper products and spits out a large deal of heat. In the early years the closet just adjacent to the fireplace was full of firewood, a gift from the lodging company which managed the property. As leaner times came, the amount of wood provided dwindled in proportion to the state of the economy (probably not actually, but it sounds good). This seeming roadblock to comfortable evenings filled with roaring fires was overcome by simply breaking into the locked garage where the large stockpile of firewood was kept. This was accomplished by the old screwdriver to the hinges trick and soon the wood closet was filled to the brim and happy times were here again.
Every year at the lodge it seems that someone is battling sickness of one degree or another. Some years it’s the stomach flu, other years a head cold. There have been broken bones, wheelchairs, vomit and much more. The nearest hospital is an hour away and over the years there have been many trips made to it for one reason or another. It’s almost as if the lodge breeds physical ailment. No one really seems to care though, they come back every year.
The time spent at the lodge is a special time, a time spent with family. It’s a time set apart, like a world unto its own. Time slows down and for a few days life is simple. Then it’s over, the cars are packed, get stuck in the snow and then unstuck, and everyone departs, looking forward to next year.
Time unites all humans, we are all constrained by it and march to its beat. We all have an allotted amount, a precious supply that starts to dwindle the day we are born. Time has one speed, the speed at which you live and take each breath. But reflecting on time would lead you to draw different conclusions. Remember how it seems like yesterday that you were a kid? Remember how it seems like yesterday that your kids were kids? That you were young? Looking back, time flies.
There are also moments in life when time seems to slow down, to advance in slow motion as though allowing for a study of the details. Never stopping, but certainly slowing. Life and death moments, when people enter and leave this world. I watched my grandfather take his last breath on a cold November day; I watched my daughter as she took her first breath on a cold February day. Time is all that separates them, all that keeps them from meeting. I span that time, also bound by time, just one link in the chain that connects them. For me both of these moments are vivid in my memory, those specific days seemingly endless as I lived them, yet I can feel time tearing at them as it passes, the edges fraying. Time has many speeds.
Life, memories, feelings, thoughts, desires, they are no match for time. Time is relentless, merciless, unprejudiced. Humankind has dammed massive rivers, gone to the moon, and mapped the human genome, but man cannot stop time, slow time down, or escape its bounds. Eventually all things are faded by time, physical structures, ideas, and emotions. The people with you when you are born, the people who brought you into the world, won’t be there to see you slip out of it. Time removes them and leaves in their place the ones you brought into the world. You watched them come into the world, they will watch you leave as your last bit of time slips away.
Make your time count.