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Fire on the mountain

Femaelstrom
Alison Osius
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Never mind that a perfectly-functional central campfire was going, the boys ” six of them ” apparently had to make their own. Lifelong campers, they built a small wood teepee in the dirt road, ringed it with rocks, and started it up. That was when one suggested they take turns jumping over it.

We, absorbed in dinner preparations, turned around pretty darn quick at that, telling them to snuff it.

A small group of families, we were visiting the Sol Vista ski area for a downhill-mountain-bike race, staying in an area river camp.



Just then, we heard cars approaching on the bumpy road. One of the boys shouted, “Police!” and they all instantly scattered.

I flashed back to all my friends fleeing when police showed up at a party we high-schoolers were having at Molly’s uncle’s tobacco farm back in Maryland. Leslie fell in the river, and later excitedly said the water had been up to her chest; we all still laugh about that, because that river is six inches deep.



I peered into the early-evening shadows. Surely that was a ski rack atop that car? No. Across the vehicle’s door, and that of the car behind him, was the word “Police.” Six boys crouched behind tents and vehicles.

“Come out and face them,” we said, “and put that fire out!” They didn’t move. We targeted our progeny by name, and two 12-year-olds hurried over and diligently emptied a water jug on the spot. In the silence I imagined a $1,000 fine. We should have stopped them sooner, that was all too clear. Boys are always into something: throwing rocks, poking sticks into holes; I must have gotten too used to it.

Another mother and I stepped forward to greet the policemen, who said, a little sheepishly, that they were following a report of a stranger seen out here. (Or of a good fishing spot?) We traded pleasantries, said goodnight.

Six boys now rushed the central fire.

“Wow, that was exciting,” Madison said.

His father, Brian, laughed. “Looked to me like you were the first to run.”

Soon all the boys were blustering about how much fun it would have been to be arrested.

Each day of the long weekend, the kids rode their bikes, and congregated in the “pits,” the dusty grounds where teams, canopies and trailers cluster. Nearly 20 kids from our valley were at Sol Vista for the finale of the Mountain States Cup series. The parents enjoyed the place as well: biking, fishing, hiking up the downhill courses.

Each night our four vehicles returned to camp, and we cooked and told tales around the fire before early bed. The cool mornings meant coffee and breakfast fireside. One father continually chopped wood to feed the fire; the boys continually chopped kindling because they wanted to use the axes; and we continually cautioned or stopped them. Four dogs cavorted.

One afternoon I was riding down the ski lift when, on the slopes directly across from me, a piercing white light streaked through the air. Thunder blasted. The lift stopped; then whizzed us riders down, and closed.

I walked across the plaza to see everyone silently staring at the hillside, and looked up myself to see a tongue of orange flame amid the wheaty, sun-baked grasses 800 feet above. “Maybe I should move my vehicle,” a man murmured; I instinctively wondered where my son Roy was. A four-wheeler bumped up the brushy hillside.

Two flames widened to five; some looked about six feet tall. Arriving, someone sprayed an extinguisher and jumped back, then sprayed again. A thick white smoke mushroom erupted, while below we whooped and cheered.

Over three days, the kids practiced their three racecourses assiduously, organized and adjusted equipment, carefully planned their lines down. We watched the pros silkily launch a 40-foot road gap. But while the boys might think it’s the races they’ll remember, and the berms, drops and “whoops” (chattery bumps), I think it’ll be conflagrations, and the night the police came. The boys never did try to build their own fire again.

Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com.


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