Around 16, I developed an aversion to the great outdoors and the need for things such as ski jackets. There was no single-handed fending off a pack of vengeful raccoons. Nor was there an unfortunate skinny-dipping encounter with a group of amorous leaches. My connection to that culture, and the boyfriend who tried to drag me into it, just never really took hold.
Then I moved to Pemberton.
When I showed my Spousal Equivalent my proposed winter wear, an incredulous look crossed her face. Clearly, she felt that black leather car coat that looked like something from a Matrix prop sale was inadequate.
"You’ll need a winter jacket," she stated flatly.
I spent the following winters defiantly mummified in layers of fleece. But it was more than my inherent cheapness that kept me from buying a ski jacket. It was the unspoken expectation that if you wore a piece of clothing designed for winter activity, you were obliged to indulge in winter activities – outdoors, in the cold, beside other people who were really good at them. You know the type, the people who own ergonomically correct ski poles, six pairs of snowshoes and a collection of recipes that can be made at 7,000 feet with only a Bic lighter and a spork for tools.
This year, SE gave me a ski jacket for Christmas. Designed for snowboarding, it sports many zippers and is black.
A couple days after Christmas I decided to test out the new outerwear with a walk to our friends’ house via the proposed Friendship Trail that runs along the CN rail tracks from Pemberton to Mount Currie.
Within 15 minutes of our walk, I was running for my life along the controversial train crossing. (Couldn’t they just post the train schedule online?) Then it was time for a slide along the rotting forest floor. As the sun arced across the sky, I became somewhat suspicious of SE’s claim that our journey would be, at most, 3 km. Daylight was disappearing at an alarming rate. I put on my Petzel. Now, not only could I confuse any approaching train, I could audition for a gig backing up Rita MacNeil.
Finally, our friends’ house was in sight, perhaps 1,000 feet away. We found a path to access the property and walked across some beaten down grasses towards a small stand of trees.
"Soaker!" I yelped as water rushed into my boot.
Realizing I could borrow some socks, I calmed down.
Seconds later, I hit another camouflaged watery indentation and found myself waist deep in swamp water.
Damn, I thought, too fat for either friends’ pants…
We made our way through the stand of trees only to discover it was actually a devil’s hedge of thorny vine-infested bramble, accented by spring-loaded branches. Making it through the bramble, we could see our friends dancing in their living room. We were just close enough to set off their hound into a frenzy of security howls.
We slogged our way through more soaker-inducing flora only to come to a slough about 12 feet wide. The dog barked on unnoticed. Obviously, it was too far to jump, there was only one thing to do, swim!
SE stopped me before I could discard my jacket. I yelled for our hosts. Their dog yelled back. Our friends ignored the ruckus, choosing to lambada instead. I signaled frantically with my Petzel. The dog sounded like it might have a seizure.
The fog rolled in. Obviously, we were doomed.
"Let’s just stay put and they’ll find us in the morning!" I yelled deliriously.
SE ignored me, suggesting instead that we return from where we had come. Half an hour later, we stumbled into the Lower Stl’Atl’Imx Tribal Council office looking to use a phone to apprise our friends of our whereabouts.
Despite all the water, the mud, the slivers and the thorns, I was perfectly warm which made the whole ordeal seem, well, like not such an ordeal.
This past weekend I went to the new tube park, wearing the aforementioned black jacket. As I careened down a 1,000 foot icy chute, my speed accelerated by both body mass and a sliding position that resembled a floundering turtle, to avoid extreme panic I focused on the tag on my jacket. When it became apparent I wasn’t actually hurtling to my death, I noticed that I was having fun. In fact, I realized I’d even had fun the day I had christened myself Swamp Mama Filipenko.
I realized I had found my way, albeit weirdly, back to the outdoor culture I had turned my back on more than a quarter century before.
Like the poet William Carlos Williams realizing the significance of a "red wheel barrow" to rural South Americans, in that moment I finally understood the significance of owning a ski jacket – so much depends upon it.