Tribute to backcountry skier James Gebhart

Post by blogger | October 29, 2005      

I opened up my mail today and found a clipping from the Crested Butte newspaper. It’s by David Rothman, a backcountry skiing writer who lived in the Butte for quite a while, moved away briefly, and is now back in the old mining town with skis at the ready and pen in hand. David is quite the wordsmith, many times published and always pushing limits in rarified places such as poetry. With David’s permission we publish his beautiful tribute:

APRIL 23, 2004 — In Memoriam, J. G., 1947-2005

Lifts closed, town full of mud, only the diehards left,
A big spring storm blew off leaving a foot of fresh up high.
A bit off the back I followed someone else’s skin track,
Hustling to beat the sun. First up Warming House Hill,
Then past the Twister Warming Hut and over onto Lower Park.
And there, above me, three skiers plunging down Jokerville
Whooping and hollering, rooster tails bursting in sunshine!
I had to stop and watch their beautiful early-bird line,
Evanescent sculpture of joy right down to his small white dog
Bounding fall-line in their wake like a playful dolphin.
That’s when I knew who it was. They pulled up laughing –
David, Ed, and Jim, their happiness as pure as it gets,
And who wouldn’t be after sewing a thousand feet of paradise
Into memory like that with old friends? Brief hillside pow-wow,
Including observations that I was a decade younger
But about an hour later. And then they were gone,
Down into the valley, laughter echoing away,
Everest after them ecstatic, a large dog in a small dog’s body.
I turned upward to the sweaty ascent, then my own joy.

Now all of this turned to rivers long ago,
Invisible, untraceable, unknowable except like this
In each of us, who are alone, yet in this way less alone.
And that is how I remember him on this dark afternoon,
Again and again I see it and am thankful –
For what other choice is there?
Again together we breathe that sweet air and what remains:
To have shared such gentle happiness..


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